Saturday, February 15, 2020

Better Call Saul | Lefsetz Letter

They’re never gonna let you be a member of the club.

What did they say in school, your mistake is gonna go on your permanent record?

I binged “Breaking Bad.” I checked out an episode when the mania hit, after it was on Netflix, and I didn’t get it. I still think “The Sopranos” is the best drama ever on television. As for “The Wire”? I tried, but I couldn’t get into it. Tried again recently, but it’s so dated and…

I only binge. I do not watch from week to week. I decide on a show and I go deep. This is satisfying, to get to know the characters, and there’s no waiting, I can watch as many episodes as I want in a row, cruise from season to season.

And usually I watch these series out of time, as in the buzz is off. I guess it’s part of my identity. I was never a member of the cool group. I always wanted things for my own. And when everybody is talking about a series, when everybody owns it, they don’t want to hear your take, especially if it does not coincide with that of the group. I like my stuff personal, just for me.

But eventually we binged “Breaking Bad,” got into it. To tell you the truth, I liked “The Americans” better, but I don’t mean that as a put-down of “Breaking Bad.”

“Breaking Bad” is weird. It’s shot fast and flat in a world where network television spends more money on the image than the story, where it’s all about beautiful people doing fake things. But the people in “Breaking Bad” were not classically beautiful, they were just people living their lives. As for Walter White…he took the road less taken and ended up a teacher as opposed to rich. And when someone is rich, they’re envied in our society, they’re better than us. I was having a conversation with someone last week and they put me down in the most obtuse of ways. I know it had more to do with them than me, but I also couldn’t get over the fact that this person made seven figures, and that’d be quite a reach for me.

But being a regular person is not enough. Everybody wants to be rich and famous, who you are is nearly irrelevant.

And then there are those too scared to veer from the beaten path, who do what their parents tell them to do, become doctors and lawyers and then are pissed when the risk-takers supersede them in society.

But it’s different from the seventies. In the seventies you could take some time to figure out who you wanted to be. Now, anybody with a brain is on a path. Because they don’t want to fall on the lesser side. One where you can’t make ends meet and opportunities are few. Where the DNC and Democratic elites have contempt for you. Be sure, the people who have money in today’s society worked hard for it, grubbed grades, toiled around the clock, and they don’t have sympathy for those who did not. Furthermore, with morals out the window it’s no longer about the common good, but the personal good. I can rationalize my behavior and as long as it puts food on the table, I’m good. Like this other person in the music business who acted like a Mafia Don, also in the seven figure club, who when confronted with his bad behavior told me “I’m just trying to feed my family.” When he made enough money to feed his whole neighborhood.

So when these series end you feel hollow, you want more, and in the case of “Breaking Bad” there was more, the prequel, “Better Call Saul.”

Now I’ve followed Bob Odenkirk for a long time, but I never did cotton to “Mr. Show” and I figured he was just another comedian looking to pay the rent, acting for the bucks, until I saw him in “Breaking Bad.” He owns the screen. And he owns the screen in “Better Call Saul.”

In addition to being flat in image, these two Vince Gilligan shows have their own pace, which is slow, akin to real life. You have to get into the rhythm, you too have to slow down, if you’re looking for a hit of adrenaline, these shows are not for you. But if you watch them, they’re extremely rewarding.

Now by time I was ready, by time I finished “Breaking Bad,” there were already three seasons of “Better Call Saul,” which I hoovered right up.

And I was eager for the fourth, but it was on AMC, as in weekly TV.

I caught the first three, but then I got busy and missed a few and then went to on demand and…THEY ELIMINATED THE NEXT EPISODES! And this is crazy, I’m paying for cable, why should I get screwed, the series wasn’t finished, but you could no longer see episodes four and five, and I need to see everything in order, I take my series seriously.

And I wasn’t gonna buy it. That’s an insult. Actually, the entire TV industrial complex is an insult. Did you ever check how many streaming services there are? Read about a series and find out you don’t get that service. And I used to pay for each and every cable station because I wanted instant access, to be able to survey the entire culture, but in today’s world where nobody can know everything, I refuse to sign up for so many apps. The distributors think they’re winning, but they’re actually losing. The record business realized this. And put all the content in one place for one price. Which they used to call cable, but now it’s even worse! It feels like there will be as many streaming services as shows! Forget Amazon, Netflix and Hulu, never mind AppleTV+, Disney+ and CBS All Access. How about MHz, or Sundance Now or BritBox or Mubi or… Once again, distribution is king, if you’re not on one of the popular streaming services, your work will never be seen, at least not in quantity. As for viewers? This is today’s America, where the customer is thought of last, even though the customer rules. This is how Trump got elected and Bernie Sanders may get the nomination, because there are more screwed than screwers.

