Most days, casting announcements come thick and fast. At best, they are occasionally intriguing. At worst, they are like inevitable and unavoidable train wrecks that you simply can’t turn away from. Every once in a while, however, a casting announcement comes along that is so steeped in perfection, it emits its own glowing and radiant sunshine, in which we can all bask. On these rare and hallowed days, we can breathe a deep sigh of satisfaction and contentment – safe in the knowledge that somewhere, somehow, someone has our best interests at heart. Today is one of those days. Today is the day we learn that Michael McKean has joined the cast of Better Call Saul.
The world was somehow a darker place when Walter White exited our lives – with the broadcast of the final episode of Breaking Bad, on September 30, 2013. Here was a show crafted with exquisite talent and expertise – resulting in some of the best entertainment ever made. The end was devastating – not just because we were so invested in the characters and their stories, but because we feared we would never again be treated to such artistry. We mourned the show, and mourned television – for surely that was the pinnacle. Breaking Bad killed TV with excellence.
Then came a glimmer of hope, a light in the inky darkness, a distant promise of nourishment – if we could just make it through the no-man’s land of a Heisenberg-less landscape. For there, on the horizon – after months of rumour and speculation – was the confirmed pilot of Better Call Saul – AMC’s new show that would serve as a prequel to Breaking Bad but, even more importantly, would thrust one of that show’s most brilliant supporting characters right into the spotlight. Saul Goodman – Walter White’s shady, morally questionable, but utterly lovable lawyer – would have his own show, courtesy of Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, and producer Peter Gould.
The show covers the period of time before Saul (Bob Odenkirk) crosses paths with Walter White, and so also features the welcome visage of his ‘colleague’, Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks). This alone, is reason enough to tune in – these guys having elevated an already brilliant Breaking Bad into the stratosphere when they joined in Season Two. But now, the first non-Breaking Bad casting has taken place, and it is the legendary Michael McKean – the most perfectly deadpan foil for any actor, but most especially for Bob Odenkirk’s sarcastic and dry-humoured Saul Goodman. McKean will play a brilliant, successful lawyer, who is apparently experiencing some kind of ‘restrictive affliction’.
We all know Michael McKean. He was in This Is Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind, Best In Show and For Your Consideration. He’s also appeared on more than 25 episodes of Saturday Night Live. If you really want to see why this casting announcement is so perfect, though, I’d recommend re-visiting the four episodes of The X Files he guest-starred in – in particular, Dreamland and Dreamland II (episodes 4 and 5 of Season 6 – co-written by Vince Gilligan), in which he and Agent Mulder swap bodies. You will not see a more masterful demonstration of broad comedy within a dramatic framework than that.
Created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, the pilot episode of Better Call Saul is also directed by Gilligan himself. This is a high pressure, high stakes situation for these guys – having already set the bar so high – but with the incredible combination of Odenkirk, Banks and McKean, the chances of disappointment are almost non-existent. We’ll find out when it finally airs in the US on AMC, and in the UK on Netflix, in November.
Are you excited? I’m excited – and we haven’t even heard about the rest of the cast, yet…