Better Call Saul’s “Uno” – Life Before Cinnabon

I know I said I’d do procedural dramas for the Pilot Project, but certain exceptions have to be made. Better Call Saul premiered last night, with another new episode tonight. So, fine, it’s not the typical formulaic cop show that I’m guilty of marathoning; but Saul Goodman’s a lawyer and he defends criminals so it fits in the cloud of procedurals. Right? Anyway, being a fan of Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad, I had high hopes and teeny, tiny reservations for this Saul-centric prequel. No matter the plot, I knew this show would be a visual adventure with its prosaic backdrop and depictions. It’s tough to imagine anyone else playing the TV lawyer, so I came in knowing Bob Odenkirk’s acting chops would surpass the expectations. Expect an Emmy nod in his direction.

While I knew the show had the makings of excellence, my only reservation was that I, admittedly, am not as enamoured by the character of Saul Goodman as most BrBa fans. Yeah, he’s hilarious and sleazy, which makes him sort of loveable. But my sick, twisted mind gravitated towards the brooding badasses who could commit murder with just one death glare – the Gus Frings and the Mike Ehrmantrauts. It is a preference though, and I do like Saul so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to check it out.

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But the hurt is apparent within the first few minutes. The episode begins with black and white scenes of a moustachioed Saul, working at a Cinnabon just as he promised Walter White. “If I’m lucky – month from now – best-case scenario, I’m managing a Cinnabon in Omaha.” The opening scenes are killing it with the cinematography. The way they portray the mundane and the melancholy of this new Saul is heartbreaking. Black and white continues as Saul pours himself a drink and watches old tapes of his Better Call Saul commercials. The colour from the TV reflects off his glasses.

The time jumps back to 2002, and the setting is a New Mexico courthouse. Saul, or Jimmy McGill according to his birth certificate, is working as a public defender for three 19 year-old knuckleheads. He rehearses his statement in the men’s washroom, and returns to the courtroom to undermine the trespassing charges. His argument is along the lines of ‘boys will be boys’. The district attorney silently drags the television forward and pops a tape in the VCR. The video shows the boys screwing a severed head. Jimmy shows no sadness or frustration over losing the case, but he becomes angry when he learns his payday for representing three clients comes down to a measly $700. He heads out to meet with a potentially big client, but has some trouble with his parking sticker. We hear the lot attendant give Jimmy some grief. I can hear you, Mike Ehrmantraut! I can see you, Mike Ehrmantraut! Have I mentioned that I love you, Mike Ehrmantraut?

Representing the potential clients, Craig and Betsy, turns out to be a bust. As Jimmy drives along a suburban road, he hits a skateboarder. However, he sees through the kid and his brother’s bullshit once they attempt to collect $500. Jimmy then drives off to the nail salon, which he tries to get Jesse Pinkman to buy in the future. These allusions to Breaking Bad are making me giddier than a schoolgirl in a One Direction concert. In his office, Jimmy goes through his bills and finds a cheque from Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill for $26,000. He heads down to the law firm, where we learn about Chuck. We’re also treated to a glimpse of that ballsy, over-the-top Saul Goodman goodness when he yells out, “And you will atone!”

Jimmy drives to a dark house and stores his keys and cell phone in a mailbox. He steps inside and we hear Chuck typing something that needs to be translated – a new identity for his younger brother, I can’t be sure. Jimmy tries to convince his older brother to cash out of the firm, but Chuck insists he’s going to beat this electromagnetism paranoia. We start to see the glaring differences between brothers. Although Chuck is now a recluse due to his supposed mental illness, he maintains to be a rather honourable lawyer (there’s such a thing?). He worries about his clients, his staff, and all the people who have no legal representation. Jimmy’s perspective is a little different. He’s tired of being paid pennies for his work as a public defender. “Money is not beside the point. Money is the point.”

Chuck tries to convince Jimmy to change his name and dissociate from the partner name. He brings up professional courtesy, but all Jimmy worries about is the fact that his brother’s broke and he doesn’t have the means to support Chuck’s strange, hermetic lifestyle. They continue to argue and Chuck finally asks his brother, “wouldn’t you rather build your own identity? Why ride on someone else’s coattails?”

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Jimmy is in the skate park and find the two boys from the day prior. He tells them the story of Cicero Illinois’ Slippin’ Jimmy, who collected up to eight grand from planned collisions. He arranges a hit with Betsy’s medium sandalwood (baby-poop brown) station wagon. It doesn’t go according to plan though when Betsy hits and runs. The skateboarders tail behind a truck and follow her car. They immediately drop Jimmy as their lawyer once they learn they’ve fallen into the honeypot, and now they stood to gain more money for the felony. Once the station wagon’s parked on a driveway, the skateboarders call out the driver. Instead of white, middle-aged, suburban Betsy, it’s a Hispanic older woman. “You felonied my brother!” But the woman no habla English, so they follow her inside.

