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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Better Call Saul: Season 1 Collector's Edition (Blu-ray)
Better Call Saul: Season 1 Collector's Edition (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures // Unrated // November 10, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $69.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted November 11, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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The Series:

It wasn't long after Breaking Bad finished its run that series creator Vince Gilligan announced there would be a follow up in the form of Better Call Saul, a new show revolving around the exploits of Walter White's shifty lawyer Saul Goodman. Had this new series flopped, doomed to forever live in the massive shadow of that earlier show, it's unlikely anyone would have been surprised. That was a big act to follow indeed, but amazingly enough Gilligan and company pulled it off. Better Call Saul proved an immediate commercial and critical hit and for good reason: it's very compelling viewing.

The series introduces us to Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), the brother of hotshot lawyer Chuck (Michael McKean) who just so happens to be a partner in Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill, a massive law firm. Jimmy looks up to his brother and wants to be a lawyer too, but at least initially he's doomed to work away his days in the mailroom. Even after he graduates the bar, there's no way that Chuck's partner, Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian), is going to give Jimmy a shot on their team. Chuck, however, suffers from a strange disorder in which he simply cannot be around electromagnetism. This causes him to take a leave of absence from the firm and it leaves Jimmy with some responsibilities he may not want, let alone understand. But he pitches in, he helps his older brother out and he doesn't complain too much when he has to leave his cell phone in his rundown car before entering a house where lights and other electrical devices cannot be used.

At the same time, if he's not going to get that shot at the firm then Jimmy's got to do something, right? Right. And so he starts up his own practice that he bases out of the back office of a nail salon. Business isn't very good, not to start with, and so he starts picking away at some low hanging fruit by specializing in senior law… doing wills and estate planning. Eventually though, Jimmy gets a couple of breaks. He meets Craig Kettleman (Jeremy Shamos), a county treasurer currently being investigated for embezzlement and he uncovers some interesting documents while dealing with his clients at the seniors home. Along the way he tries to keep things going with an old girlfriend named Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) who still works at the firm, and kinda-sorta strikes up an unusual friendship with a parking lot attendant named Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks).

The ten episodes that make up the first season of Better Call Saul are spread across the three discs in this collection as follows:

Disc One: Uno / Mijo / Nacho / Hero

Disc Two: Alpine Shepherd Boy / Five-O / Bingo

Disc Three: Rico / Pimento / Marco

A prequel to Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul does something exceedingly difficult: it brings a supporting character (and one played almost always for comic relief at that) and puts him front and center in his own show and it makes it work. Jimmy, not yet Saul at this point, is an amusing character. We see how, in his early days, he and his friends would run different cons to make a few bucks here and there and we see the seeds being sewn for the transition into Saul but at the same time, given that he is the central focus here, we get to know him. What exactly will turn him into the huckster he becomes in Breaking Bad remains to be seen but here he's complicated, funny and a really interesting person to watch. Much of the credit for this goes to Bob Odenkirk's amazing lead performance. He handles every aspect of this character perfectly. The sadness he feels when betrayed, the joy he feels when he hits pay dirt, the vindictive side that creeps up now and then under certain circumstances and the good natured and kind side that shows up when Kim is around are all made to feel natural and believable thanks to Odenkirk's delivery. The supporting cast are just as good. No faint praise there, everyone in front of the camera nails it. Michael McKean is perfect as Chuck, every bit as good as Odenkirk is. His character has an interesting sense of pathos but at the same time, we know Chuck's no fool. Patrick Fabian and Rhea Seehorn are rock solid in their supporting parts while Jonathan Banks tends to steal every damn scene he's in. Watching the cast members bring these characters into the spotlight is a treat.

As to the storytelling, it's excellent. This moves at a slower pace than Breaking Bad did (it's hard not to occasionally make the comparison) but it's no less interesting for it. There's a certain sense of inevitability to things here, without spoiling it the opening of the first episode speaks to that, but how we get there, well, that's where a lot of the show's draw comes from. The writing team focuses on the human side of the story in a big way. Yes, there's a lot of humor and often, particularly in the last half of the season, there's some pretty great suspense to but as all of this builds and starts to pay off what impresses is the emotions that the characters experience and how, even if you've never tried to start a law firm, you can relate to them. Add to that the fact that the series is really nicely shot and that it features a lot of great music throughout and this series, even in its infancy as it is here, proves to be ‘can't miss TV.'

The Blu-ray:

Video:

Sony offers up all of the episodes of Better Call Saul: The Complete First Season in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. Details in both the foregrounds and the backgrounds are generally very sharp and in close up shots almost a revelation. Texture is strong, facial detail is excellent and color reproduction impressive and natural looking throughout the entire run of episodes. Skin tones also look good and there's a lot of appreciable depth to the picture at times. There are no problems with any compression artifacts nor is there any edge enhancement. As you'd expect, the image is pristine and perfectly clean looking. There's really nothing serious to complain about here at all, outside of some occasional banding the picture quality is outstanding.

Sound:

The main audio option in this set is the English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks, but dubbed options are provided in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound in both French with optional subtitles offered in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Arabic and Dutch.

