Listening to Better Call Saul is almost as enjoyable as watching it.
Take the show's black and white introduction, complete with a balding Saul Goodman jumping at shadows while working at the mall. Listen to the sounds of a drink being mixed. Later in the debut episode we're treated to the small, telling sounds of a courtroom in disrepair. The scene that explains why Goodman's brother isn't working anymore is punctuated as much by the sound of ice being poured into a cooler as the impressive low-light photography.
This is the origin story of a character who is far from a superhero, but still enjoyed a position of power in the Breaking Bad universe. Saul Goodman was the guy who knew how to get things done, and his knowledge in money laundering and survival were instrumental in Heisenberg's career. This show explains how a broken down man named James McGill became that fast-talking TV lawyer.
There are hints of that future here, in fact it's fun to see the courtroom scene of McGill trying to spin a tale about a few kids who got up to a bit of mischief, only to have the prosecuting attorney wordlessly show the video of what these three teenagers actually did. It's not every day you watch a lawyer scoff at a trespassing charge in a crime that involved decapitation.
It's a prequel that opens in the future, promising a rags to riches to rags story
The first episode also plays with the taboo of sharing the nature, and amount, of your payment for services rendered. If you want to put the viewer in a person's shoes, allow them to see the numbers printed on the pitiably small checks that make up their existence. In one scene McGill is offered a few dollars out of a coffee can in order to "reimburse" himself.
If Breaking Bad was a show that often reveled in showing the viewer surreal amounts of money, Better Call Saul takes the opposite tack and rubs our faces in McGill's universe of barely running cars and prosaic environments.
The black and white opening offers only a tiny splash of color, seen reflected in McGill's glasses, and that color comes from a television playing VHS copies of the attorney's old "Better Call Saul" commercials. It's a prequel that opens in the future, promising a rags to riches to rags story, and the cliffhanger ending of the first episode proves the creative team knows what they're doing.
This is a visual, and auditory, feast that isn't afraid of the ugly reality of day-to-day life, but its just as beautifully rendered as anything in Hannibal, the other TV show that achieves its lofty cinematic goals. Better Call Saul will never be able to fully escape the shadow of the show that spawned it, but the first episode proves it's ready to at least make a good run at it.