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Scott D. Pierce: ‘Better Call Saul’ is a great show — because it’s not about Saul

(Photo courtesy of Warrick Page/AMC/Sony Pictures Television) Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler and Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill in "Better Call Saul."

“Better Call Saul” is the greatest prequel in TV history. Because it’s not about Saul Goodman.

Saul (Bob Odenkirk), you’ll recall, was introduced as a sleazy lawyer with criminal ties who ended up working for drug lord-in-the-making Walter White (Bryan Cranston) in “Breaking Bad.” And, when AMC announced the spinoff/prequel, I thought it was a terrible idea for two reasons:

First, I was convinced that prequels are generally bad. (I blame George Lucas and his “Star Wars” prequels for that.) Second, oddball secondary characters are generally best taken in small doses. And spinning them off is often disastrous. (“The Lone Gunmen” should never have left “The X-Files.” Just sayin’.)

Saul Goodman was hilarious and engaging in small doses on “Breaking Bad,” but hardly seemed like a lead character. And, after four seasons and 40 episodes, series co-creator/executive producer Vince Gilligan admitted exactly that. Speaking to a room full of TV critics, Gilligan had a sudden revelation.

“It just dawned on me,” he said. “Saul’s not worth making a whole TV show about.”

I had long since decided I was wrong about “Better Call Saul,” and the man behind that show and “Breaking Bad” was telling me I had been right?

“Saul Goodman is a perfectly good, humorous kind of a secondary character, but he’s not the guy you want to build a show around,” Gilligan said. “In our ignorance, we thought we were going to do that. And then we realized, no, the guy is Jimmy McGill.”

Jimmy McGill is the real name of the character we first knew as Saul Goodman. (That name is a joke, derived from “It’s all good, man.”) And it’s been fascinating to see Jimmy — a small-time hustler turned smart lawyer — slide toward the amoral guy we knew in “Breaking Bad.”

“That’s the guy you want to tell the story about,” Gilligan said.

(Photo courtesy of Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television) "Better Call Saul" executive producers Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan.

Co-creator and showrunning executive producer Peter Gould said that when writers began work on Season 1, they thought of the character as Saul.

“And then he became Jimmy. And, in our minds, Saul maybe is a layer on top of Jimmy,” he said. “It puts 'Breaking Bad’ in a different perspective that even when he becomes Saul, Jimmy’s still there. He doesn’t have a psychotic break. This is an identity that he’s created.”

It’s an identity he embraces as Season 5 gets underway with a pair of episodes on Sunday and Monday (Sunday’s extended episode — 75 minutes — airs at 8:05 p.m. on Dish and DirecTV and 11:05 p.m. on Comcast. Monday’s hourlong episode airs at 7 p.m. on Dish/DirecTV and 10 p.m. on Comcast.)

“He’s making a choice to commit to this persona in Season 5,” Odenkirk said. “And I think that as he plays out the season, he’s maybe asking the question, ‘How serious do I want to be about this? How completely do I want it to take over my life?’ ... He just heads down that road faster and faster and faster. The stakes go up. Things get really out of control, and I think he responds by digging in deeper.”

But “Better Call Saul” remains a show about Jimmy McGill, not “hollowed out” Saul Goodman, Gilligan said. “He’s not even a person. I mean, he really is Jimmy.

“It took me years to figure that out. It’s the damndest thing. I think I just figured it out on the stage” at the Television Critics Association press tour.

WHERE DOES IT END? A lot of us (including the show’s producers/writers) assumed that “Better Call Saul” would end when Jimmy assumed the persona of Saul Goodman. That’s clearly not the case — he becomes Saul in Season 5, and there’s still a sixth and final season coming our way.

So will “Saul” end at the beginning of “Breaking Bad”? Will it jump to the post-”Breaking Bad” life we’ve seen glimpses of Jimmy living?

Gould said he’s unsure, because the writers haven’t even started work on Season 6. And Gilligan said that “It’s a little bit, maybe, all of the above. ... They’re not necessarily mutually exclusive.”

WHAT ABOUT WALT AND JESSE? Season 5 of “Saul” will feature the return of two “Breaking Bad” characters who (spoilers!) did not survive that show — DEA agents Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) and Steven Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada.)

Remember, it’s a prequel. But Season 5 will not feature either Walter White or Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). Season 6 might.

“I would love to see them on ‘Better Call Saul’ before it ends, so who knows?” Gilligan said.

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