The deeper you fall down the dusty, miscreant-filled rabbit hole of television that Vince Gilligan created over two television series for the AMC Network, you might find yourself at some point, like me, tricked into believing that the guy who gave us Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul is the ultimate conjurer.
How else to explain the stories he pulled out of the mayhem and mundanity of the Albuquerque desert, stories like that of the sad-sack lawyer who oscillates between the worlds of respectability and living as un amigo del cartel? Or the high-school teacher-turned-drug lord? His rival who hides ill-gotten gains behind the veneer of a fast-food chain?
The strip malls and suburban ennui, the smarmy arrogance of big-shot lawyers like Howard Hamlin, the cul-de-sacs that remind you of a pre-Great Recession American dream, the law partner afraid of electricity, the losers and junkies hiding out in the darkness on the edge of town — all of it made for irresistible TV storytelling. What I didn’t realize is how much of it was true. Or, rather, based on things that were.
The Broken and the Bad
The great thing about AMC’s new documentary series, The Broken and the Bad, is not only that it fills the Better Call Saul-sized hole in my heart; it also introduces viewers to real-world characters like Adam Reposa, a larger-than-life, cowboy-hat-wearing star of his own insane TV commercials (a la Saul Goodman) in which he screams at the camera and spews a barely coherent assortment of buzzwords.
We also meet shady (and exceedingly real) ex-con men who explain some of the chicanery of Jimmy McGill, plus border town law enforcement officials who we follow down into the dusty, grimy warren of tunnels that facilitate the flow of drugs into the US. There’s also apparently a real town in West Virginia where you’ll find people like Chuck McGill, convinced they have some kind of hypersensitivity to electricity.
Presented in six bite-sized episode chunks that are all less than 10 minutes each, this series is an easy binge and a must-watch for anyone who’s a fan of the two series that the people and places herein have spawned. An extra bonus: They’re all hosted by Giancarlo Esposito, the actor who brought the fastidious and menacing drug boss Gustavo Fring to life.
In the opening episode of the series, we’re introduced to Reposa, via one of his outlandish commercials that will remind you of similar moments from Better Call Saul, when Jimmy was trying to get his practice off the ground and his name out there.
“Nothing easier than being a lawyer”
“I’m Adam Reposa,” he sneers, while his TV spot is soundtracked with crunching electric guitars at one point and includes the goateed Reposa warning that if you’re prosecuting his clients, “YOU ARE IN. MY. WAY.”
Esposito describes him as a “Texas defense attorney, often the last chance for those on the wrong side of the law.” Like “Saul,” Esposito continues, Reposa has created a persona that “revels” in outplaying the system to cause “chaos in the courtroom that will ultimately serve his clients.”
“People ask me, what’s up with all the crazy stuff?” Reposa muses during the episode. “And I tell ’em flat-out, it’s branding.” Of course, it’s a specific kind of brand. If you want to read more about him, there’s this Vice profile from 2012 titled, simply, “Adam Reposa: Lawyer, Lunatic.” In it, among other things, you learn about the provenance of the pickup truck that Adam smashes in the video above.
“There is nothing easier than being a lawyer,” says Reposa in one of his episode’s more memorable moments. “Wear a nice tie. Talk about how great America is. Thank the judge.” Again, the seeds for Saul Goodman. Right there, as unmistakable as a snake in the desert.
While we collectively wait for a new season of Saul, and for it to tie up storylines that include whatever mischief Lalo Salamanca has planned in the wake of the nighttime hit against him that failed so miserably, consider this series a worthwhile diversion and worthy of a place on your watch list.
The Art of the Con
My favorite episode of The Broken and the Bad is Episode 2, “Art of the Con.” In it, we meet a former grifter who used to live in a penthouse suite and dress in $2,000 Hugo Boss suits. “My name is Logan Devine,” is how he introduces himself to the camera, before also introducing himself as Simon Quinn, John Foster, and Declan McManus. His real name, he eventually discloses, is Aiden Sinclair, and he grew up in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood.
“There’s kind of the vanilla world that most people live in,” he explains. “With a job and house and a kid … There’s this other world right under the surface of that, that’s very grey.” Understanding what someone needs vesus someone wants — that’s what he describes as the art of the con. It’s a skill mastered by the kind of person who looks at a crowd and muses, “There’s a lot of people walking around with my money in their pocket.”
Adds Sinclair: “The guy I learned Three-card Monte from had an ethos: It’s your fault. Why would you ever put your money on that table?” But people did, and do, every day, falling for cons both legal and otherwise.
AMC has posted the entirety of The Broken and the Bad to YouTube, and you can watch all six episodes below.