“Did you ground yourself?” asked Chuck, when Saul (or do we call him Jimmy?) arrived. I certainly tried to. Like all the other boring people who write about TV, I boringly loved Breaking Bad. Really boringly. I came upon Better Call Saul (Netflix, from Monday, Tuesday) with that mix of apprehension and hope. A big part of me wished it didn’t exist, because there then wouldn’t be the risk of a pollutant somehow infecting the parent show. You know, in same way Broadchurch series two tempts us to now doubt series one1. But two episodes in and I’ve cast those worries aside. Boringly, I loved it.
Better Call Saul fires up the bits in my telly-watching brain that were left for dead after Walter White went down. It’s not the cleverness that gets me (there’s a hint of red in Saul’s glasses in the very last half-second of the black and white sequence), or the counter-intuitive editing (like how the show jarringly cuts from the titles just before the last beat of the music), or even the wit (“The only way that car is worth 500 bucks is if there’s a $300 hooker sitting in it”). It’s the jeopardy and how it’s layered on. Much as we saw in BB, characters pass through doors and find themselves in terrible situations which then… get worse. Things suddenly take on a velocity. Whoosh! And, oh shit!
All of this in a weird, down-trodden, concave world. I love how Vince Gilligan‘s inspiration seems to be drawn from the drabbest, most natural-light-deprived corners of humanity. Horrid malls, nasty chain-patisseries and Saul’s own office situated in the backroom of some joyless beauty parlour, which sports a cucumber-water cooler. Within this feckless setting, Bob Odenkirk brings us the man before he became Saul, someone who’s mediocre at best in the courtroom and impotent everywhere else. But like Walter White, he is the man. And I hope this show – which opens by dangling the possibility it will move out of the past tense and into the present – has plans for life beyond the point Slippin’ Jimmy finds his new identity. Not that I’m in a rush for him to get to Saul. In fact there’s enough of Goodman here already. “I’m the rising tide that raises all dinghies,” he says.
The Walking Dead (Fox Monday, 9pm) resumed its fifth series, with one of those episodes that leads you around and around, but no further forward. Sure, someone died, but in terms of their place in the story, I’d say they’d been the metaphorical walking dead for some time; a character long since run out of plot and passion. That it all seemed so cyclical was partly due to the show’s penchant for disorientating the viewer, opening on flashes of scenes that of themselves appear meaningless, but which we’ve come to learn will be put in context by the end of the hour. And there it all is, rounded off – a circle. Back where we began. A circle, maybe, honouring the person who’s now gone, and that’s okay. I understand the show has to pay respects to its own, and God knows it’s had self-indulgent episodes in the past. Fingers cross, though, next week it starts going places again.
Aimless in a different sort of way, Bob Servant (BBC4 Monday, 9.30pm) came back. It doesn’t feel as though there was a particular swell of support for the character to return (except, I dunno, maybe in Scotland, where the series has already aired on BBC1) but I’m kind of glad he did. Now it’s got rid of the quasi-remit of Bob running for office, it can happily pad around in its own nonsense unfettered by any plot responsibilities. I like Bob – played by Brian Cox – particularly his unshakeable self-assurance and his ready aphorisms. I like it that he talks grandly about his tiny world. “When they murdered Jesus and threw him in the cave, everyone thought it was goodnight Vienna,” he says, framing his imminent return to the world of burger vending. “It’s time for our Second Coming.” All said in a Dundonian accent, something that remains a novelty on TV2 and lends itself nicely to whimsy.
Still more arsing around, The Great Comic Relief Bake Off (BBC1 Wednesday, 8pm) undertook the business of roping in celebrities for – as always – a slightly unsatisfactory version of the competition, which, in the absence of the real deal, does quite nicely. It would be wrong to expect a fictional character to engage properly with the contest, but all the same, I did wish Dame Edna would give it a proper go. I’m not being a total grump in that, though. It was undeniably funny when her giant biscuit fused to the tin and she quipped, in an unflappable way, “It’ll have a good crunch”. God bless Mary Berry, who remained firmly on the rails. “The cream is sort of informal,” she said at the end of round two, in consideration of the Dame’s tarts. The final challenge was to create a tiered chocolate cake inspired by a memorable occasion. Around the meringue Sydney Opera house swam… what? “That is a very rare pink-finned shark,” explained Edna. And the other thing? “That is a red-finned shark.”