Hint: it’s all about character.
I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “prequel,” my gut reaction is to cringe. Historically, prequels haven’t done so well. There’s Fire Walk With Me, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks prequel that was booed at Cannes; or Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, which makes me feel stupid just typing its title; and, of course, there’s the monumental tragedy of Star Wars Episodes I-III.
Bottom line, prequels fail far more than they succeed, making them a daunting prospect at best, which is why when it was announced a handful of years ago that one of the greatest TV shows ever, Breaking Bad, was getting a prequel in the form of Better Call Saul, I was anything but jazzed.
But three seasons in, Better Call Saul hasn’t just avoided the prequel curse, it has pretty much drawn the map for navigating a successful prequel. Just how is the focus of the latest video essay from Travis Lee Ratcliff that examines the specific techniques Better Call Saul employs, like basing its premise on characters we already knew but didn’t know a lot about, which in turn leads to a narrative landscape that isn’t dependent on connecting the dots to its source, but rather has the freedom to create its own environment.
A lot of folks will tell you Better Call Saul is every bit as good as Breaking Bad. Admittedly, I’m not one of those people, but I will concede that though spawned from Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul is its own entity every bit as distinct and powerful as the series from which it’s spun (pun intended). It is, without a doubt, an exception to the rule “beware the prequel.”