Breaking Bad

Better Call Saul Finally, Tragically, Ignites Change

Charles McGill in the Season 3 finale of
Michele K. Short / AMC

The first season of Better Call Saul ended with Jimmy McGill expressing some regrets. The ever-striving public defender pulled his yellow Suzuki Esteem up to the booth of the parking attendant/fixer Mike Ehrmantraut and recalled to him that they’d both recently had their hands on $1.6 million in stolen cash. Why in the world hadn’t they kept it? “I remember you saying something about doing the right thing,” Mike replied. Jimmy scoffed. “I know what stopped me,” he said, before driving off. “And you know what? It’s never stopping me again.”

When that episode aired in 2015, it seemed like a clear turning point: Jimmy was about to scrap a career as a straight-and-narrow law partner and instead take the more ethically liberate route, transforming into the zany sleaze who viewers came to know on Breaking Bad. But the show, somewhat bafflingly, hit the “undo” button on that epiphany for Season Two, sending Jimmy back into the often-tedious world of corporate and elder law while developing his relationship with his hardworking girlfriend, Kim, and his snooty brother, Chuck.

Last night’s third season finale served up a much darker moment of truth: Chuck intentionally set fire to his own house, seeming to signal his suicide and possibly igniting Jimmy’s long-delayed transformation. But the Season-3 finale also highlighted just how slowly, how painstakingly, Better Call Saul has pushed Jimmy along his inevitable arc. It also seemed to make the subtly radical suggestion that character change shouldn’t be thought of as an arc at all.

Part of the episode hinged on an ethical dilemma not unlike the one discussed at the end of the first season. Jimmy found himself about to receive $1.16 million from a settlement agreement in a class-action lawsuit he initiated on behalf of a group of senior citizens against the Sandpiper retirement-home chain. In order to win that settlement, he’d meddled with the social order amid a group of old women. This resulted in the isolation of the sweet retiree Irene Landry, the representative for the plaintiffs: Jimmy had manipulated her friends into thinking she was greedy and amoral. When Jimmy realized that Irene was desperately sad and alone thanks to him, he faced a choice. He could ruin this woman’s life, or he could fess up to what he’d done—and likely lose out on the $1.16 million.

He chose to give up the money and rescue Irene’s social life. In a classically Saul-ian scene of goodhearted deception, he led a “chair yoga” class for the elderly then went outside to talk with another lawyer about his scamming of the community, pretending not to realize his mic was still on and everyone inside could hear him. “Shame on you,” one of the women said when he came back in after broadcasting his confession. But the truth was he’d actually made an honorable,…

Apple, Moving In on Prestige TV, Poaches Two Sony Executives

LOS ANGELES — As Apple takes the plunge into original television-style content, it has hired two of Hollywood’s most respected studio executives to oversee the effort.

On Friday, Apple named Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg to newly created positions overseeing worldwide video programming. The men, considered among the brightest of a rising generation of studio executives, are currently the leaders of Sony Pictures Television, the company behind high-quality cable dramas like “Breaking Bad,” major Netflix series like “The Crown” and broadcast network comedies like “The Goldbergs.”

In a blow to Sony, Mr. Erlicht, 48, and Mr. Van Amburg, 46, will start at Apple by the end of summer. They will report to Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president for software and services. “We have exciting plans,” Mr. Cue said in a statement. “There is much more to come.”

Apple declined to elaborate. By hiring Mr. Erlicht and Mr. Van Amburg, however, Apple has sent a clear message to Hollywood: We are finally serious about building an original video business. In a statement, Mr. Erlicht said that Apple wanted programming of “unparalleled quality.” Agents, writers, producers, stars — and competitors like HBO — will interpret those words as meaning that Apple is ready to spend.

So far, Apple has only dipped a toe in the original video waters. In February, the company announced…

How ‘Twin Peaks’ Changed TV Forever, from ‘The X-Files’ to ‘Breaking Bad’

Arguably the greatest two hours of television aired on June 10, 1991, when ABC broadcast the finale to Twin Peaks’ second season—and, as it turned out, to the series as a whole. Having lost a hefty chunk of its viewership after revealing the culprit behind its initial mystery (Who Killed Laura Palmer?) and meandering through a subsequent narrative involving dull psychopath Windom Earle (Kenneth Walsh), the show closed out its run with a peerlessly surreal, convention-defying masterpiece courtesy of its co-creator, David Lynch. Back at the helm following a lengthy absence, Lynch thrust the show into a morass of dark, delirious, surrealistic madness, roundly dispatching with Earle and, at hallucinogenic fever dream’s end, having his protagonist, do-gooder FBI special agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), become possessed by demonic evil. It was a cliffhanger send-off of astounding, perplexing terror and insanity—and, in the process, it paved the way for our current era of auteur-driven “prestige TV.”

