Season 4 of Better Call Saul, which wrapped up a few weeks ago, is on the shortlist of my favorite seasons of television ever. The Emmy people have not shown Better Call Saul undue respect—it has never won a single Emmy for anything—but in my view the Vince Gilligan/Peter Gould creation is running rings around every other show in a bunch of different ways. It’s got the best acting, the best writing, and the best direction, for starters. Particularly in the writing arena, it’s a little preposterous that any other drama would beat Better Call Saul, at least that’s my opinion.
One of the amusing aspects of Better Call Saul is that it showcases so many different depictions of excellence in its narrative. Jimmy McGill (later to become Saul Goodman) is a world-class con artist, his brother Chuck is a genius-level attorney, Mike Ehrmantraut is an unusually gifted all-purpose security dude, Gustavo Fring is a regional/international drug kingpin of distinction, and Jimmy’s girlfriend Kim is a pretty gifted negotiator of plea deals and the like as a sideline to her regular gig of representing multinational corporations (with Jimmy, she also grifts unwitting saps for fun). The show has a deep abiding interest in professionalism and excellence in all of its forms.
As portrayed by Jonathan Banks, the utterly unflappable Mike Ehrmantraut has become the object of no small fascination. I know several people who’d swap places with him in an instant, given the option. Until he landed the role of Mike in Breaking Bad, Banks was a respected if by no means famous character actor whose notable credits had included the TV series Wiseguy and the movies Freejack and Gremlins.
One of Banks’ early credits was a bizarre self-help videotape from 1985 called You Can Win! Negotiating for Power, Love and Money. The videotape was intended to showcase the penetrating insights of a lady named Dr. Tessa Albert Warschaw. I’m guessing that You Can Win! was tolerably successful in its day—before most everyone had the ability to call up life advice on the Internet—for as recently as 2015 she was appearing at a TEDxPasadenaWomen event discussing the importance of resiliency.
In You Can Win! Banks is given the task of portraying the idealized “type” of “the Dictator,” the unpleasant, exacting prig who has precise expectations in every interaction. The video alternates between explanations from Dr. Warschaw and demonstrations of the insights by a team of NYC actors who are really not bad at all, the whole thing is really fairly good but just horribly dated. Skip through it for the bits involving Banks (who knows, you might have a use for a clip of Banks saying the words “Massage! ... ha ha ha ha ha ha, don’t be perverse”). But mainly it’s best to think of it as a highly bizarre conceptual play.