Smart TV: Better Call Saul’s Fourth Season, Breaking Bad’s Cinematography

Smart TV is a weekly series that includes TV news, reviews, and recommendations on what shows to watch.

Many of the best spin-offs in television history are comedies. Frasier, The Colbert Report, The Simpsons, etc. When looking at Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, the continuity of excellence in both shows is unmatched by other television dramas. With each episode it becomes more apparent how special both series are.

Better Call Saul recently concluded its fourth season. In this post, I look back at the historical context and cinematography of both shows.


Better Call Saul vs. Breaking Bad

Along with The Wire and The Sopranos, Breaking Bad is widely regarded as being one of the best television shows ever. Creating a spin-off of the series was a daunting task. Breaking Bad was almost guaranteed to fall short of its predecessor. That has not been the case. The magic of Breaking Bad has been repeated through Bob Odenkirk’s character Jimmy McGill.

Every season has shed light on Jimmy’s transition to “criminal lawyer” Saul Goodman. Along the way, there have been crossovers between the two series that build the backstories of its secondary characters. Instead of watering down its predecessor, Better Call Saul has only enhanced the AMC’s character universe.

The best Breaking Bad reference has been the story of Don Hector’s bell. Finding that the bell has a morbid origin only adds to his character’s notoriety.

Don Hector's bell has one of the most sordid backstories on Better Call Saul
Don Hector’s bell has one of the most sordid backstories on Better Call Saul

With this in mind, the Breaking Bad vs. Better Call Saul debate is a farce. Breaking Bad is the clear favorite. That is not a slight against Better Call Saul. The shows possess two different styles that are enjoyable in their own way. Breaking Bad had more action as Walter White evolved into Heisenberg. Better Call Saul is a slow-moving White Collar drama.

Better Call Saul’s best moments come as characters overlap with Breaking Bad. This is more than just cameos and Easter eggs. This is a testament to creator Vince Gilligan. Fans of Breaking Bad are more than willing to be patient with the pace of the series just because they have faith in Gilligan’s abilities to connect the show’s timelines. If it were reversed, it is unlikely that Better Call Saul would have inspired a spin-off.


Breaking Bad’s Cinematography

I re-binged the first two seasons of Breaking Bad after the season finale of Better Call Saul. The cinematography of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul is admirable. Both series explore angles, colors, and style in ways that are unusually beautiful for television. In my re-watch, I noticed changes to Breaking Bad’s camerawork after the show’s first episodes.

Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul have breathtaking cinematography
An example of the breathtaking cinematography of Breaking Bad

As it turns out, Breaking Bad did not always yield such beautiful camerawork. The first half-dozen episodes feature a more traditional style of single-camera photography. It is still a well-shot series, but there is a major shift between the first and second seasons.

This is in large part due to Michael Slovis, who joined Breaking Bad in season two. There is a noticeable advancement in the show’s style. Slovis perfectly relayed Vince Gilligan’s vision of Sergio Leone Westerns throughout the remainder of the series.

The lack of top awards for Slovis during his time with Breaking Bad is surprising. Despite his excellent cinematography Breaking Bad, he never won an Emmy in the category.


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