Better Call Saul Review: “Alpine Shepherd Boy” (Season 1, Episode 5)


When AMC submits Better Call Saul for Emmy consideration, will it be as a comedy or drama? “Alpine Shepherd Boy” shows off both the zany humor and the dysfunctional family drama that could indicate it is represented in either genre. With that in mind, though, it should be noted that the show’s writing and directing staff need to work on seamlessly shifting between the two.

Regardless of some of the strange tonal shifts, this is another strong episode of the Breaking Bad spinoff, albeit one that could benefit from some tighter pacing. While its precursor took its sweet time building up to big plot moments in its earlier seasons, Better Call Saul has been brisk out of the gate. “Alpine Shepherd Boy” is an outlier, although that likely has to do with the ponderous shifts between the offbeat clients Jimmy is considering serving and the brother he knows he must protect.

I recently read an Internet commentator write about how Better Call Saul is like a small-screen version of an Elmore Leonard novel, and that description sounds about right. The settings are a distinct, old-fashioned slice of Americana, the dialogue often cuts right to the bone and the tone wavers from dry and offbeat to tense and high-strung in the span of minutes.

In the wry spirit of that great pulp novelist, this week’s hour begins with a kooky character – Chuck’s nosy neighbor across the street – calling the cops as a result of Chuck stealing her newspaper and leaving a $5 morsel on her driveway. (As you may recall from last week, he sacrificed some skittish minutes underneath some electrical wires to dig up the mysteries from the local newsprint.) Those cops do come knocking, and a glance inside his de-wired home convinced the officers that Chuck is a “tweaker.” They knock down his door and Taser Chuck, ensuring a hospital stay is in order.

However, there is a delay between the attack on Chuck and the time that Jimmy hears about that dalliance with law enforcement. In the meantime, the man who will become Saul Goodman shapes up to cater to the whims of three very different clients. There’s Ricky Sipes, a libertarian who is so incessant about seceding from the United States to form his own independent Vatican City that he has even printed his own greenbacks. There’s Roland J. Cox, whose hopes of patenting a toilet to assist preschoolers with potty training hits a snag when the motion-sensor voice recalls a greasy sex line, and finally, there’s Mrs. Strauss, a feeble old lady trying to finish her will and figure out to whom she owes her figurines.