It's 'Saul' right after all

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Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman and Michael McKean as Chuck in "Better Call Saul." (Ursula Coyote/AMC)

* BETTER CALL SAUL. 10 p.m. Sunday, AMC. Moves to 10 p.m. Mondays following night.

* THE JINX - THE LIFE AND DEATHS OF ROBERT DURST.

8 p.m. Sunday, HBO.

 

I HAD MY doubts about the much-anticipated "Better Call Saul."

Spinoffs are always chancy - for every "Frasier," there's at least one "Joey" or "AfterMASH" - and following a show like AMC's "Breaking Bad" only seemed to be asking for trouble.

I'm relieved to be wrong.

There is a show in Bob Odenkirk's "Breaking Bad" character, a crooked lawyer calling himself Saul Goodman, who, when it all hit the fan in "Bad," predicted a future for himself at a Cinnabon in Omaha.

It is, sadly, a colorless future, a point made in the cold opening to Sunday's post-"The Walking Dead" premiere, with the Ink Spots' "Address Unknown" playing in the background.

But the past, bathed in the Albuquerque sunshine that gave "Breaking Bad" its iconic look, is still a place of possibilities.

One might even raise the dead.

Set six years before the lawyer meets Bryan Cranston's Walter White for the first time, "Better Call Saul" is the story of Jimmy McGill (Odenkirk), whose conversion to Saul Goodman is still somewhere in the future and who hasn't yet been formally introduced to future fixer Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks).

Creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould ruled out a Cranston cameo this season - and declared Aaron Paul's Jesse Pinkman too young - but beyond that, there seem to be plenty of options for "Breaking Bad" callbacks.

"Better Call Saul," though, isn't just a vehicle for keeping fans of "Bad" tuned to AMC. Three episodes in, I'm thinking it might even stand on its own.

It helps that the lawyer who'll one day be known as Saul is no longer being written strictly as comic relief.

Is "Saul" funny? Yes, in the way that "Breaking Bad" could be very funny. And it's still Odenkirk, whose face alone is worth a comedy master class. But there's more pathos there than I'd expected, and a backstory that, like Walter White's, asks us to think about how much of one's destiny is predetermined and how much is due to circumstance.

Besides Banks, regulars include Michael McKean, Rhea Seehorn, Patrick Fabian and Michael Mando.

Telling you what any one of them is doing there - or how they're related to Jimmy - might spoil the fun.

And I wouldn't think of it.

 

'The Jinx' on HBO

The very rich really are different from you and me: Their true-crime stories may land on HBO.

Or at least that's what's happened to way-beyond-eccentric real-estate heir Robert Durst, whose eagerness to be interviewed by filmmaker Andrew Jarecki ("Capturing the Friedmans") lends the six-part documentary premiering Sunday more creepiness than cachet.

Durst was acquitted of a grisly murder in Galveston, Texas, (he admitted to dismembering the body) and has never been charged in the 1982 disappearance of his wife. Now 71, he got in touch with the filmmaker in 2010, after Jarecki's feature film, "All Good Things," fictionalized the story of Durst's missing wife.

When I asked Jarecki last month what separated "The Jinx," which uses re-creations, from a "48 Hours" or other TV true-crime show, he replied that Durst's story is "operatic," and that it had "significance because it begins in the context of enormous wealth and privilege [with] . . . characters who changed the world."

Two episodes in, I can't say "The Jinx" has changed mine. Jarecki promises "unexpected revelations." HBO, which hopes those who stuck with the recent podcast "Serial" to its inconclusive ending will hang in there with Durst, sent only the two.

 


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