The scene cuts back to Jimmy, who, after numerous attempts starting his $200 yellow relic ($300 hooker not included), has found Betsy’s car and the boys’ skateboards. He pounds on the door, and a man pulls it open. It’s Turtle, I mean, Tuco Salamanca! He has a gun to Jimmy’s face, he pulls him into the house, and we fade to black.

Better Call Saul is definitely going on the DVR list.


Redheads Who Never Learned To Swim

In my last post I introduced the idea of starting The Pilot Project, where I would watch a pilot of a show on Netflix and detail my thoughts and reactions. My intention is not to review the episode and rate it from a scale of green unidentified splatter to a fresh tomato. Just consider it as a journalistic nonfiction writing prompt.

Earlier this evening, I decided to start of the project by checking out one of the classic American procedural dramas, Hawaii Five-O. Netflix told me this series started in 1968, which elicited a groan out of me. Right off the bat, I had a feeling this was going to be cheesy. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate a movie produced before I was born; but procedurals aren’t exactly noteworthy for aging gracefully.

Mr. Hennessy after a rough night.

Mr. Hennessy having trouble with a sausage stuffer.

Episode one titled Cocoon: Part 1 signifies the problems I may encounter as I take on this project. Watching only the pilot and forming an opinion isn’t really fair when the first episode is lacking any closure. Needless to say, I carried on and told myself I wouldn’t have to subject myself to Part 2 if I wasn’t into it. The episode opens up with some weird SCUBA experiment at some top-secret testing facility. Some guy with a pipe tells Wo Fat to get on with it. And Wo Fat does as told. He and the crew carry the mystery SCUBA guy, who we learn is called Mr. Hennessy (who probably was on the receiving end of insensitive jokes about his alcoholism), out of the pool and begin to check under the gas mask on his face. Ominous music plays and [spoiler alert] we see that Mr. Hennessy has dried-up toothpaste all over his eyes.

Cue the best part of Hawaii Five-O. Ah, the fun and iconic theme song! We learn that the main character is played by a pivoting Jack Lord. David Caruso may have trademarked the sunglasses move with the ridiculous one-liner, but I think the quick-reaction pivot is a Jack Lord thing. Please correct me if I’m wrong. Anyway, so we see the rest of the cast, which is only three other men (but hey, two of them are POC! – way to go, 1968!)

We learn that McGarrett (Jack Lord) knows Mr. Hennessy from AA (no he doesn’t but let’s roll with it). The cop on scene thinks that the now-deceased Mr. Hennessy was out for a swim but McG quickly shuts down that theory. “Wrong. Hennessy couldn’t swim.” And why couldn’t he swim? Well, McG lays it out for us. “Hennessy was quite a guy. He hated this island paradise he was assigned to. One of those redheads who got sunburned walking to the grocery store. That’s why he never learned to swim.” 

Excellent deduction skills, detective exposition. Now that McG is aware that something fishy is going on, he asks his staff to help him out on the investigation. He learns that it wasn’t Crest on Hennessy’s face, but Gutta-percha, something used for teeth fillings so I wasn’t too far off. He decodes burnt strips of paper using a projector screen, that I’ve seen used as recently as 2007. Apparently Hawaii Five-0 had some swanky tech sponsors in their time. One of McG’s subordinate detectives finds this mysterious Quong girl, but he doesn’t take her to the girl until McG promises to trade his orange juice and sandwich. Priorities, man.


I’d rather pour some old buttermilk on my hot ulcer, too, Mr. Second Banana.

McG meets Quong girl and there’s a little flirtation going on between them. Some more action happens, but things get interesting when McG finds the time to go on a date with Quong girl, who swears she was only Mr. Hennessy’s good friend. McG doesn’t care; Hennessy’s dead so who cares about their dating history? She dances all groovy but throws in some subtle hula moves to remind you that this show is set in Hawaii. McG asks her why’d she become a hippie and Quong girl replies, “because I care.” Apparently the same answer applies to McG’s chosen profession of law enforcement. I wonder if cops in Ferguson will give you the same answer.

