Creators of the AMC drama Better Call Saul had an almost impossible task. Not only did they need to create an intriguing series that fans would love, but because it was a prequel, they had to make it live up to the original. And with 16 Emmy wins and 58 nominations, Breaking Bad created some huge expectations.
Better Call Saul also needed to stick to a specific timeline that made sense to the overall story. And on top of that, it needed to maintain certain elements while being set in 2002. That meant no new iPhones for the characters, for example.
Writers and directors did an excellent job sticking to the plan. But they did miss one inconsistency that fans pointed out about how people speak in Albuquerque.
‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Better Call Saul’ weren’t meant to be in Albuquerque
It’s hard to picture Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul having a different location than Albuquerque, a setting which became a central focus of both stories. But it turns out showrunner Vince Gilligan hadn’t planned on basing the story there and only did so by happenstance.
The decision came down to cost. Before picking Albuquerque, the show was written with a setting of Riverside, California.
“They said New Mexico has a tax rebate for film and television production, and it’s a pretty substantial one,” Gilligan told Slant Magazine during an interview.
“And really, it’s a hard [carrot] to turn down … and so New Mexico very quickly became the place we decided to shoot our show for strictly financial reasons. We wanted our limited production budget to go that much farther,” he explained.
Characters on ‘Better Call Saul’ have a unique way of discussing highways
Language customs vary from region to region in the United States, like how some areas call carbonated beverages “soda” and others call it “pop” or “Coke.” The same goes for other nouns, like highways.
And this reality is where moving the setting of Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad from California to New Mexico made a difference. In the show, characters refer to the local highway as, “the 40” which is normal for California. But many New Mexico residents are more likely to call it “40” or “I-40” without the word “the.”
It’s no surprise that California based writers wouldn’t even notice this colloquialism or realize it was regional. Still, it’s funny for some actual Albuquerque residents.
Vince Gilligan thought “breaking bad” was a common phrase
The highway reference is rather miniscule compared to the name of the original series. Apparently, AMC execs tried to get Gilligan to change the name of the show, saying no one would know what it meant. But the showrunner was convinced “breaking bad” was a more widely used phrase than it really is.
“I come from Virginia and it’s very much a Southern regionalism, but I thought everybody knew,” Gilligan told AFI. “It means to raise hell. So like, ‘I was out the other night at the bar and I really just tied one on, and I really broke bad. I just really, oh man, I wound up in the back of a squad car.’”
He continued: “So I named it Breaking Bad. And when the first script went out, either people were too polite to question it or something. I remember the head of Sony said, ‘Can’t you think of a better title?’ and said, ‘Well I kind of like this one.’ And he said, ‘I don’t know what the hell it means.’ But I didn’t realize it was as regional an expression as it is.”
Good thing everyone figured it out eventually.
[Correction: An earlier version referred to Arizona instead of New Mexico.]