As the days whirled by, our routine remained the same.
Since returning home from the frigid confines of Ann Arbor for Winter Break, I’d spent each day following the same formula: wake up, shower and promptly head to my buddy Nick’s house. After I pulled into the icy half-moon driveway, I’d make my way inside to his living room, which always maintained a faint odor of the bag of Doritos Nacho Cheese chips we’d devoured the previous night. Here, we’d pick up right where we left off: working our way through “Better Call Saul,” Vince Gilligan’s (“The X-Files”) spiritual successor to “Breaking Bad.”
Our regimen didn’t develop overnight. During the first few days of break, we’d mindlessly channel-surf for 15-20 minutes, before finally coming to terms with the fact that our only hopes lay with Netflix and its vast collection of “The Office” episodes. Those initial hours in late December gave us a chance to relive some of Michael Scott’s (Steve Carell, “The Big Short”) finest moments as the self-proclaimed “world’s best boss.”
While still possessing some of the sharpest comedic wit to grace television screens in years, “The Office” could only tide us over for so long now that we had memorized every one of the show’s gags. And so, after much debate and consideration, we set out on an imposing, near-impossible task: find a new series on the streaming site we used daily.
Thankfully, it didn’t turn out to be anything difficult — “Better Call Saul” was the top recommendation for my account. While neither of us were familiar with the show, we’d heard it was a sort-of sequel to “Breaking Bad,” which is only one of the greatest television programs of all time. And, with the show receiving Netflix’s highest honor in being a top recommendation, we were sold instantly. So, after a quick trip to CVS to load up on cholesterol and sodium in the form of Doritos Nacho Cheese chips, we dove into the series’s first season.
From the start, “Better Call Saul” didn’t disappoint. Our return to the erratic and unhinged world of Albuquerque’s criminal underbelly was a welcome one, with the writers including several references to “Breaking Bad” in the opening episodes. The show strikes the ideal balance of making the connection between “Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad” natural and effortless, never overbearing. Beloved “Breaking Bad” veteran Raymond Cruz (“The Closer”) even makes an appearance, reprising his role as Albuquerque’s terrifying slumlord, Tuco Salamanca. However, this is clearly a series created to exist independently, and it is one that is not content to simply ride off the coattails of Vince Gilligan’s prior work — a commendable feat in an age of Hollywood sequel-itis.
With the second season flying by and the empty bags of Doritos Nacho Cheese piling up, each day seemed to be colored by the episodes we watched. The day I finally finished the take-home exam for my Jewish studies course, we saw James “Jimmy” McGill (Bob Odenkirk, “Nebraska”) uncover a nursing home’s elaborate fraud scheme in “RICO” and “Pimento.” The day my dad left me stranded at the doctor’s office, we saw Jimmy casually bribe a bus driver in “Cobbler” and “Amarillo.” And the day Nick crashed his green 2011 Jeep Wrangler into his garage door, we saw Jimmy and his on-again-off-again lover Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn, “Whitney”) pull off a 10,000-dollar con for the history books in “Bali Ha’i.”
This is what all television programs should aspire to do — establish a connection with their audience that goes beyond a basic commitment to viewing the show when it airs. It’s a hallmark of quality television, and that’s exactly how to define “Better Call Saul” with its captivating monologues and charismatic cast. It may not offer the brilliant, pulse-pounding hour of television that “Breaking Bad” provided each week, but it presents an exciting blend of drama and dark, zany humor.