BY KEVIN KOESER
t’s beautiful, divine coincidence that the two best shows currently on TV are both about West Coast lawyers struggling to find happiness and instead wind up burying themselves under a mountain of lies that will completely undo them. Even more surprising is they couldn’t be any more different in tone and presentation.
AMC’s Better Call Saul is a quiet, patient show about con man turned lawyer Jimmy McGill, who’s currently the big shot he long wanted to be but is still discontent. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on the CW centers on Rebecca Bunch who already knows she’s lost her happiness somewhere along the way and moves to West Covina, California to try to find it again. Filled with fast one liners and fun musical number, it’s as manic as Saul is depressive. The way these protagonists mirror each other is strangely captivating, and may point to where they’re headed.
WARNING, SPOILERS UP TO EPISODE 2.04 OF BETTER CALL SAUL AND 1.14 OF CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND WILL BE DISCUSSED
Both Leads Are Struggling With Their Purpose
There’s a question at the front of the minds of both protagonists, “why did I become a lawyer?” Jimmy wanted to earn the approval of his beloved brother Chuck. He spent most of the first season struggling in his one room “firm” at the back of a nail salon until, through savvy detective work, Jimmy uncovers a string of elder abuse that leads to a class action lawsuit. This gives him the job offer at high powered law firm Davis & Main he always assumed Chuck wanted for him, until the heartbreaking reveal that Chuck still doesn’t trust Jimmy and will never forgive him for his con man past. He will always be “Slippin’ Jimmy” in Chuck’s eyes, and Chuck reacts to news of the job offer not with congratulations, but fear and jealousy. Now Jimmy not sure what he wants, now that his one goal, having his brother’s approval, is forever out of reach.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend starts with Rebecca in this position, working her supposed dream job as a lawyer in New York, a dream also performed in service of a family member (her mother in this case). The pilot starts with Rebecca struggling to understand why, after being handed a promotion at her new job, she’s not happy. To find the answer, she thinks back to the last time she was happy, dating her high school crush Josh Chan, and then travels across the country in an attempt to reconnect with him. It is to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s credit that it recognizes from the start this infatuation with Josh is just as much of a placebo to Rebecca’s problems as the promotion was, even if the titular character can’t see it. Like Jimmy, Rebecca is also in an emotional dead end, she’s just coming to the realization a lot slower, and both shows are about how much harm someone with no direction can cause.
Both Leads Can’t Stop Lying to Everyone
Rebecca’s reason for secrecy is fairly straightforward. Josh can’t know she moved all the way across the country just to be with him because that would be, well, a little too forward. Not to mention he’s already in a committed relationship. Rebecca walking the tightrope of trying to get close to Josh while making it seem natural rather than calculated is the big source of tension in the series. The writers never fully let Rebecca off the hook and as the season is fast approaching its climax her attempts to get close to Josh are backfiring. There’s a delicate dance where every time Josh gets closer to the truth, Rebecca will scheme her way into his good graces, only for it to backfire harder. When she gets caught breaking and entering Josh’s apartment, she successfully spins a lie about being traumatized by her own home being broken into, only to drive Josh away when he discovers the truth. She gets back into his good graces by helping him sue his landlord, even getting a kiss out of it, only to be rebuffed afterwards as a mistake, as Rebecca overhears Josh admitting he doesn’t love her. Every step forward is two steps back for Rebecca, and the audience is rooting she’ll be able to sort herself out before it’s too late.
It may be too late for Jimmy. Like Rebecca, he also has love on the mind, but his scheming and lying is even more needless and self-destructive. Season two finds Jimmy’s focus on earning his brother’s pride shifted to getting the love of his once coworker Kim. What sets Jimmy apart is that he’s achieved his goal and yet still can’t stop playing the game. He needlessly fabricates evidence for a case, illegally solicits clients, and goes behind his bosses backs to advertise on television. The last infraction nearly gets him fired and demotes Kim, straining their relationship. Yet he shows no sign of stopping. In the most recent episode, Chuck calls him “like an alcoholic who refuses to admit [he] has a problem” as Jimmy begs Chuck to give Kim her old position back, even offering to leave Davis & Main. Jimmy admits that he doesn’t even want the job, which raises the question of what he does want. Rebecca’s lies represent her lack of control over a situation, but when Jimmy bends the rules that’s how he asserts his identity. Both have to face the consequences of their actions however.
They May Not Be Heading for the Same Ending
We’ve had a pair of flash forwards in Better Call Saul that point to Jimmy’s eventual fate. Living under the assumed name Gene, running a Cinnabon in a mall, completely impotent. He’s lost everything, his job, his family, his friends, and his love. We know Jimmy’s gonna bend the rules to their breaking point, and we know he’s gonna lose it all because of that. It’s a rich source of dramatic irony, one that fills the show with this inescapable dread. That’s the biggest difference between Jimmy and Rebecca is there may actually be hope for her. Though Rebecca is continually brought low when her lying blows up in her face, each time also comes with a sort of personal revelation of what she’s doing and why it’s wrong. This is more than can be said for Jimmy, who recognizes the slippery slope he on and continues to slide down it. The last episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend saw Rebecca trapped on a plane with her therapist who might finally give her the help she needs. Beyond that, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, for all its dark humor, is still a sunny show that cares for its characters. I hope there’s some kind of happy ending in store for Rebecca, I’ll need it to console me after witnessing Jimmy’s terrible but inevitable fall.