Better Call Saul

Normally I will not watch TV shows or read books about lawyers.  I hated L.A. Law, for example, and the few John Grisham books that I tried.  The problem for me is that I just can’t get past the implausibility of most of the plot lines and that unrealistic (in my experience, at least) depictions of lawyers and legal scenarios.  My inner groaning at the dubious fictional reality always made it impossible for me to enjoy the book or the show.

Then Kish and I started watching Better Call Saul, and I finally got beyond my fictional lawyer mental block — and in the process found a really great TV show.

better-call-saul-recapBetter Call Saul is a prequel to Breaking Bad.  When we first meet Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad, he’s a classic lawyer caricature — crooked, conniving, duplicitous, and seemingly designed purely to provide some comic relief.  I groaned when Saul Goodman was introduced, because he was everything I disliked in a fictional lawyer character.  But Breaking Bad was such an excellent show that I watched despite my initial dislike of Saul Goodman — and as the show progressed the character grew on me a little, and I found that I could accept Saul.

Still, when Breaking Bad  ended and I heard that a new prequel was being filmed that would focus on the Saul Goodman character, I was skeptical that I would like it.  It only took a few episodes for me to get hooked on Better Call Saul, and only a few episodes more for me to get to the point where I think you can make a reasonable argument that Better Call Saul is, arguably, a more groundbreaking show than Breaking Bad.

Better Call Saul takes us back to when Saul was known by his given name, Jimmy McGill.  We meet a bunch of new characters — including Jimmy’s lawyer brother, Chuck, and Jimmy’s love interest and stalwart, dependable friend, Kim — as we go back to several years before Breaking Bad begins.  Jimmy’s got a sketchy history back in Illinois, but after a close brush with the law he’s come out to Albuquerque, where Chuck is a prominent lawyers, he’s met Kim, and he’s tried to pull himself up by his bootstraps.  Jimmy McGill has some endearing qualities — he’s a natural charmer, and loyal, and he goes to great lengths to help his brother, Chuck, deal with a very odd condition, for example — and he’s even gone to a correspondence law school in secret and passed the New Mexico bar.  From time to time, at least, it’s not hard to see why go-getter Kim finds Jimmy attractive.

But life and the fates seem to conspire against him, and — here’s the lawyer part — whenever he is confronted with an ethical issue he makes the wrong decision.  In fact, Jimmy’s ethical instincts are so unfailingly misguided that law professors could have their students in an ethics class watch the show and follow the rule of thumb that if Jimmy is doing it, it’s violating every ethical rule known to the organized bar.  And there’s a tragic element to that, because Jimmy actually would be a pretty darned good lawyer if he could just avoid the ethical snares that trip him up.  He’s hardworking, and creative, and has a good eye for legal problems and potential claims — but the ethical issues are his Achilles heel.

Jimmy McGill’s story would be enough to make Better Call Saul an enjoyable show, but what really makes it must-see TV is the whole narrative arc that comes from being a prequel.  In short, we know how this narrative must end.  In addition to Jimmy/Saul, many other Breaking Bad characters are prominently featured, and it’s both jarring, and unnerving, to know what’s ultimately going to happen to them.  But that’s only part of the “prequel” effect.  We know that other characters who are new to Better Call Saul don’t have a role in Breaking Bad — and we wonder why not, and what happens to them between now and then.  It really puts the viewer on pins and needles, and it’s why you really need to watch all of Breaking Bad before you try Better Call Saul.  I think this whole “prequel effect” makes Better Call Saul a truly groundbreaking show.

This is a remarkable, exceptionally well-acted show, featuring Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy/Saul, Jonathan Banks reprising his role as Mike from Breaking Bad, and Kish’s and my favorite character, Rhea Seehorn as the hardworking, supportive Kim, a great lawyer with a heart of gold but also a nagging desire to visit the dark side now and then.  But all of the actors are good, all of the characters are compelling, key characters from Breaking Bad are starting to show up, and we’ve reached the point in the narrative where things are about ready to spiral downhill and out of control.  We’re just holding our breath and waiting to hear the first mention of “Heisenberg.”

Whether you’re a lawyer or not, Better Call Saul  is well worth watching.

Love Your Lawyer (Joke) Day

Hooray!  Today is Love Your Lawyer Day!

What’s that, you say?  It doesn’t show up on your calendar app?  That’s weird.  After all, it’s been officially recognized as such by the American Bar Association Law Practice Council, which passed a resolution to that effect.  In case you didn’t know, you’re supposed to post stories and pictures with the hashtag #LoveYourLawyerDay to help celebrate your special affection for your lawyer.

