‘Better Call Saul’: Saul Goodman Was Supposed to Be a ‘Joke Character’ in ‘Breaking Bad’

Back in the heyday of Breaking Bad, no one could have predicted that the smarmy criminal lawyer would wind up with his own spinoff show. And better yet, that some critics would start saying his story was even more intriguing than the gradual decline of Walter White.

It’s a testament to both Bob Odenkirk’s extraordinary acting skills and the immense talent of the entire production team. Instead of sticking with their original plan of making Walt and Jesse’s lawyer a bit player who didn’t feature prominently, they recognized the opportunity to develop Saul Goodman into the complex character we know and root for today.

Because of that decision, we’re treated to the rare gift of Better Call Saul breaking our hearts in the best possible way.

Saul Goodman
Saul Goodman | Ursula Coyote/AMC

Saul Goodman was only supposed to appear on three episodes of ‘Breaking Bad’

As National Review reported, Saul Goodman “was supposed to be a joke.” Even his name was done in jest, a spinoff of the throwaway phrase, “It’s all good, man.” But after seeing Odenkirk bring his talent to the screen, showrunner Vince Gilligan realized he’d have to change his original plan of having the character show up for a three episode arc before disappearing forever.

He’s not the only one. Originally, the character of Jesse was also supposed to have a small role and get killed off until showrunners saw how well Aaron Paul balanced out Bryan Cranston’s character. Based on those interactions, Jesse became just as important to Breaking Bad as Walter White was.

The show ‘Better Call Saul’ started out as a joke in the writer’s room

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It wasn’t just the character Saul Goodman who started off in a unique way. The entire spinoff series Better Call Saul began as a “What if…” that wasn’t fully developed or even serious. Gilligan explained that at first, they pictured the series as something totally different.

“When we first started concocting the idea of doing a spinoff, we literally thought it’d be a half-hour show,” Gilligan told Rolling Stone. “It’d be something akin to Dr. Katz, where it’s basically Saul Goodman in his crazy office with the styrofoam columns and he’s visited every week by a different stand-up comic.”

It was all supposed to be funny, kind of like the original character idea. But the material brought them somewhere much more serious.

He continued, “Well this thing, especially in Season Four, is every bit as dramatic as Breaking Bad ever was. I just didn’t see any of that coming. I didn’t know how good it would all be. I really didn’t.”

‘Better Call Saul’ has the unique challenge of telling a story that’s already over

Since the audience already knows what happens to Jimmy/Saul, writers have to tread carefully while telling the first part of the story. But this known ending adds some tragic foreboding to the show since we know Jimmy won’t choose to be good in the end.

And Gilligan is thrilled with their decision not to kill Jimmy off during Breaking Bad. As he told Rolling Stone, “And in fact, we don’t know where it ends up — and thank goodness for that. Because we have a whole potential world of storytelling with Gene, Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman’s third alter ego in Omaha, Nebraska. Who knows how long that could go on?”

Saul Goodman could turn out fine

If they had killed Saul in Breaking Bad, his ending would be even more tragic and then showrunners would be stuck “backfilling,” all while knowing the end was coming.

It will take a lot to redeem Saul Goodman. But it’s at least possible. We’re so glad Gilligan saw the potential for the character he’s transformed into today.