By Darren Johnson
No one TV character captures where we are in America right now better than Saul Goodman, a.k.a. Jimmy McGill, played excitedly by improv comedian Bob Odenkirk.
Season 1 of “Better Call Saul” – the title based on the ambulance-chasing lawyer’s advertising slogan – is now on Netflix. Season 2 is on AMC on Demand. It’s a spinoff/prequel of Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad,” perhaps the greatest TV series ever, and is much more of a character study, with less violence and more comedy, than the original series – but equally interesting.
Here we have Jimmy, a likeable person who is “morally flexible,” according to his crooked private investigator, Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), working his way up the ladder.
Unlike his older, once successful, classically educated attorney brother, Chuck – who now is housebound with a psychosomatic disorder – played by Michael McKean (“This Is Spinal Tap”) – Jimmy takes shortcuts. He gets a mail-order degree while working in Chuck’s firm’s mail room, and then eventually passes the New Mexico bar exam.
In “Breaking Bad,” meth cook Jesse Pinkman said of Saul, recommending him: “You don’t need a criminal lawyer. You need a CRIMINAL lawyer.”
The dynamic between the pretentious Chuck and his pragmatic kid brother, as well as flashbacks to a young Jimmy pulling scams in his old hometown of Cicero, Illinois, also make us debate whether criminals are born or made.
He starts taking on public defender cases, one worse than the next, while driving a beat up old car and making his office in the boiler room of a nail salon in a strip mall. Then he starts hitting bingo nights at nursing homes, to try to drum up more business.
While Jimmy isn’t all that book smart, he’s extremely pragmatic and has a lot of gumption. It is interesting watching his career trajectory. In this new economy, where we all have to learn how to self-promote and do our own thing – as opposed to being like Chuck, going to a top college, saying the right things and playing by the rules, and thus getting rich – there may be some life lessons here; although, perhaps this will end up being a cautionary tale.
Another such entrepreneur is Dr. Younan Nowzaradan, who also is a practitioner, taking on risky clients, and operating out of a strip-mall in an expansive state with lax malpractice laws; in this instance, Texas.
Not that Dr. Now, as he brands himself, is a bad doctor. Just, he takes on hard-luck, morbidly obese patients who only have a 5% shot at bettering themselves, according to the preamble to the TLC show “My 600-lb. Life.” Considering our litigious society – thanks, Saul – very few doctors will take on such cases.
TLC – which some people have nicknamed “Terrible Lifestyle Choices” – does show us salacious content: the patients showering behind transparent shower curtains, eating a whole package of hot dogs in one sitting, etc.
Dr. Now shows these folks tough love, and eventually finds a way to give them bypass surgery, despite the chance that they could die from the operation. In his view, they are going to die anyway, and this is their only hope.
He’s also featured on a complementary TLC show, “Skin Tight,” where he makes money on the back end, removing the excess skin from people who have lost a massive amount of weight.
While both shows do border on exploitative of their subjects, they broach an important topic and teach us how people get to the point where they need such surgeries. We find ourselves rooting for some, and condemning others who, despite the dangerous surgery, go back to their fast food and sedentary ways, literally weighing on their loved ones.
My biggest beef with police-type shows is that the good guys always catch the bad guys in the end, with a story neatly tied up in an hour.
But maybe these shows would be better if, just once in a while, the bad guys got away with the crimes. Then we’d have suspense.
With “Better Call Saul” and even Dr. Now’s reality shows, the ending of each episode is in doubt, making them all the more watchable.
Written by Darren Johnson, “It’s New to You!” was established in 2010 and finds screen gems on Netflix and cable. Read more on www.Nu2u.info.