'Better Call Saul' Showrunner on Bringing Back Blockbuster Video, Avoiding Courtroom Cliches

Courtesy of AMC
Bob Odenkirk interrogates his brother, played by McKean, in the episode "Chicanery."

Peter Gould talks about tackling the early aughts and why the "light-hearted" 'Breaking Bad' spinoff he envisioned turned into something "more complicated and dramatic."

It is not common for a spinoff to supersede the original in the hearts of its biggest fans, but that's the feat co-showrunners Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould continued to pull off for many viewers with season three of Better Call Saul. AMC's quieter, less meth-y prequel to late Emmy icon Breaking Bad broke new and fertile creative ground with its character study of the McGill brothers — Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Chuck (Michael McKean) — as the narrative continued its collision course with the events of its parent series. (See the tantalizing addition of Giancarlo Esposito's Gus Fring.) Gould explains the unique balancing act he's doing at the show's Albuquerque, New Mexico, set, where avoiding courtroom cliches can be a full-time job in and of itself.

The most challenging scene to write this season was …

Truth be told, Vince and I were more than a little intimidated by the decades of terrific courtroom scenes that came before us. In fact, up until now we've made a point of avoiding courtroom scenes, but with [the episode] "Chicanery," we plunged in with a vengeance. Practically the entire episode takes place during the course of one very tense bar association hearing as Jimmy McGill fights for his legal career. The hour climaxes with Jimmy's examination of his imposing, brilliant older brother, Chuck, and a deception that forces Chuck to break down in public. It's a long, intricate scene, but what gives it real power is that, beneath the veneer of legalities, there's an ocean of complex, primal emotion between these two men.

I still can't believe we got away with …

Re-creating a Blockbuster store for our finale! The image made us laugh in the writers room, but actually making it happen for one brief scene was a real challenge. All kudos to production designer Michael Novotny and his team, ace director of photography Marshall Adams and an office full of people who handled clearances for dozens and dozens of DVD covers!

The biggest misconception about Better Call Saul is …

That it's a lighthearted comedy about a crooked lawyer named Saul Goodman. When we started, Vince and I thought that's exactly what it was going to be, but it turned out to be more complicated — and dramatic — than we could have imagined. And Saul Goodman? He hasn't quite shown up yet.

The person on Better Call Saul who has the most difficult job is …

Our location manager, Christian Diaz De Bedoya, and his team. They have an almost impossible task: finding new, expressive locations in a city we've been shooting in for almost 10 years. He comes through for us every single day and does it with effortless good humor.

The line of dialogue I'm most proud of this season is …

When Bob says, "It's TV, how could there not be a profit?" I laugh every time. Maybe it's a little inside-baseball, but I can't help picturing all the business affairs lawyers in town doing a spit take.

The actor I've never worked with but would love to is …

Alan Arkin. He can do anything. We've been so lucky to work with Bob and Michael McKean — getting Alan on the show would make it a triple crown of comedy legends.

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ODDS ARE ...

It was only the conclusion of Breaking Bad that ended its Emmy streak, making way for a Game of Thrones dominance that never really allowed spinoff Better Call Saul a real chance. This year's more open playing field will test affections for several series, most notably Gilligan's beloved prequel. It is downright understated when stacked against the scope (Westworld) or buzz (The Handmaid's Tale) of some fellow nominees, but the cachet of an auteur on Gilligan's level should never be underestimated. If any non-first-year series stands a chance for a surprise win, it's Saul, but all of that new blood is probably too strong for the third-year show to outshine. 

This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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