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Josh Reviews Better Call Saul Season Four

They made us wait over a year after the end of Better Call Saul season three for the start of season four, but boy was the wait worth it.  Season four was another home run from this show, one of the rare spinoffs to be as good if not better than its fantastic, much-loved predecessor.

When Better Call Saul premiered, I was surprised that Bob Odenkirk’s character had a different name and a very different personality than the Saul I had come to know and love on Breaking Bad.  At first I was antsy for Jimmy McGill to transform into Saul Goodman, but the genius of Better Call Saul is that I very quickly grew to love Jimmy so much that his eventual transformation into the morals-free, criminal lawyer (emphasis on criminal) Saul Goodman became something I started to dread.  On the mothership, Breaking Bad, Walter White’s transformation from “Mr. Chips to Scarface” was a tragedy, but though I knew things wouldn’t end well, I was generally eager to see Walt break fee of his inhibitions and embrace his dark side.  But on Saul, I have been fearing it.  I want to see the kind-hearted Jimmy, and also Kim Wexler (who has become the character on the show I am most rooting for), to somehow find a happy ending, even though we know from Breaking Bad that this is (most likely) not going to happen.

And so, for me, Better Call Saul has gradually transformed into an even richer, more heartbreaking tragedy than was Breaking Bad.  I thought Breaking Bad was a magnificent achievement in television, but I love Better Call Saul even more.

Here in season four, co-creator and co-showrunner Peter Gould stepped into the forefront, as Vince Gilligan (the mastermind behind Breaking Bad who also co-created and co-ran Saul for seasons one through three) stepped back from showrunning to focus on other projects.  This might have been a cause for concern, but I didn’t detect the slightest shift in quality.  If anything, the show was even better this year than it had ever been.

The first season of Saul had a lightness that I loved, in contrast to the grim, often hard-to-watch Breaking Bad.  As Jimmy McGill has slowly slipped into darkness, the show has darkened, with season four representing the show at its most emotionally wrenching so far.  I was absolutely gripped, from start to finish.

After the season three finale, I wondered if Michael McKean was truly out of the show.  I miss this great actor, but I am glad they didn’t walk back the events of that finale in an attempt to maintain the status quo.  I am pleased that the writers had the … [continued]

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Welcome back!  We’re about to enter the TOP TEN of my list of My Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017!  Click here for part one, click here for part two, and click here for part three.

And now, onward…!

10. Silicon Valley: “Terms of Service” (season four, episode two, aired on 4/30/17) — A comedic highlight of the fourth season of Silicon Valley, and the show as a whole, was this brief, beautiful moment in which Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) ascended to CEO of PiperChat … and then flamed out spectacularly.  Mr. Nanjiani has been a secret weapon on the show since the beginning, and he killed it in this spotlight episode.  I loved watching the arrogant, drunk-with-power Dinesh, but the brilliant comedic beauty of the moment in which Dinesh realized how badly he had bungled things and just how far over his head he was, was astonishing.  It was one of the funniest moments in any TV show all year long.  (The continual pinging sound effect throughout the scene, as more and more under-age users sign up for PiperChat and Dinesh finds himself in deeper and deeper trouble, took a great scene and made it amazing.  It’s a piece of comedic genius.)  The entire ensemble was on fire in this episode.  Throw in the welcome return of Matt McCoy’s sad-sack lawyer (“My shame will linger long after my voting rights are restored”) and a great final moment with series villain Gavin Belson as his triumph turns to ash (when he realizes the truth about PiperChat) and you have a winner of an episode.  (Click here for my full review of Silicon Valley season four.)

9. Sherlock: “The Final Problem” (season four, episode three, aired on 1/15/17) — What just might be the final episode of Sherlock that we ever see (though I hope that’s not the case!) was one of the series’ darkest and most nail-bitingly intense.  After a lot of teasing, this episode confirmed that the big bad villain of the season was the never-before-seen third Holmes sibling.  Sian Brooke was terrific as the dangerous and insane Eurus Holmes.  For the first time in the series, both Sherlock and Mycroft seemed truly outmatched.  This episode wrought tremendous tension out of Eurus’ torturing of her brothers and John Watson, as she presented them with a series of increasingly impossible challenges.  This was as grim as the show has ever gotten, as time and again our three heroes were powerless to stop innocent people from being murdered by Eurus all around them.  I could hardly believe what I was watching.  The show has never looked better — every aspect of the production seemed to be firing … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Better Call Saul Season Three!

