Some emotional tour-de-forces this week

Better Call Saul is so character-driven, it’s as if it was adapted from the stage

Netflix has changed the way many consumers watch TV. At first it was a chance to catch up on films and TV programmes you’d missed, but then the service started making its own shows.

Recently, Netflix added a Breaking Bad prequel/spinoff featuring one of that show’s characters, the lawyer Jimmy McGill, better known as Saul Goodman (‘s all good man!).

I didn’t follow Breaking Bad (not for the faint hearted!) but I’m really getting into Better Call Saul, with Bob Odenkirk superb in the title role. Unlike some Netflix shows where a whole season is released all at once, leading to binge viewing, this show follows the traditional formula, with one episode released per week, every Tuesday for the duration.

Last week’s episode continued the story of Saul’s attempts to build a class action case against a nursing home chain for elder abuse. It’s hard to know how much Saul is driven by a desire for justice and how much by a desire for money and recognition as a regular lawyer (he only did an online degree but passed the bar exams).

Saul has a good heart but is morally flawed, though not as flawed as the ex-cop in an interesting sub-plot. His relationship with his brother Chuck (another excellent turn by Michael McKean of Spinal Tap and Mighty Wind fame) is quite moving at times and always interesting. Chuck has mental health issues and Saul has been looking after him, but last Tuesday’s episode featured a tour-de-force confrontation between them that was totally credible on an emotional level. In fact, what’s so appealing about the show is the way it’s so character- and dialogue-driven, coming across sometimes as if it was adapted from a stage drama.

The show is not as graphic as Breaking Bad, and is all the better for that, but does have a few profanities and occasional crude language.

Still in drama territory, The Ark (Monday of Holy Week) was an original BBC drama based on the story of Noah. The advance publicity said it was based both on the Bible and elements of the Qu’ran, but there certainly was as very modern sensibility about it, with the ancient background being used to air more contemporary debates. For example, Noah discusses the science-religion debate with a rich trader, talks agnosticism with his son, while another son wants himself and his wife to have their ‘own space’.

The best thing about it was the touching and credible relationships in Noah’s family, under severe strain when Noah (well played by David Threlfall) tells them that God wants him to build an ark in the desert during a drought. Noah is a sympathetically portrayed man of strong, well-articulated faith, and, while other viewpoints are aired, there is no attempt to be cynical or debunk religious faith, very much the opposite in fact.

The location work and cinematography are impressive, with the desert being almost like another character, while the nearby town is a den of iniquity. This film is much less concerned with spectacle than the recent Noah film featuring Russell Crowe. If anything, the flood when it comes is a bit of an anti-climax and I did think it all ended too quickly. Clever, though, how the flood is portrayed as a tsunami.

Two days later there was Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s interview on Today with Sean O’Rourke, on April Fool’s Day. On the same-sex marriage referendum, O’Rourke put some robust and pertinent questions to Kenny… your critics would say if you want to cherish the children of the nation equally wouldn’t a good place to start be to ensure they’d have both a mother and a father? And why the ‘breakneck’ haste in getting this referendum going without standing back to see how it turns out in other countries?

I thought Kenny’s replies were limp, evasive and at times illogical, e.g. we’re not changing the definition of marriage just adding to it (i.e. thereby changing it!), and his idea that this was a measure to give people who love each other the right to live together. Didn’t know that was illegal!

And finally, if you want a thorough and rational treatment of the current controversy, listen back to John Murray of the Iona Institute and the Cross Denominational Response initiative on last Saturday evening’s Global Village (Newstalk), when Dill Wickremasinghe gave him a fair but challenging interview. 


Pick of the Week

Would You Believe?

RTĖ 1, Sun, April 12, 10:35pm

The Tuam Babies. Local historian Catherine Corless found herself catapulted into the public eye, because of her historical research into a mother and baby home.

Kill the Christians

BBC 2, Wed, April 15, 9pm (also Thurs 11.20pm)

Topical story of how the religion that shaped Western culture and history is in danger of disappearing in large parts of its ancient heartland.

Joy of Music

EWTN, Mon (night), April 13, 4am

Host Diane Bish brings you a sparkling array of hymns and sacred songs from Ireland.