And to be honest, when I picked up with episode four of “Better Call Saul” this week I couldn’t remember much of what happened in the three previous episodes, but I wasn’t gonna go back and watch them, I soldiered on.

Now what you’ve got to know is Jimmy McGill, aka Saul Goodman, played by Bob Odenkirk, is a nogoodnik. He can’t fly straight, he’s always hustling, he’s always getting in trouble. And his older brother is a prince, a legendary attorney who is hobbled by his phobias. We’re all imperfect, we’ve all got flaws, whether we show them to another or not. And it’s the most rich and powerful who are the most tortured, because they cannot share their troubles because they are afraid of getting judged. Forget the actors and musicians who go to rehab, who air their dirty laundry, that’s a marketing tool. But for not only the billionaires, for not only the rich and famous, but for the stockbrokers and attorneys and doctors, they too believe in a hierarchy and they don’t want to fall down a few pegs, possibly permanently.

So Jimmy tries to change his spots but he can’t. He loves the game too much. He’s first and foremost a salesman.

Ever sell?

It depletes you. Because if you care about your customers, you fall down the food chain. You’ve got to sell what you don’t want to, you’ve got to overcharge, you’ve got to be fake, you’ve got to lie, all to put food in your mouth. And salespeople rule the world. What did they call it, Steve Jobs’s “reality distortion field”?

And Jimmy’s got a girlfriend, who is also an attorney, who vacillates between being the good girl and the bad, between working for the bank and the indigent. Most of us are conflicted. Few of us are singular, we always wonder if we should be doing something else, if we’re wasting our time, if the hourglass is gonna run out of sand.

But Jimmy’s girlfriend Kim Wexler, played by Rhea Seehorn, stands by Jimmy. Oh, when he pushes the limits really far, she winces, but she maintains the bond, does not have one foot out the door…

You see she’s thrilled by Jimmy’s personality, who he is.

So many are good on paper. But we’re attracted to those with a spark, who can make things happen, who can educate us, who help us have fun. And that’s Jimmy.

Not that Kim sacrifices everything, not that she blindly follows Jimmy. As for sharing an office…

So, the season is ending. We’re gonna find out if Jimmy is gonna get his law license back.

And suddenly there’s a boardroom meeting, at the law firm of Chuck, Jimmy’s deceased brother.

You’re not sure if this is a flashback, you’re not sure what is going on.

But then you realize they’re giving out scholarships, in Chuck’s name.

And when the voting comes in, the three ass-kissers, the three world-beaters, triumph.

But Jimmy has a problem with this. What about the girl who made a mistake, is that gonna haunt her forever?

Spoiler alert!

So, she doesn’t get it. But Jimmy tracks her down, and gives this high school student a piece of his mind, life instruction. Instead of being all fake, telling her “good try,” Jimmy says she’s never gonna be a member of the club, they’re never gonna let her in, but if she digs down deep and does it her way, she can succeed, at even a higher level than her tormentors.


Jimmy also tells her to cut corners.

But the truth is the hustlers take over the world.

Those with the pedigree get mowed right over. It’s those hobbled by a mistake, who didn’t grub for grades, who did not go to the best college, who were not a member of the group, who change society.

Shawn Fanning was not rich and he did not go to Harvard.

You see you dismiss these people at your peril. You don’t learn everything in books, and intelligence is not only revealed in paper tests.

The outsiders are incentivized.

And it’s not only a matter of education, but being a member of the group. Which is why outsiders like Mark Zuckerberg won. He was never the cool insider. So many of these tech bros were not.

But they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, they pushed the envelope when most people couldn’t even see it. Those investing in tech companies today…they’re weak also-rans. Unless you’re willing to put it all on the line out beyond the limits, you’re not changing society, and you’re probably not even getting rich.

And just like Jimmy McGill, so many of these tech bros (and most are male) are clueless as to where the moral line is. Since they were not a member of the group, they don’t know how to abide by the rules of society. They love being rich and powerful, because now they can grab some of those perks that were off limits to them before. Kind of like Mike Bloomberg, did you see today’s “Washington Post” article?

“Mike Bloomberg for years has battled women’s allegations of profane, sexist comments”

It may have been years ago, it may not affect his chances, but this is a great illustration of an outsider nerd bucking the system to gain success and then act imperiously in unaccepted ways.

So, the new season of “Better Call Saul” starts next week. I guess I’ll set the DVR, but I hate forwarding through the commercials, and I hate waiting a week. I’d say I’ll just wait until it hits Netflix, but I do realize that’ll be at least a year, they wait that long, until a new season is airing, before they give you the previous one.

They make it hard.

But that’s today’s reality, today’s world. They make it hard. They don’t care about you, they want to make it hard for you to succeed. If you’re pissed and you don’t accept the short end of the stick and decide to do something about it, you’re on the road to success.

Just ask Jimmy McGill.


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