So, I am late getting this review together!  I finished watching season three of Better Call Saul last spring, but for whatever reason haven’t found the time to get my review finished until now.  In short: it’s great!  I have adored the Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul since the very beginning.  In fact, as I have written before, there have been times when I have thought that Saul might be an even BETTER show than the undeniably great Breaking Bad.  That is staggeringly impressive.

Season three of Better Call Saul takes some dark turns.  This is a grimmer, more downbeat version of the show.  This was inevitable, as we knew since minute one the sad fate that would await Jimmy McGill at the end of Breaking Bad.  (Not even the end.  Forget what happens to him by the end of the series; the man called Saul Goodman is already a sad fate for the good-hearted Jimmy McGill when we first meet Saul in Breaking Bad.)

When Better Call Saul began, I, like most viewers, thought I’d be a rush for the show to show Jimmy’s transformation into Saul, since Saul was such a fun presence on Breaking Bad.  But it is a mark of how great this show has been that that I quickly fell in love with Jimmy McGill and have been dreading his transformation to the immoral Saul.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much FUN I found Better Call Saul to be in the early going.  Breaking Bad certainly had some funny moments, but as a whole that series was so bleak that I often found it hard to watch, even as I always has great respect for how terrific a show it was. But Saul, while always having rich emotional stakes, was a hoot to watch!  That changed somewhat this season, as things turned sour for many of the characters.  Saul is as good a show as it has ever been, perhaps BETTER, but as the series has gotten closer to its Breaking Bad end-game, there was no way for the fun not to start to fall away as the tragedies began to mount.

This season had an unusual structure in that I felt the emotional climax came in episode five, “Chicanery,” in which Jimmy and Chuck confronted one another in court.  Things had been building to this since the very beginning, and it was incredible to see the two brothers finally do battle with one another, and in such a public way.  In an incredibly astute move by Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, and their writers, they finally gave Jimmy an unabashed win over his brother, exposing his mental illness for all to … [continued]

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The Top Twenty Episodes of TV in 2016 — Part Four!

We’re at the end of my look back at the best TV of 2016!  Click here for numbers twenty through sixteen, and click here for numbers fifteen through eleven, and click here for numbers ten through six.

And now, here are my Top Five Episodes of TV in 2016:

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5. Sherlock: “The Abominable Bride” (aired on 1/5/16) – I was tickled by the idea of taking Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s modern-day interpretations of Sherlock Holmes and setting them in the Victorian era from which the Holmes stories originated.  Had this been an entirely out-of-continuity caper — as I thought it would be, going into the episode — I’d have been happy.  But I was delighted to discover that, instead, this story connected directly to the cliffhanger ending of season three, and allowed us to explore the idea of Sherlock’s “mind palace” that was first raised back in the season two finale.  This episode was filled with many fun little moments, from Mrs. Hudson’s complaining that John never gives her any lines in his stories to the 19th century version of Holmes and Watson’s first meeting (as originally depicted in “A Study in Pink”).  And things got suitably mind-bending as the episode progressed and the story began jumping more frequently between the Victorian setting (happening inside Sherlock’s brain) and the modern-day events on board the plane, with Moriarty’s apparent return from the dead presenting a frightening new threat.  I adore this series and, if we couldn’t get a full three-episode new season of Sherlock in 2016, this one-off was a fine substitute.  (By the way, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the recently-aired season four of Sherlock soon!!)

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4. The X-Files: “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” (season ten, episode three, aired on 2/1/16) – I had hoped and dreamed for years that The X-Files, one of the great, unfinished stories of the modern pop-culture landscape, would one day be given the conclusion that once-great show so dearly deserved.  I rejoiced at the announcement of a new six-episode run (a superior format to a movie, in my mind, for the show’s return), though the relaunched show wound up mostly disappointing me.  With this one notable exception.  Darin Morgan wrote four episodes during the original X-Files run, and they were among the very best episodes the show ever did.  “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” is without question my favorite episode of the entire series.  And so I was ecstatic when I learned that Mr. Morgan would be writing one of these six new X-Files episodes.  He directed this episode, too, and boy did he not let me down.  This episode is so joyous, so funny and so … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Better Call Saul Season Two!