McG goes undercover working maintenance at a ship. We get a good glimpse of McG being all sweaty and sexy, just to remind us that he’s not just a pretty face solving crime; he’s also a rugged relatable blue collar Joe if the situation calls for it. Using his undercover skills, Detective McG explores the ship to find [dun dun dun] the not-so-top-secret testing facility. We won’t know what happens next or who killed Mr. Hennessy (don’t drink and SCUBA) until we watch Part 2.

But honestly, I have no interest in Part 2 so I’ll go on living thinking McG died because of dental work gone wrong. Hawaii Five-O was before the time of DNA and all the cool, dope stuff that have come out of forensics. That explains why McG collected evidence with a handkerchief and proceeded to stuff evidence into his jacket pocket, or why “intelligence” handled a potential murder weapon with bare hands. My instinctive reaction was to yell out “nooo, you bloody idiot, you’re compromising evidence!” And I can’t have that. I need new technology – the kind that can zoom in and turn megapixels into ultrapixels and turn those into googlapixels so you can read a license plate from a dash cam 500 kilometres away from the suspect’s vehicle. It’s either that or bust, McG.

For it’s time though, I can see why it was popular and why there was a 2010 remake with a clever zero instead of the letter O. But it didn’t hold my interest enough to even care about what happened to Mr. Hennessy or why he thought it was a good idea to get dental work on his eyes. No, Mr. Hennessy, go home to Quong girl. Your buddy, McG, is about to steal your girl.

Detective Guapo Approved: The Pilot Project

I have to confess.

I really, really like procedural dramas. I like them like you would a bad boyfriend. I go on binges then I do everything in my power to stay away – bury myself in actual work or get off the grid. It’s the kind of stuff that affects me to an unhealthy degree. I’m not being hyperbolic, I swear. I could talk about that one time I received an ominous email from a company about a recent ‘immediate termination’ of someone I was supposed to meet with. I began speculating reasons for his termination by looking at past behaviours and conducting interrogations in my head. It was a little unhealthy. (If anyone’s curious, the interrogation room in my head is the cold, clinical, dimly lit, concrete-walled room characteristic of the ‘local’ precinct; you’ll also find a really sexy detective, by the name of Detective Guapo, slamming his fists and demanding the truth.)

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Law & Order SVU is owned by NBC, but let’s be real, it’s the Mariska Hargitay Show.

No need to call the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit; I’m not crazy (yet). But please feel free to call Shemar Moore. The thing is, I get really invested in TV shows but I also fall out of them relatively quickly. I give a lot of pilots a shot; maybe watch a few episodes in, and then I’m over it. There are a handful of shows that I’ve watched religiously from start to finish, and then there are the fast loves – the ones that take over my life as fast as they burn out. Procedural dramas fall under fast loves.

Where am I going with this?

Looking over this list from Wikipedia, I can say that I’ve seen at least ten on this list; but I’ve never watched them in their entirety. Granted these shows are usually a case-a-week with a story arc spanning a season. So it’s not totally necessary to see every episode chronologically. Still, I have this unhealthy addiction and it’s not going anywhere so I might as well make something out of it.

This is the part where I introduce an idea for a blog project. Let’s call it The Pilot Project, because alliterations are cool and it sounds a lot more important than it actually is. Every week or so, I’ll go on Netflix and check out a pilot I’ve never seen before. Maybe it’s a hyped up show that I never got into, or maybe it’s one of those shows that the studios cancelled mid-first season. I was thinking of starting with my fast loves (procedurals) and working my way to more critically acclaimed, dare I say more intellectual, shows.

It's going to be tough keeping up with this mind-bender. Pretty Little Liars (TV series) is owned by ABC Family.

It’s going to be tough keeping up with this mind-bender. Pretty Little Liars is owned by ABC Family.

It’s probably not fair to watch a pilot and surmise an opinion of the show based on one episode alone. Didn’t a lot of people say that the first episode of Breaking Bad was shit? I personally didn’t think so, but a lot of people were afraid that the first episode wouldn’t be enough to hook people in. The same story’s told with the first season of Parks and Recreation, and it’s one of my favourite sitcoms. So yeah, this is probably a terrible idea. But my intention is not to review the shows. Chances are most of them premiered over ten years ago; so no one will be checking for my posts. I just want to write my reactions and see if I can find a pattern to determine whether or not I personally think a show is worth pursuing.

I don’t know. These are just ideas. I’m still not sure where this blog is going. Right now, it’s kind of a clusterfuck, which is fitting because it perfectly describes where my head’s been for the last decade.

So keep your eyes peeled. The first installment of The Pilot Project will be up sooner than you can binge watch all three seasons of House of Cards. Or, you know, you could prove me wrong.