Through the grace and might of their past skill and good luck, AMC has transformed from a repository for grey-tone cinema into a source for some of the best television drama in the history of the medium. But as Breaking Bad sprints to its end - with Mad Men right behind it - is AMC in trouble?
The last few weeks paint a portrait of a network in transition. Despite heavy promotion, Low Winter Sun's ratings don't bode well for a long and fruitful run; Hell on Wheels isn't setting the world on fire; The Killing is dead, Mad Men's final season is being stretched out over two years, and AMC looks like it is going to ape the style of past successes, but not their substance, with two spinoffs - Better Call Saul and an expansion of the Walking Dead universe coming down the pike.
Back in 2008, it seemed as though AMC's ambitions were less centered on maintaining the status quo. To borrow a phrase, "they were in the empire business," but they were on the ground floor, with only a well-regarded but minimally watched period drama about advertising in their stable. AMC then gambled on a dark drama about cancer, drugs, crime, family, ego, power, and the slicked path to monstrous behavior, starring the guy from Malcolm in the Middle. In the time since, that gamble has paid out like a busted ATM machine for them - but they don't seem to have the same taste for adventure now, as the network is green-lighting safer material that has failed to light a spark in the way that their past risks have.
Breaking Bad had a novel concept that unfurled to reveal its true mastery, but the Saul Goodman prequel spin-off isn't likely going to be as novel and won't be blessed by a lot of carryover between the Breaking Bad writing staff and the Better Call Saul writer's room.
[Breaking Bad Spoilers Follow]
Is there an appetite for more and an affection for Bob Odenkirk's character? Of course, and hit shows have been spawned from far less - but can't we walk away from the table satisfied for once? Like a dog with a trash can full of food, we eat until we make ourselves sick or pass out when it comes to our beloved shows and movies; but would it be so bad if Saul Goodman disappeared into the exhaust cloud of a vacuum cleaner repairman's mini-van? Would it be so bad if there were lingering questions, and something left unsaid about his beginnings?
I know that Saul Goodman is a Jedi, I don't need to know all about his Midi-chlorians.
Besides, this is a character with a complete arc. A broad character and a weasel of a man, who at long last saw Walter White for what he is: mad, weak, and powered only by violent fantasy, selfish motives, and a barrel of money. Saul Goodman said no to that man - finally - and parted gracefully. When the curtain falls, that may be the best ending that any character on this show is afforded - and yet that perfection may be undone or, rather, undermined by his spinoff show.
The idea of a psuedo-second incarnation of AMC's less critically adored but higher-rated zombie drama, The Walking Dead, seems grand on its face - but is this AMC messing with a good thing that can't be easily repeated?