Well, that’s weird.
No matter if you think AMC’s potential Breaking Bad comedy spin-off centering around seedy lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) is a terrible idea — one destined to drag down the legacy of Vince Gilligan’s unstoppable dramatic series — or a brilliant idea — one promising a transcendence of genre with a force that only a bonkers sitcom launched from a critically revered drama could muster — you were likely provoked to emit the above phrase upon learning of the news. Good or bad, it’s really freaking weird.
But that’s a given. While we can all agree on the strangeness of the idea, the network’s plan to transplant the fan favorite supporting player from the lauded program, which comes to and end this summer, into his own genre-bending TV show (AMC’s first comedy, on top of all this) is bound to result in a stark dichotomy of reactions.
Is it a bad idea? Yes, say most fans at this time. And they very well may be right. There’s little at stake for the budding program itself, but it is the legacy of Breaking Bad about which many devotees are concerned. With viewers ready to preserve Gilligan’s five-season program as one of the greatest titles in narrative television, could a Saul Goodman spin-off, quite plausibly of dismal quality (we’re not saying it will be bad, but doesn’t it seem like it very well could?), be factored into the measurements of Breaking Bad, weighing it down from levels beyond The Sopranos to someplace below Perfect Strangers?
Worse yet, what does this say about the state of television in general? With output like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and even the admittedly polarizing The Walking Dead, AMC maintains a reverence in the eyes of the contemporary viewer. Its shows reign parallel to the greats of HBO (The Sopranos, The Wire) — shows that never warranted and never could have possibly spawned spin-offs.
We’re hesitant to call the spin-off a practice of “lesser television.” Plenty of wonderful comedic exploits have produced spin-offs: Cheers, Mary Tyler Moore, Perfect Strangers (yes, I feel bad about my above balk). Noentheless, we live now in an era where we expect more of a separation between artist and network. We want our precious programs to stand independent of the executives’ clutch. We wouldn’t want ratings grabs to influence the plotlines of Breaking Bad, so we don’t want them to influence the creation of an entire offshoot show.
So, we’ve got plenty of reasons to believe this is a bad idea — that was the easy part. But what if, just what if, this is the greatest thing to ever happen to television?
Not too long ago, the loony news of Jane Kaczmarek taking a guest spot on Breaking Bad inspired a slew of theories that the AMC series would serve, in fact, as a prequel story to star Bryan Cranston and Kaczmarek’s former Fox sitcom, Malcolm in the Middle. While the theories were spun in levity, when you consider the go-for-broke, entirely nuts nature of Breaking Bad, the idea doesn’t just seem plausible (not probable, but plausible), but actually quite brilliant.
An epic story like Breaking Bad warrants an epic ending… one so epic that it cannot be contained to the reality within the show, but must embrace parallel realities, breaking into our own world with an act washed in post-modern madness. A Saul Goodman comedy spin-off is born from the same attitude: the love of television and of transcendent media that makes Breaking in the Middle seem like a great, albeit mind-blowing and quite frustrating, idea.
And in response to worries about the legacy of Breaking Bad, about the destruction of sincere television, we surmise that such a concept could only work with a show of this gravity and acclaim. Only with a show so good could an idea so zany pay off. That goes for the Malcolm connection, and it goes for the Saul spin-off.
We shouldn’t expect for any of these outlandish theories to take place, but we should hope for them. If Odenkirk does indeed get his show, it just might be an artistic triumph beyond that of any recent small screen project.
Probably not, but it just might.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter
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