Which of the two shows, Better Call Saul or Breaking Bad, has received more praise from critics and viewers? Here’s why Saul Goodman just barely prevails.
Need a TV spinoff that really outperforms the original rather than being forever regarded as a botched attempt to cash in on a successful franchise? Call Saul instead! During its five-season run from 2008 to 2013, Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad, which starred Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, rose to become one of television’s most admired series of all time. In addition to defying the law of diminishing returns (season 3’s “Fly” is the only truly divisive episode out of 62), Walter White and Jesse Pinkman also broke the pattern of disappointing cliffhangers. The series finale of “Felina” will always be remembered as a perfect send-off that defies the adage that “you can’t please everyone.”
When Better Call Saul’s final episode (“Saul Gone”) aired in August 2022, Jimmy McGill’s spinoff left behind a very well-known legacy: consistent, ardent praise from viewers and critics, topped by a satisfying conclusion. So picking a favorite between Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad is like picking a favorite child. Both are top-notch TV shows with hardly any flaws that are seamlessly woven together to exist either separately or as part of a larger whole. Here’s why Better Call Saul beats Breaking Bad if we have to choose between the two.
Breaking Bad’s Experience Benefits Better Call Saul
The Breaking Bad series premiere is a classic example of television, and Walter White’s narrative quickly settles into a pattern. Breaking Bad, however, takes a little while in seasons 1 and 2 to establish itself, finding its voice, creating the fictional universe, settling into a tone, etc.
In the early seasons of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan and company were figuring things out as they went along, adding those crucial character and plot details. The first season of Breaking Bad was released with very few guarantees, and creator Vince Gilligan has admitted (via Entertainment Weekly) that he initially was mostly just happy to have a TV show. Even though Breaking Bad appears to have a seamless, expertly crafted story, the conclusion didn’t really start to take shape until around season 4.
These foundations had already been set, and that voice had been identified by the time Better Call Saul debuted in 2015. Although the tone of Better Call Saul is significantly different from that of Breaking Bad, the spinoff has an inherent maturity that can only come from having a successful TV program behind it. The (albeit appealing) stench of naivete and doubt that permeated the first few episodes of Breaking Bad has been replaced by swagger and assurance.
Jimmy McGill’s journey also began with certain guarantees of durability, unlike Breaking Bad (as much as any TV show can have assurances over its longevity). Better Call Saul has a reserve and patience that most original series, even Breaking Bad, can’t always afford. It also has a strong, devoted following and numerous buried barrels full of good will. Better Call Saul could have grown naturally from a quieter, more thoughtful spinoff into a veritable bloodbath instead of bursting onto the scene with all guns blazing, a luxury earned entirely by Breaking Bad’s enormous success.
Better Call Saul Displays Greater Character Depth
To say that Breaking Bad’s character development is lacking in any manner is almost obscene. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Breaking Bad’s depth of character is one of its strongest points. In addition to Hank Schrader, Skyler White, and Gus Fring, two of the greatest television characters of all time are Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. But it’s no secret that Breaking Bad is the more boisterous, high-octane, adrenaline-fueled series than Better Call Saul. Better Call Saul would be Chuck and Breaking Bad would be Jimmy if they were siblings.
Better Call Saul makes up for what it lacks in the action area with in-depth character analyses. The portrayal of Jimmy McGill by Bob Odenkirk and Kim Wexler by Rhea Seehorn in Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s spinoff is almost forensic, but the differences between the shows are much more pronounced in the supporting cast members Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) and Gustavo Fring. Both shows give both of the criminals prominent roles, but Better Call Saul delves more deeply into their motivations, phobias, histories, and character development.
Both Jimmy McGill’s and Mike’s gradual decline are depicted in the spinoff, which also manages to give the evil Chicken Man some humanity. Even though Better Call Saul devotes itself entirely to character development above all else, Breaking Bad really takes Mike’s “no half measures” philosophy to heart.
The ideology of Breaking Bad is not necessarily superior to that of Better Call Saul. Some viewers may like the focus on the characters, while others will relish the delicious aroma of the show’s pouring adrenaline. However, there is no disputing that Better Call Saul selects its opportunities to ramp things up with care (e.g., the gunfight in the desert in season 5, the string of significant fatalities in season 6, etc.). Jimmy’s action scenes are all the more potent and effective because of this laser-focus.
Breaking Bad doesn’t create as much intrigue as Better Call Saul
Better Call Saul offers Jimmy McGill’s solo series more opportunities to create intrigue because it is a more thoughtful, patient project than Breaking Bad. Throughout all five seasons of Breaking Bad, the main concerns have been whether Walter White would get away with his crimes and who will perish in the process. With a few notable exceptions (like the significance of the pink bear from season 2 and Jesse’s ignorance that Walt caused Jane’s death), Breaking Bad rarely permits a mystery to last longer than one season.
This is the point where Better Call Saul’s patience sets it apart from other series. Better Call Saul creates a mystery about Jimmy’s future from the very first black-and-white frame of “Gene” that isn’t resolved until the final episodes. Before each season, viewers speculated about what would happen to Kim and Nacho, but it took until season 6 for the significance of Jimmy’s Breaking Bad Lalo line to become clear. In season four of Better Call Saul, Saul casually asks Francesca to call on a particular date, which is possibly the best long-term storytelling example. There is no further discussion on this subject until she finally follows the advice more than two entire seasons later. Breaking Bad can’t compare to the level of intrigue generated by Better Call Saul’s decision to let these mysteries linger in the minds of its viewers for years.
Better Call Saul Successfully Merges Two Different Shows
Better Call Saul employs an ambitious framework that distinguishes Jimmy’s story from both Breaking Bad and the larger world of televised drama. The majority of TV spinoffs are stale rehashes of their original series. At its foundation, Better Call Saul is a marriage of two different ideas that work flawlessly together. On the one hand, there is the legal drama, which tells the story of a would-be underdog lawyer who falls in love, overreacts to his brother’s rivalry, and pulls deft con jobs.
Better Call Saul’s second half takes place independently of Breaking Bad and works as a stand-alone program. On the other hand, there is the Breaking Bad prequel, which describes the development of specific characters and the setting of Albuquerque’s underworld prior to Walter White’s arrival.
These opposing elements come together to provide a more original experience than Breaking Bad. As occurrences in one timeline help to explain specific beats and details from another, viewers see a brand-new episode of one program and their favorite show come to life at the same time. Many people anticipated that Better Call Saul would either escape the shadow of Breaking Bad or provide interesting new information to Walt and Jesse’s plot when it first debuted. Few dared to hope that Better Call Saul would succeed in both endeavors, and the sheer ambition to produce a spinoff that fully embraced its predecessor while also existing in a completely different world is an example of why Better Call Saul has a very slight advantage over Breaking Bad.