If you watched “Breaking Bad,” or even if you didn’t, you should be watching “Better Call Saul.” It’s funny and smart and heartbreaking and has all the fun of a rogue-lawyer primetime basic cable legal drama, but with this lovely thing that, heretofore, I have really only seen in women in network dramas: the main character is hell-bent on being good, working hard and doing the right thing.
At this point in the series (I just finished episode 8), Saul Goodman is still Jimmy McGill, and he’s the Leslie Knope of grinding out a “living” getting $140 a pop writing wills for old people. He’s enthusiastic. He says “thank you” a lot. He tries.
He gets a white suit made because he sees it on “Matlock.” He drives a Suzuki Esteem. He gets his law degree via correspondence school in secret, so he doesn’t do anything to infringe on the time he spends on his mailroom gig. His brother, even though a respected lawyer, is Chuck, not Charles. Chuck and Jimmy. He isn’t trying to game the system, he’s trying to find problems and fix them. He wants to help. He is trying really, really hard.
And whether or not you know (uh, spoiler alert I guess if you didn’t watch “Breaking Bad”) that it pays off in a divergent path, seeing his origin story of being a guy who is really trying to follow the rules and work hard, well, it’s really great.
A lot of people struggle endlessly with the desire to be good. I want to be a good person. I want to be dependable, accountable. I want to be recognized for hard work and accomplishments I earned and worked for, not my lucky breaks. I want to do the right thing. And this eats at me. It leads to a lot of regrets and worry. Did I tip that guy enough at that pizza place a month ago? Did that person think I was copping an attitude when he called me at home on he weekend about something that isn’t really my job, and I helped him, but maybe not as enthusiastically as I should have? What about my thoughts? Are they positive and benign? Am I secretly feeling differently?
I don’t know. I mean, dang. That’s on some deep philosophical level sometimes. But, I guess, I’ve never really seen someone do that through sort of calm commitment. Leslie Knope did it with boundless enthusiasm and outward-facing esprit de corps, but to watch Jimmy McGill decide he’s had enough, and he doesn’t have to take it anymore and just do it with a calm, rational, well, this is how it is, in his new “Matlock” suit, being obscenely polite to a woman who can’t come up with the $140 she needs to get her will from him, and it just, man it hits me hard.
I want to be good. There are tough obstacles, but I do not indulge that whim, but I’m not exactly doing it enthusiastically. And I’ve never seen that aspect of personality directly represented on tv before, and so, that’s why I’ve watched this episode of “Better Call Saul” three times today.