No surprise, then, that Twin Peaks is being revived by Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost, who’ve assembled most of the original cast for an 18-episode reboot, directed entirely by Lynch, premiering on Showtime beginning May 21. It’s a perfectly timed resurrection, given that the airwaves are now awash in shows that are spiritually, if not literally, indebted to Lynch’s TV masterpiece. From their visual daring, to their serialized whodunit narratives, to their distinctive directorial signatures, to their sprawling all-star casts, acclaimed series as varied as The Killing, The Knick, Mad Men, Fargo, Mr. Robot, and Breaking Bad all owe a debt to Twin Peaks, which illustrated the immense benefits of—and, to be fair, also the drawbacks to—giving visionary storytellers free reign to create an expansive small-screen world in which to operate.

At its best, Twin Peaks was like Days of Our Lives as filtered through a bad acid trip, and its trailblazing idiosyncrasy emerged immediately, with its two-hour pilot on Sunday, April 8, 1990. That debut focused on the discovery of the corpse of local teen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), and the start of an investigation carried out by Cooper alongside Twin Peaks sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean). Introducing a raft of wackadoo characters and their intertwined relationships, and full of sadistic murder and deviant sexual undertones, it was part murder mystery, part soap opera, and part eerie waking dream. As a tale about the strangeness, and ugliness, lurking beneath the cheery facade of every day American life, it resonated as a successor to Lynch’s own 1986 noir thriller Blue Velvet. And it became an instant phenomenon, notching the 1989-1990 season’s highest ratings for a TV…

8 TV Shows That Were Creatively Altered by a Writers Strike

Writers strikes have a major impact on TV and film production. Depending on the strike’s length, dozens of film and TV projects can be suspended, delayed, or even cancelled, and rebounding when a strike is over isn’t exactly easy, either.

Numerous TV series have had to return from strike to a kind of creative reboot, from rewriting single episodes to devising entirely new finales. With another strike potentially on the horizon, we’re looking back at eight shows that changed course due to a strike.

1. BREAKING BAD

An enduring legend about Breaking Bad sprung up around the 2007-08 Writers Guild of America strike. According to that version of events, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) was originally set to be killed off by the show’s writers, but when the strike occurred and forced the show to cut its first season from nine to seven episodes, some hard thinking about the show’s structure led to the decision to keep Pinkman around. It turns out that’s only partially true, as creator Vince Gilligan has since noted that he’d decided not to let Paul go by the second episode of the show. The strike did fundamentally alter the show’s overall plot progression, though.

Those final two episodes in season one would have originally given us two fast-paced hours in which Walter White (Bryan Cranston) would have very quickly become the drug kingpin known as Heisenberg. With the strike standing in the way of that, Gilligan and company threw those episodes out and took a more careful approach to bringing out Heisenberg. That meant a slower pace, but an awesome three-episode arc to kick off the second season.

2. STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION

The 1988 Writers Guild of America strike was the longest in the organization’s history, and its long run cut into the production of a number of series, among them the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. As a result of the strike’s duration, the season order was shortened from 26 episodes to 22, and with a shorter production window, the show went looking for script sources beyond the standard writers room. As a result, the season premiere episode “The Child” was adapted from a script originally written for the aborted Star Trek: Phase II TV series in the late 1970s. Producers also began mining the “slush pile” of submitted spec scripts from outside writers and found “The Measure of a Man,” by attorney-turned-writer Melinda M. Snodgrass. The script became the ninth episode of the season, and Snodgrass was hired as the show’s story editor.

3. HEROES

After starting off red hot with huge ratings and critical acclaim, the second season of the comic book-inspired NBC series Heroes suffered a ratings decline and attacks from fans due to new characters that took time away from the old ones, a time travel storyline that seemed to drag on too long, and romances that pulled attention way from the show’s super-powered action. It got so bad that creator Tim Kring admitted mistakes in an Entertainment Weekly interview. But the writers strike offered Kring and company a chance to rethink and restructure.

The strike limited the show’s second season to just 11 episodes, and sensing that a change needed to come, Kring reshot the ending of that…