Why the Saul Goodman Spin-off Is a Bad Idea

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Slate's Culture Blog
April 9 2013 5:31 PM

Why the Saul Goodman Spin-off Is a Bad Idea

saulgoodman2
Bryan Cranston and Bob Odenkirk on Breaking Bad.

Ursula Coyote/AMC.

The final eight episodes of Breaking Bad will air this summer, but it seems AMC may not be ready to say goodbye. According to a report in Deadline Hollywood, the show’s creators are considering a spin-off focused on crooked criminal lawyer Saul Goodman, played by Bob Odenkirk. According to Deadline Hollywood’s Nellie Andreeva, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan and writer-producer Peter Gould, who created the Saul Goodman character in Season 2, are behind the new project, which could well be a comedy, rather than a drama. (Andreeva’s scoop isn’t quite as hot as it seems: Gilligan first floated the Saul spinoff last July in Entertainment Weekly.)

Like most right-thinking Breaking Bad fans, I love Bob Odenkirk’s work on the show. Saul Goodman allowed Walter White and Jesse Pinkman to “professionalize” their meth-cooking business by showing them how to launder their illicit income and introducing them to Gus Fring. He also brought some much-needed levity to a show that can be as serious as lung cancer.

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Still, a Saul Goodman spinoff seems like a bad idea. I might feel differently if Odenkirk had never played a scene with Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, but now there’s no way anyone who’s seen Breaking Bad can look at Saul and not compare the new show with its flawed but fabulous progenitor. As one of my Slate colleagues put it on hearing this news, “Vince Gilligan has not learned the lessons of The Lone Gunmen,” the short-lived, little-missed drama spun off from The X Files, which Gilligan worked on with creator Chris Carter.

More to the point, the sketchy lawyer who represents criminals is a wonderfully adaptable supporting character, who can be an enforcer (see Wallace Shawn on a recent episode of The Good Wife), a strategist (Tony Soprano’s lawyer Neil Mink), an irredeemable slime-ball (The Wire’s Maurice Levy), or light relief (Saul Goodman). But I doubt the role is substantial enough to sustain a whole show. The corrupt lawyer is like the medical examiner. Once upon a time, their jobs seemed interesting enough to build an entire show around. These days, though, we’ve gotten so used to seeing them as bit players, that the only way they can hold our attention is when they’re sharing the spotlight with an action hero or two.

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section.