I loved the first season of Better Call Saul I was blown away by Bob Odenkirk’s performance in the lead role, and by the extraordinary groups of actors with whom he was surrounded, most notably fellow Breaking Bad alum Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut, along with new faces Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler and Michael McKean as Charles McGill.  I found that first season to be tense and gripping while also being a huge amount of fun.  This is an incredibly impressive balance of tone.  I wrote in my review that I enjoyed that first season of Better Call Saul more than any season of Breaking Bad except for Bad’s final run of episodes.  Soon after finishing Saul season one I eagerly dove into season two.

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While perhaps not quite as perfect as season one (and without the thrill of discovery of this new show), Better Call Saul season two remains a master class in television craftsmanship, hugely enjoyable and gripping, fun and also heartbreaking.  I loved it.  I tore through it at a rapid pace and am left eagerly counting the days until season three.

Season one began with a wonderful black-and-white vignette, a peek at the fate of Saul Goodman following the events of Breaking Bad.  I didn’t think we’d ever see any more of that time-period until the end of Better Call Saul’s run, but I was delighted to have been proven wrong as the first moments of season two gave us another look at the sad, lonely life being lived by Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman after his life had been torn apart by his relationship with Walter White.  It was fascinating to note that in the tiny, desperate bit of graffiti left behind by Jimmy/Saul, he identified himself not as Jimmy, but as Saul.  Watching the first season of Better Call Saul, I was stunned by how much I grew to love Jimmy McGill.  Rather than being impatient for the show to hurry up and get to Jimmy’s transformation into Saul — the fun, fast-talking, morals-free dude we’d gotten to know and love in Breaking Bad — I was dreading the day when the sweet, good-hearted Jimmy would be replaced by Saul.  And yet, while I as a viewer might lament the coming loss of Jimmy, it was fascinating to see in this intro vignette that, even after arriving at the sad lonely end of Saul Goodman’s road, this man considers himself Saul rather than Jimmy.  It’s heartbreaking and also a tantalizing glimpse of where this show is going.  Two seasons in, I am still not sure how the Jimmy who I have grown to love so much will eventually be crushed and … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Better Call Saul Season One!

I started watching Breaking Bad on DVD right as the show was ending.  There was so much critical love for that show, particularly in the months leading up to its finale, and I was eager to see what all the fuss was about!  I thoroughly enjoyed Breaking Bad as I made my way through the series, but somewhat to my surprise I never found myself as head-over-heels in love with the show as so many others seemed to be.  I respected the show enormously for what a quality piece of work it was, with incredible writing and performances (by Bryan Cranston in particular but also by all of the show’s wonderful ensemble) and extraordinarily top-notch production values.  But I never found myself in LOVE with the show.  I think this was because the show was so successful at being emotionally wrenching that I found it difficult to watch. Usually with shows I love, I tear through the episodes at a rapid clip.  But Breaking Bad was a show I needed to take my time with.  Even though many seasons ended on cliffhanger, I often found that I needed to wait weeks if not months before I was ready to move on to the next season.

And so, even though by the time I had completed watching the final season of Breaking Bad, the first season of the spin-off show Better Call Saul was already available, I hesitated to dive in. It wasn’t until last month that my wife and I finally sat down to watch Better Call Saul season one.  I am sorry I waited so long, because this first season of Better Call Saul was magnificent!  I think I enjoyed this season more than any season of Breaking Bad!  (Save perhaps for Breaking Bad’s riveting final run of episodes.)

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The show begins with a wonderful tease, a black-and-white sequence of Bob Odenkirk’s Saul living a solitary life working at a Cinnabun in a mall.  This little mini-movie is a gloriously brilliant way to open the show, as the audience is forced to look carefully for clues to determine when in the timeline of Saul’s life that sequence takes place.  The answer is perfect, and a perfect way to set the tone for this prequel series.

Bob Odenkirk’s Saul was a lot of fun on Breaking Bad, a bright splash of color in the dark world of Walter White.  I’d imagine that a perfectly entertaining show could have been made just watching the goofy, fast-talking Saul’s adventures as a “criminal” lawyer before he got mixed up with Walt and Jesse.  And yet, thankfully, creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have set out to do something more difficult, something … [continued]