On Better Call Saul, snubs, & the strange scale of measuring quality

Better Call Saul season 4

What defines a great show? How do you examine and weigh that out? These are questions without clear answers, especially within the business of entertainment. We write and discuss things that have some element of pop-culture pertinence, never knowing for sure what will be valuable two or even three years down the road.

With award shows, they do often have a similar priority. Voters, no matter who they are, face a challenge of trying to summarize the past year of their given medium through nominations, followed by winners. Their individual criteria can vary — zeitgeist likely plays a role, as does the trajectory of a given performer and a narrative that surrounds them. It’s about quality, but there’s also an element of creating a story around the story that the individual show or person is telling.

This is where we come to our discussion of Better Call Saul, accompanied by a rather simple question: Is there something wrong with its narrative in the eyes of television? How can the AMC series, widely regarded as one of the best drama series of the past several years, routinely be shut out by the Emmys or the Golden Globes?

When it comes to nominations, you can argue that the series has received some due — both the Emmys and Globes have recognized it, even if Rhea Seehorn remains quite possibly the most-snubbed supporting actress of at least the past several years. Yet, where are the victories? Where is that golden stamp of approval from voters? Where is that recognition that Better Call Saul is a truly stellar show, rather than just one of many great shows?

From here, the thesis becomes clear: Better Call Saul is being unfairly penalized because of Breaking Bad. Its viability as a contender is somehow hurt because the show before it already had its moment. The narrative for Better Call Saul, in the eyes of voters, is “oh, here’s a show we really like, but since Breaking Bad already won a lot of stuff, let’s crown something new.” Shows like The Handmaid’s Tale, Game of Thrones, and The Americans are no doubt fantastic — nobody would argue that. We would also argue that Better Call Saul is on the same plane, one with masterful directing, memorable performances, and an understanding of art, of editing, and of silence that you rarely see anywhere. You look at episodes like the season 4 finale and you wonder, “is this show actually better than its predecessor? Is that possible?”

So what will it take for Better Call Saul to change its narrative to where it is somehow sleek, appealing, and new in the eyes of voters? Is there a way for that to even become a reality? There’s a school thought that says no and that this series may go down as one of those great shows (see The Wire) that infuriatingly never received its full, proper due. Then, there’s also a school that suggests that this could be a legacy win — think Jon Hamm finally getting the Emmy for Mad Men. Maybe you make the argument that being a prequel somehow hurts Better Call Saul, given that it takes away the anticipation and the question of what’s around the corner. If you shift the story towards Gene and the present, perhaps that changes. Maybe you put an even greater spotlight on a character like Seehorn’s Kim, still an unknown via the Breaking Bad timeline and seems ignored because of the consistent, nuanced nature of her work.

In the end, though, Better Call Saul cannot and should not change itself for the sake of appeasing voters, given that there may always be a crop who remains unhappy and disinterested. There will always be a new flavor, and that will always be the dangling carrot. If this continues and the AMC series comes to an end, though, we foresee a world in which this flavor is missed, and one where all of a sudden Emmy and Golden Globe viewers feel a craving and sense of regret somewhere deep in the pit of their stomachs.

Now, we pose the question to you

What will the legacy of Better Call Saul be when it comes to its awards prestige? What should it be, and can the narrative be changed? Share now in the comments. (Photo: AMC.)

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