'Better Call Saul' inches toward Fring benefits

'Better Call Saul' Season 3 brings the return of Gus Fring.

(CNN)When "Better Call Saul" premiered, the big fear was that this "Breaking Bad" prequel would rapidly run out of real estate. That's become less of an issue as the third season begins in the show's languid yet wholly satisfying fashion, heralding the much-anticipated arrival of Gus Fring, the drug czar/fast-food entrepreneur.

This being "Better Call Saul," there's a build-up before reaping any of those Fring benefits, and the first glimpse of Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) is a relatively low-key affair. Instead, the narrative initially maintains its alternating focus on "Bad's" two major holdovers: attorney Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), continuing his descent into anything-for-a-buck immorality; and Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), the weary cop who has started operating in the darkness.
More than perhaps anything else on television, "Saul" is defined by its slow grind, an almost trademark-able weekly exercise in moments of stillness and quiet. The writers reward patience, but they also take their sweet time advancing storylines and only fitfully connect Jimmy and Mike, who move along largely on parallel tracks.
Helpfully, the second season added significant layers to the supporting characters, none more so than Rhea Seehorn as Jimmy's wary partner Kim. Her potential to make him a better man -- the point where that relationship seems inevitably destined to go wrong -- has become one of "Saul's" central mysteries, along with the grainy black-and-white flashbacks that introduce each season.
    AMC has already had considerable fun marketing the Fring tie-in, with pop-up versions of Gus' chicken chain Los Pollo Hermanos.
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    Despite plodding along at its own quirky pace, the show can't fully avoid "Breaking Bad's" sizable shadow, and with Gus entering the picture, even an unabashed fan is within his or her rights to wonder how much more life the concept has in it. (In a Los Angeles Times interview, producer Vince Gilligan suggested the show could potentially match "Breaking Bad's" longevity, which feels like a stretch that risks overcooking the pollo.)
    Operating in prequel mode is, by any measure, a delicate balancing act, as "Bates Motel" and "Hannibal" -- series prequels to movies -- have demonstrated.
    So far, though, "Saul" has mastered that chemistry, holding up the legacy of its sire while carving out its own distinct footprint as the writers dole out story in tightly measured doses.
    "Better Call Saul" has thus earned the right to continue inching toward its expiration date, with little reason for second-guessing. Because so far, good things have come to those who wait.
    "Better Call Saul" premieres April 10 at 10 p.m. on AMC.