In terms of the quality of the lossless tracks, again, Sony scores top marks with this release. There's plenty of activity present in the front and rear channels throughout the series. The calm, quiet scenes have some interesting ambient noise and sound effects while the more action intensive scenes open things up considerably. Voices are crystal clear and dialogue is easy to follow. All in all, the series sounds great. Levels are perfectly balanced and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note. The music used throughout the series has good range and presence to it as well.

Extras:

The extras start out with audio commentaries for every one of the episodes included in this set:

Uno: Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, Bob Odenkirk, Michael McKean, Stewart Lyons, Diane Mercer and Thomas Golubic
Mijo: Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, Jonathan Banks, Michelle MacLaren, Tony Fanning, Kelly Dixon and Dave Porter
Nacho: Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, Julie Ann Emery, Michael Mando, Mark Johnson and Thomas Schnauz
Hero: Vince Gilligan, Patrick Fabian, Rhea Seehorn, Gennifer Hutchison, Colin Bucksey, Nina Jack and William Powloski
Alpine Shepherd Boy: Peter Gould, Patrick Fabian, Rhea Seehorn, Bradley Paul, Nina Jack, Skip MacDonald and Jennifer Bryan
Five-O: Vince Gilligan, Jonathan Banks, Gordon Smith, Tony Fanning, Kelley Dixon and Dave Porter
Bingo: Peter Gould, Jonathan Banks, Patrick Fabian, Rhea Seehorn, Larysa Kondracki and Skip Macdonald
Bingo: Craig and Betsy Kettleman (done in character)
Rico:Peter Gould, Gordon Smith, Diane Mercer and Colin Bucksey
Pimento: Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, Michael McKean, Michael Mando, Mark Proksch, Thomas Schnaz and Curtis Thurber
Pimento Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, Bob Odenkirk, Michael McKean, Diane Mercer, Thomas Golubic and Chris McCaleb

Group commentary tracks can occasionally get a little unfocused but these are good. They cover pretty much everything you'd want them to: casting, character development, story ideas, locations, tone, editing and everything in between. As such, they're very informative and often there's a good sense of humor behind a lot of this too, which makes them fun to listen to as well as educational. The ‘in character' track for the Kettleman's is also amusing.

The rest of the extras are spread across the three discs in the set as follows:

Disc One:

The main extra on the first disc is twelve minute featurette called Jimmy In The Courtroom that is a very impressive collection of clips in which Odenkirk improvises certain court room bits and pieces as Jimmy McGill. It's fun to see him do this here and it's available to watch with an optional introduction by director Michelle MacLaren and with optional commentary from Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould and Thomas Schanuz. Aside from that, we also get a single Deleted Scene (with optional commentary from Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould and Thomas Schanuz) from the Mijo episode and a four minute segment called Better Call Saul: Day One that gives us a quick rundown of who Saul is, how the series was spun off from Breaking Bad and the importance of Mike to the series.

Disc Two:

Creating The First Season is the main extra on the second disc, a twenty-four minute examination of the challenges that the creative team experienced in spinning Saul off into his own series and what they were aiming for as it was being developed. They also examine the different characters that populate this first batch of episodes and discuss some of the story arcs that transpire here. There's also some exploration of the more technical side of things too as they discuss the locations, the costumes, the casting of the series, the editing, the music and more. It's pretty interesting stuff, definitely worth watching if you're a fan of the show. This is complemented nicely by Good Cop, Bad Cop: Becoming Mike, a twelve minute piece that explores the origins and importance of Jonathan Banks' character in this series.

Aside from that we get two deleted scenes from the Bingo episode (again with optional commentary from Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould and Thomas Schnauz), a five minute bit called In The Studio where we get a chance to hang out with Junior Brown while he's putting together the series' theme song and a music video for that same song.

Disc Three:

The Uno Table Read featurette is, as it sounds, a full length fifty three minute long reading by the cast of the script for that particular episode. This is more interesting than it probably sounds because it gives us a chance to see some of the characters working out the specific quirks and details inherent in the characters that they play in the show. Also on disc three is In Conversation: Bob Odenkirk & Michael McKean, a thirty-four minute piece in which the men who play the brothers McGill talk about their characters, their take on performing in the series, what they think of the series as a whole and quite a bit more.

Disc three also contains three and a half minute long Gag Reel, a two minute piece called Jimmy Kaleidoscope in which Peter Gould introduces a highlight reel from the first season (with another optional commentary from Gilligan, Gould and Schanuz) and one deleted scene each for the Pimento and Marco episodes (once again with optional commentary from Gilligan, Gould and Schanuz).

Each disc features menus and episode/chapter selection. The three discs that makeup the set are housed inside a Blu-ray flipper case that in turn fits inside a cardboard slipcase. Accompanying the discs inside the case is an insert sheet with a download code for Digital HD versions of the episodes.

Final Thoughts:

Better Call Saul had a LOT to live up to but the cast, crew and creative team really did knock it out of the park with this first season. Everything about this series is top notch, from the writing to the acting to the production values, and it makes for addictive viewing to be sure. It's a very different show than the series that came before it and inspired it but if these inaugural episodes are anything to go by, it looks like it will be just as good. Sony's Blu-ray release presents the entire first season in gorgeous quality and with an excellent array of supplements as well. DVD Talk Collector's Series.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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