By FRAZIER MOORE
NEW YORK (AP) — Albuquerque lawyer Saul Goodman isn’t picky. Anyone with cash or a money order is fair game as a client. Any infraction, large or small, is ripe for a defense only Saul could whip up.
As he boasts in his commercials on local TV, “from parking tickets to mass murder, from slip-and-fall to bond fraud, Saul Goodman and Associates is your one-stop shop for all your legal needs.”
In the twisted world of AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” it was inevitable that schoolteacher-turned-drug-lord Walter White would cross paths with shady Saul. For several seasons of the drama (which concludes this summer’s run Sunday at 10 p.m. EDT), he has represented the depraved business interests of Walt (series star Bryan Cranston) and Walt’s partner-in-crime Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul).
Presiding at his strip-mall office with the Statue of Liberty inflated on the roof, “Better Call Saul!” Goodman is flashy, mouthy, shameless and scheming. His desk drawer full of active cellphones hints at his professional duplicity. His office decor — the Ionic columns, portholes for windows and U.S. Constitution wallpaper — leaves no doubt he’s unacquainted with good taste.
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And, oh, by the way, he’s a really good attorney!
“If you’re committed enough, you can make any story work,” he bragged a while back. “I once told a woman I was Kevin Costner, and it worked because I believed it.”
Bob Odenkirk, who plays Saul, makes him believable.
Odenkirk is a gifted actor, comedian and writer whose credits include “Saturday Night Live,” ”The Ben Stiller Show,” ”The Larry Sanders Show” and, paired with David Cross, HBO’s legendary “Mr. Show” sketch-comedy series.
More recently he has sparked the dark, disturbing “Breaking Bad” as its scene-stealing barrister.
Saul Goodman just can’t help it: His glad-handing style is supplemented by needling, out-of-line wisecracks that amuse nobody but himself (and, of course, the TV audience).
“You’re gonna get me off, right?” implored a panicky drug dealer who had just been busted by the Feds.
“What do I look like, your high school girlfriend — five fingers, no waiting?” chortled Goodman to his client. “That’s a joke! Lighten up!”
Odenkirk had never tackled a dramatic role when he was summoned by “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan, who, with several fellow writers on the series, admired his work on “Mr. Show.”
Nor, truth be told, had Odenkirk ever watched “Breaking Bad,” then in its second season.
“I’d seen the billboards. They looked cool. And once I watched the show, I thought, ‘Wow, this is different. This is VERY different for ME!’ When you’re about to turn 50 years old” — which he will this October — “you don’t get a lot of people offering you something new. I’m a lucky guy.”
Despite his skill at writing and improv, Odenkirk says he welcomes the “Breaking Bad” scripts as is.
“I had the vision for Saul’s hair — the comb-over and the mullet in back,” he says. “But learning the lines was what taught me who he is.”
Initially, Goodman wasn’t meant to last more than three or four episodes as a fleeting functionary to advance the plot. But he caught on with viewers instantly. He was freewheeling and self-possessed (and funny!), unlike anybody else on the show.
“All the other characters are operating under the gun,” says Odenkirk. “For Saul, it’s a game: ‘I’ll see if I can make some money here.’”
Gilligan agrees, noting that “Saul is one of the few characters on ‘Breaking Bad’ who really, truly knows himself. Walter White, in comparison, is the world’s greatest liar — and the person he lies to the most is himself.”
After all, Walt is a guy who has remade his identity from a milquetoast bullied by everyday life to the meth kingpin who crowned himself Heisenberg. He’s got everyone’s attention with his alter ego, but lurking behind it, he seems delusional.
Count Walt’s swelling megalomania (along with his terminal cancer and a brother-in-law who’s a DEA agent) among the reasons his eventual downfall seems assured. No wonder Goodman at key moments has been anxious to put safe distance between them.
He was set to call it quits with Walt as recently as this season’s opener, when he felt the threat level rising unacceptably.
“You and me, we’re done,” he told Walt flatly.
But in a chilling monotone, Walt growled, “We’re done when I say we’re done.”
So Saul remains part of the game plan. Indeed, with his thriving law practice (including a website — Bettercallsaul.com — and an operating Albuquerque-area phone number), he just may outlive “Breaking Bad” once it concludes its five-season run next summer.
“There has been absolutely no official discussion as of yet,” cautions Gilligan, “but I would love to see a Saul Goodman spinoff.”
Needless to say, so would Odenkirk.
“I would love to find out what happens to him and where he can go. But we have eight more episodes of ‘Breaking Bad’ we haven’t shot yet. Before there’s a spinoff, Saul has got to survive all that.
“It’s ‘Breaking Bad,’” he says, which says it all. “ANYTHING can happen.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.