Uh, yeah.  Look, I’m a lawyer, and this all seems pretty lame to me, too.  I’m not familiar with any other profession that whines about being vilified by negative stereotypes — like, say, Saul in Breaking Bad — and then passes a resolution that tries to guilt trip the American public into finally saying something positive.  To my knowledge, at least, there’s no Love Your Banker Day or Love Your Accountant Day or even Love Your IRS Agent Day.  Among all of the professions that might feel dissed by popular cultural depictions from time to time, only lawyers apparently are so needy and desperate for public approval that they pass a resolution in the vain hope of reversing prevailing views of their profession.

So you don’t have warm and fuzzy feelings about lawyers, you say?  Fair enough.  How about we celebrate Love Your Lawyer Joke Day instead?  Everyone has a favorite lawyer joke, and we should at least be thankful to the legal profession for spurring the creation of some nifty chestnuts.  Here are some which do nothing but feed those awful stereotypes:

Q: What’s the difference between a lawyer and a liar?
A: The pronunciation.

Q: What do you call a lawyer gone bad?
A: Senator.

Q: Why did New Jersey get all the toxic waste and California all the lawyers?
A: New Jersey got to pick first.

Q: What do lawyers and sperm have in common?
A: One in 3,000,000 has a chance of becoming a human being.

Any profession that has contributed that mightily to American humor can’t be all bad.

Breaking Badathon

Kish and I admittedly have been derelict in our hot TV show watching.  We have never watched Mad Men, or Dexter, or the vast majority of the other shows that have dominated the national conversation and shifted the zeitgeist over the past decade or so.

That includes Breaking Bad.  And our out-of-itness meant that, for years, when one of our friends would ask what we thought of the latest episode, we could only shrug and say we don’t watch the show — a response that was typically greeted with a puzzled look and then a heartfelt “You’ve got to watch it!”  But somehow, with everything else on our plates, we just never got around to it . . . until now.

We’ve decided to do a crash course in cultural catch-up.  With AT&T U-Verse as the platform, we’ve subscribed to Netflix, installed Roku, and started our studies.  Breaking Bad is the first class on the schedule, and each night after I return home from work we’ve become immersed in the weird world of Walter White and his pal Jesse and his crooked lawyer and watched mini-marathons of episodes.  We’re now nearing the end of season 3, and things just seem to be getting worse, big picture, for the ever-rationalizing OCD cancer-battling chemistry teacher turned bad-ass meth cook.

Some people argue that Breaking Bad is the best show that has ever been broadcast on TV.  Based on what we’ve seen so far, I would say it is a superior show, although I’m not sure that it is quite at the level of The Sopranos or The Wire.  Still, it’s got all of the elements of a great show — fascinating characters that you care about, great acting, evil, unexpected violence, stone-cold criminals, difficult moral choices, and little touches that just make the show a bit more interesting, like a character who always wears purple.

But here’s my problem:  I simply can’t watch too much non-sports TV programming without dozing off.  I don’t care how good a show is, and whether Hank is in mortal peril — there’s something about sitting on a couch and watching hours of TV that makes me nod off.  Three episodes is about my limit, and that’s OK by me.  I prefer to parcel out and savor the episodes of a great show, rather than watching them all in one big gush.

In The Grip Of Shutdown Sameness

It’s been about six months since our last government crisis, so I guess we’re due.

This latest crisis arises — surprise! — from the inability of the Republicans and the Democrats, of the House of Representatives on one hand and the Senate and the President on the other, to agree on a short-term funding bill to keep the government operating.  If the parties do not come up with a way forward by midnight tonight, there will be a partial governmental shutdown.

Of course, the inability to agree on a continuing resolution is only the immediate cause of this latest “crisis.”  The issues cut much deeper.  From spending, to taxes, to the Affordable Care Act, to a host of other issues, our two political parties have fundamental differences of opinion about what government should do and its role in our everyday lives.

I’m not going to write today, however, about those policy differences.  It’s all been written before, by countless people, and there really isn’t anything fresh or compelling to be said.  I would simply point out to our political leaders that, when you constantly lurch from one “crisis” to another, the state of “crisis” eventually becomes the norm.  We’ve gone through the brinksmanship and the dire warnings again and again, and we’re still here.  Sequestration took effect . . . and the sun rose the next day.  After a while, the constant cries of wolf fall on deaf ears.

If this latest “crisis” provokes a partial government shutdown, how many Americans will even care?  They’ll find refuge in the final episodes of Breaking Bad, or the baseball playoffs, or something else of more immediate interest and impact on their lives.  Sadly, our political leaders may actually have let the country drift to the point where most people don’t even give a crap that our government is totally dysfunctional.