The golden age of television is considered to be the 1950s, the era when the production of many new shows ramped up, and series like I Love Lucy, The Twilight Zone, and Leave it to Beaver ruled the tube.
In reality, this is the golden age of television, if you add streaming to the mix. There are so many quality shows right now that people who don’t spend hours every day watching (that would be me) have to be judicious in their choices.
That’s why I was late coming to Better Call Saul, a spinoff of the incredible Breaking Bad, and possibly even better. Its strength is grounded in the morally-ambivalent attorney Jimmy McGill, played by Bob Odenkirk—one of the best fictional characters I’ve come across: a fast, smooth talker who wants to do right but can’t help himself sometimes.
In case I’m not the last person to watch Better Call Saul, I recommend the series. Like many recurring series, it follows a familiar pattern of long arcs that take their time on character transformation but are punctuated by the peaks and valleys of goals and obstacles. The leads must contend with one mini-crisis after another, and Better Call Saul gets the most out of every moment.
Example: there is one short scene, a tiny flashback to an earlier time, that really stuck with me for its brilliance.
Jimmy and his brother Chuck (a much more successful lawyer than Jimmy), who have a tumultuous love/hate sibling relationship, are keeping a deathbed vigil over their mother at the hospital. Mom has been unconscious for a long time and the brothers haven’t even taken time to eat. Jimmy suggests they take a break to grab a bite, but Chuck thinks this is callous and inappropriate. Jimmy goes anyway and offers to bring Chuck back a sandwich.
Once Chuck is alone with his mother, she returns to consciousness just long enough to call out for Jimmy. She doesn’t seem to recognize or acknowledge Chuck’s presence. His face tells it all. Then the mother dies.
Here it is in 30 seconds:
Jimmy gets back and finds out his mother died. He asks Chuck if she woke up or said anything. Chuck lies and says no, clearly crushed and bitter because Jimmy was his mother’s favorite. A short scene, perfectly executed, that reflects the larger contentious relationship between the brothers.
It would have taken a novelist a thousand words to deliver the same impact—I’m not dinging novelists (I would never do that!), but I am praising the lean power of visual storytelling in this golden age.