A Litigator’s View on “Better Call Saul”

So how good was the first season of “Better Call Saul”. Lawyers embraced the show and reviews have been flattering to say the least. These comments come from Harry Graff on AbovetheLaw. Harry is a litigation associate with a keen interest in film, television and related matters.

So what was his view?  Did it reach – let alone breach – the “Breaking Bad” standard, the new gold standard for ultimate crime drama?

Well, this was not the Better Call Saul that I had expected (in a good way).

As I noted in my column reviewing the first two episodes of the Breaking Bad spinoff, Saul Goodman was often the comic relief on Breaking Bad and had virtually no moments of pathos. Saul was the subject of tacky television advertisements, had an office in a strip mall adorned by a giant rendering of the Constitution, and, of course, was played by noted comedian Bob Odenkirk (and his lackeys were played by fellow standup comedians Bill Burr and Lavell Crawford).

I therefore expected that Better Call Saul would be much more comedy than drama, chronicling Saul as he provided legal representation to a wacky group of New Mexico criminals. How wrong I was. Instead, the first season of Better Call Saul (which ended earlier this week) was in many ways just as dramatic and heartbreaking as any season of Breaking Bad.

Over the course of the season, we learn through flashbacks that Saul’s actual name is Jimmy McGill, and he began his career as an Illinois-based con man named “Slippin’ Jimmy.” After being arrested for performing a “Chicago sunroof” (which I will refrain from explaining, as this is a family website) and hitting rock bottom, Jimmy gets a job in the mailroom of the prominent Albuquerque law firm Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill (“HHM”) thanks to his brother Chuck (Michael McKean), a name partner at the firm. Jimmy eventually gets a law degree (albeit from the University of American Samoa) and passes the New Mexico state bar. Jimmy dreams of righting himself and attaining success as an attorney.

But Better Call Saul is not a Horatio Alger story about a man pulling himself up by his bootstraps and succeeding in the legal world. Instead, the show constantly throws roadblocks at Jimmy. First, HHM name partner Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) informs Jimmy that despite passing the bar, HHM will not offer Jimmy a job as a full-time attorney. This scene is gorgeously shot, as the camera waits patiently outside the copy room where Howard and Jimmy speak, and the only noise we can hear is the hum of the copy machines. We only need to see the body language of the two men as Howard delivers the bad news to Jimmy.

While this decision is definitely understandable — obtaining a law degree from the University of American Samoa is hardly a harbinger of success — HHM rejects Jimmy a second time in last week’s episode. After Jimmy finds his niche in the exciting world of elder law (in which, among other things, he amusingly moderates games of bingo), Jimmy discovers that prominent nursing home Sandpiper Crossing is committing massive fraud by stealing its residents’ Social Security funds. Jimmy then breaks into a garbage can in order to recover some incriminating documents that Sandpiper Crossing has attempted to shred and destroy (I would love to see Judge Scheindlin rule on that spoliation motion).

Jimmy, with Chuck’s help, re-constructs the documents, puts together a slam-dunk complaint, and negotiates a deal to deliver the case to HHM, which has the resources to see the case to completion.

Read the rest at AbovetheLaw
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