The first thing to know about "Better Call Saul" is there's no one called Saul in it. At least not so far.

Instead, there's a cellar-level lawyer named Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk, splendid as a lead) who drives a junker car and survives — barely — by taking low-paying public defender cases. He works out pleas in the courthouse men's room, hustles clients in coffee shops and has a hard time getting his parking stub validated.

Another thing that has to be understood about "Saul" — and this is key — is that at no point in the first three episodes does he stand in the New Mexico desert clad only in white underwear.

That's because "Better Call Saul" is not "Breaking Bad." A lot of "Breaking Bad" fans will likely tune into this show looking for the second coming of Walter White. Instead, they'll find Jimmy.

Not that the shows don't share some common ground. "Saul" is also set in Albuquerque. Invoking the power of wigs and the wonders of modern makeup, "Saul" is a tangential prequel to "Breaking Bad." It follows the evolution of loser lawyer McGill into the slogan-slinging corrupt Saul, who eventually becomes Walter White's flexible strip-mall attorney.

Most importantly, "Saul" is also the story of a man slipping over to the dark side, filled with comical touches, not-so-comical brutality and oddball complications.

The show's two opening episodes, showing Sunday and Monday night, are really a small movie cut in half — Sunday is the somewhat puzzling set-up, Monday puts Jimmy in motion and opens his eyes.

The first episode begins with a look at what happened to Saul/Jimmy after going on the run in "Breaking Bad": In a black-and-white sequence we see he's become the sad-faced, somewhat paranoid manager of a Cinnabon store in a mall. Alone at night, he sits down with a drink and watches tapes of Saul's old TV commercials.

And then it's 2002 and Jimmy is practicing closing arguments in front of some urinals. He then enters a court room and proceeds to offer a flimsy defense — and flimsy is the only defense these guys have — for three perverted vandals. He loses the case, but still gets paid $700.

Creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould lay out Jimmy's life. He takes care of his older brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), a once-powerful attorney and partner at a high-end firm who is now a shut-in afraid of electromagnetic radiation. Jimmy is at odds with the firm where Chuck is still a partner, but has a close friend there, Kim (Rhea Seehorn in the show's fuzziest role). Jimmy himself works out of a closet of an office, pretending to be a British receptionist on the rare occasion when his phone rings.

And Jimmy has a contentious relationship with the parking attendant at the courthouse, one Mike Ehrmantraut (the great Jonathan Banks), the other holdover from "Breaking Bad." Mike is mostly a tease in the opening episodes, but picks up traction in the third.

Even though he doesn't have cancer or a dependent family, Jimmy's life is pretty pitiful. So when some skateboarding twins try to scam him, he decides to use their scam on a potential client. Which is the proverbial slippery slope that eventually has Jimmy sliding right down it, toward Sauldom.

"Better Call Saul" doesn't seem too concerned with courtroom drama. In fact, Jimmy does the most bravura lawyering of his life in a desert scene in the second episode. No, this promises to be an entertaining examination of the slow destruction of one man's soul, his capitulation to greed, ambition and moral indifference.

Hmmm. Come to think of it, that does sound pretty familiar.

'Better Call Saul'


10 p.m. Sunday, Monday


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