Farewell, Saul Goodman, Esq.
Saul Goodman's days as a fictional lawyer are almost certainly over, which is bad news for many of us.
In case you're unaware, Saul Goodman is the central character in Better Call Saul, a TV masterpiece that recently ended its six-season run on AMC and AMC+. Saul is the tale of an often loudly dressed scallywag who pushes the bounds – and crosses the lines – of legal ethics as he builds a law practice doomed to crash and burn.
Saul is a sleazy, lying, underhanded scam artist. But he is also a talented, funny, street-smart charmer.
Played masterfully by Bob Odenkirk, Saul Goodman is a maze of contradictions. He knows the difference between right and wrong, but his modest moral compass slowly disintegrates. His idealistic fight for justice on behalf of the little guy gives way to cynicism and a simple thirst for money.
Why Do We Love Troubled Fictional Lawyers?
Saul is a flawed person and a flawed lawyer whom none of us in our right minds would ever hire to represent us in real life. But, of course, in the world of TV or movies, that is why we find characters like Saul fascinating.
It's not just Saul. Other morally ambiguous lawyers in TV and film have captured our attention despite – or maybe because of – their defects. We're not sure what that says about us viewers and our perceptions of the legal profession. But now that Saul has apparently ended his run as the undisputed king of flawed lawyers in film and TV, maybe it's a good time to review his closest competitors:
- Billy McBride (Billy Bob Thornton), "Goliath,"a streaming TV series by Amazon Studios, 2016-2021. Billy is a washed-up alcoholic who was once a name partner in a big, successful law firm. But a Big Case comes his way involving corporate negligence, and he can't resist the chance to brush off his legal skills, cut back on the booze, and go it alone against the rich and powerful.
- Frank Galvin (Paul Newman), "The Verdict," 1982 movie by 20th Century Fox. Another washed-up alcoholic with a shot at redemption, Frank accepts a run-of-the-mill medical-malpractice case sent to him as a favor by a friend and former partner. The case is sure to produce a reasonable settlement, but Frank decides that justice is best served by taking the defendant, a powerful hospital, to a jury trial against everyone's advice. The outcome is predictable, but the movie was a critical and commercial success, garnering multiple Academy Award nominations.
- Karl Weathers (Nick Offerman), season two of "Fargo," FX TV series, 2015. Karl is another alcoholic lawyer, but funnier than Billy McBride or Frank Galvin. He is a Korean War veteran and the only attorney in little Luverne, Minnesota. Offerman, better known for his role as a cranky office conservative in the TV series Parks and Recreation, is hilarious in this series. His Karl Weathers appears in five episodes and steals a few scenes, including this one.
- Ned Racine (William Hurt), "Body Heat," 1981 movie by Warner Bros. Ned is a bored and inept small-town Florida lawyer whose main flaw seems to be laziness. Also, he's not very bright. A femme fatale played by Kathleen Turner spots his weakness and snookers him into a scheme to murder her husband so that the two conspirators can obtain hubby's considerable wealth. Things, of course, do not go as planned – especially for poor Ned.
- Michael Clayton (George Clooney), "Michael Clayton," 2007 movie by Warner Bros. Pictures. Michael's main flaw is that he is a habitual gambler. It destroyed his marriage and had something to do with the failure of a bar he'd opened with an alcoholic brother, leaving him indebted to bad guys who'd bankrolled it. This probably explains why he doesn't practice law but instead works for a big law firm as a "fixer" who carries around bags of cash to clean up messes.
- Denny Crane (William Shatner), "Boston Legal," 20th Century Fox Television for ABC, 2004-2008. Denny's flaw is a hugely inflated ego. He is obsessed with himself, frequently referring to himself in the third person. Also, he has a strange fixation on guns and is somewhat of a bigot.
So, why do we love these imperfect lawyers? Is it because we dislike lawyers and enjoy it when they are something less than perfect?
Or is it the opposite? Maybe we love them because they represent a profession with a reputation for being buttoned-up – but, for once, they give us a glimpse of their own fears, their own demons. And, as it turns out, they're just like our own.
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