Over the years some simple and impactful pieces of advice:
“Find something or somebody to admire”
“When you reach for the stars, you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either”
We all have limited time, and we can spend it engaging with people and things that we admire, or we can spend it looking down on people and discussing what angers, disappoints and troubles us.
There will always be things that enrage us and gets us upset and these are readily served up by todays algorithmic mediascape.
But focusing our attention this way may leave us empty, spent and not any better off than we were before.
But, if we focus on excellence and learning from people or things. we admire we are more likely to come away fulfilled and inspired, wanting to reach higher and strive for growth.
Every few weeks this thought letter will focus on something or somebody that the author believes is “the absolute best in the world bar none” and that is available to everybody for little to no cost that bears listening to, watching, or engaging one’s attention with.
Today it is a television series that will make you feel, see, and think differently about yourself, other people, how to look and listen and much more.
It is not just a great body of work but a work of art that will reverberate for years.
The best television show made to date.
A case can be made that we are living in the greatest time for television.
There are nearly 500 scripted shows in the United States alone. Modern digital tools and competition for content among a plethora of streaming services are enabling more voices and more shows to be more available to more people than ever before.
And at the same time our televisions are getting larger with better pictures and sound (listen with wireless headphones for a theater experience) and streaming gives us the opportunity to eliminate commercials and to consume the story telling on our own schedules.
The pantheon of great shows span the world and include shows like “Borgen”, “The Bridge”, “Fauda”, “The Bureau”and many more from outside the US and “The Sopranos”, “The Wire”, “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” from the US.
And then there is one that matches the quality of these legends but could be the best television series made to date.
A series that ended this week after six seasons spread over 7 years and 63 episodes and is now available worldwide on Netflix and other platforms.
Better Call Saul!
Why Better Call Saul?
Better Call Saul is a prequel to Breaking Bad which is usually on the list of the best two or three television shows ever. It is the story of how one of the main characters of Breaking Bad a lawyer called Saul Goodman came to be.
Over the years the prequel went from being very good to being the equal to and then maybe better than the original.
How does one reach for excellence? By focusing on five things that this television series personifies:
Emphasis on talent.
Culture of excellence and teamwork.
An attention to and sweating of details.
Aligning with and leveraging technology.
Respecting and trusting viewers.
1) It all begins with talent: The show runners and much of the crew of Breaking Bad worked on the new show and many of the stars of the first show play roles on the new show joined by many new actors. You begin with world class talent and stir in years of experience, and you have magic!
2) Culture of excellence and teamwork: Because of the quality of Breaking Bad talent of every sort wanted to work on the new show. But it was not just the quality of Breaking Bad that attracted talent but also for the atmosphere and culture of diversity, fairness, empowerment, and teamwork that made for an amazing working atmosphere which made everyone jump at the opportunity to work on the new show. There was an emotional buzz to every day of production that ran across everyone from the main stars to the carpenters working in the prop department. This showed in the work. You can feel it here in the out takes on the last day of the set.
3) State of the art craft and attention to detail: The late Roger Ebert quoted Howard Hawks who said a good movie has “Three great scenes. No bad scenes”. As we get into the later seasons of “Better Call Saul” we have three or four or five great scenes in an hour and there is no single episode among the 63 episodes that will not make you stop and say, “I have never seen anything like that before!” or “How did they do that?” From scripts that are written by wordsmiths who do think visually, to casting that is perfect to editing and lighting that moves you this show has it all.
The attention to detail includes the need for space and silence.
Here is an article in the Wall Street Journal titled…How Better Call Saul Redefined the Art of Television and contains this quote…The visual language of “Saul” begins with its writers. Their breakdowns of how scenes should look are more extensive than those in typical TV scripts. “A lot of people think writing is about dialogue, but for us it’s the spaces in between the dialogue that are the most important,” Mr. Gilligan says.
4)) Leveraging technology to enhance storytelling: This show looks and feels different because its creators understood how television technology at home was changing and also how modern digital cameras and editing was enabling storytelling in new ways. From “How Better Call Saul Redefined the Art of Television”:
In its final episodes, the prequel has caught up to the timeline of “Breaking Bad.” When that show first hit cable in 2008, more and more viewers had flat, wide-screen TV sets in their homes, but many TV directors had not yet abandoned techniques used for old-fashioned squarish screens, says Mr. Gilligan, who created “Breaking Bad.”
“Everyone was still framing claustrophobically tight,” Mr. Gilligan recalls. For today’s TV screens with similar proportions to cinema screens, “I wanted to frame in the way John Ford and Akira Kurosawa did, to crib from two of the greats. We tried to make ‘Breaking Bad’ look as much as we could like a western.”
“Saul,” also set in Albuquerque, N.M., premiered in 2015. Before production started, Messrs. Gilligan and Gould presented a slideshow for their crew with images from films they wanted to use for inspiration. They included 1970’s “The Conformist,” known for director Bernardo Bertolucci’s unique angles and framing.
Because the later seasons of Better Call Saul were produced a decade after Breaking Bad ended the better technology truly enhances the visual aspects of the story telling. Here is just one scene less than two minutes long that took days of filming:
5) Respecting/Trusting viewers: Some of the best art and storytelling in the world is effective for what it leaves out or does not depict as much as what it leaves in or depicts. Many of the most powerful scenes and storytelling in Better Call Saul trusts the audience to connect the dots and fill in the blanks
More is less when you respect the audience.
Learning how excellence is sculpted.
Not only is “Better Call Saul” among the best if not the best television show but it’s companion podcast is possibly the best free master class one can get on every aspect of how excellence is sculpted.
Unlike other podcasts about television shows this one is unique in what it covers and who appears in it.
First, it is not about what happened in each episode but on how the episode was crafted. Not the entire episode but maybe two or three key scenes.
Second, the creators of the show Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould participate in each podcast and the guests are not just the actors/actresses but make up-artists, sound engineers, editors, directors of photography, script writers, location scouts, prop creators, music choreographers and the entire spectrum of talent that goes into the making of the show.
It is a master class that will blow your mind on not just how this show is made but how stories are told, the details that go into each minute and you will never every see, feel or listen to anything you watch in the same way.
A master class on how a masterpiece is created minute by minute, block by block by the people who crafted the masterpiece speaking in english for non-experts.
Here are links to the podcast on Spotify and Apple but it is available free of cost and free of advertising and promotional interruptions on every major podcast platform:
Watch an episode of tv and then listen to an episode of the podcast.
In the end what made “Better Call Saul” was its delicate and nuanced understanding of humanity.
It combined the quest and search of Homer’s “Odyssey” with the comedy of “The Simpson’s” Homer Simpson. It mixed tragic elements of Shakespeare with the uplifting elements of the redemptive power of love.
It was about the complexity of individuals and the forever journey of becoming.
It was a series that was constrained in one way that it needed be true to its sequel but as the best creative people have always stated there is nothing as powerful as a tightly constrained brief to unleash the powers of imagination and storytelling.
In one way this is much ado about a fictional story and a television show.
But in the end that is all we are.
We are stories and one person is many stories.
Joan Didion wrote “we tell ourselves stories in order to live”.
Like most great art, Better Call Saul makes you feel more alive when interacting with it and transforms your perspectives long after the experience.
Rishad Tobaccowala is an author, advisor, speaker, and educator who distills four decades of experience to help people see, think, and feel differently so they can grow their companies, their teams and themselves. More about Rishad’s advisory services, best-selling book, and the range of topics of 10 popular workshops can be found here…https://rishadtobaccowala.com/