NEW YORK — Every week, the hunt is on.
When each “Better Call Saul” episode hits the air at 10 p.m. Mondays on AMC, a certain segment of its audience answers the call, not just savoring each hour of duplicity by lawyer Jimmy McGill, but also scouring the screen for covert clues.
This pursuit of so-called Easter eggs isn’t unique to “Saul,” or even to TV. Throughout his long career as a movie director, Alfred Hitchcock in effect cast himself as an Easter egg, popping up in each of his films in a blink-and-you’d-miss-it cameo appearance.
But since premiering last month, “Saul” has emerged not only as TV’s most beguiling tragicomedy, but also a favorite hunting ground for high-alert Easter eggheads.
Many of its buried clues link “Saul” to “Breaking Bad,” the 2008-13 AMC series that introduced Jimmy McGill in a time frame six years after the starting point for “Saul.” For instance, in the “Saul” premiere, Jimmy’s car was revealed to be a 1998 Suzuki Esteem rattletrap parked in the Albuquerque courthouse alongside a Cadillac DeVille — a deliberate reference to the make of car he will drive years later on “Breaking Bad” in his alter ego as flush attorney Saul Goodman.
On another “Saul” occasion, a fleeting close-up of a letter to Jimmy displayed a home address on Juan Tabo Boulevard, which quick-witted viewers recalled as, years later, the residential street of nerdy chemist Gale Boetticher, lab assistant to Walter White (“Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston) in producing his top-notch crystal meth.
Detecting such needles in the “Saul” haystack calls for sharp eyes, a good memory and much replaying and still-framing with your DVR.
Or you can just Google the words “Saul” and “egg” to benefit from numerous fan sites and the lists of Easter eggs you’ll find compiled there. Be prepared to be humbled by the clues you missed buried deep in plain sight.
“Better Call Saul” is ideally suited for embedding these clues. Like “Breaking Bad,” which spawned it, “Saul” is fearless in its refusal to tell a simple tale in straightforward, linear style. Hopscotch storytelling is the rule, with out-of-nowhere information deposited that might not be explained for weeks to come.
In short, the series rejects the notion that its audience “needs every piece of information planted very firmly, and that, if something isn’t said out loud, the audience won’t get it,” says co-producer and -creator Peter Gould, who oversees the show in tandem with former “Breaking Bad” mastermind Vince Gilligan.
“We’re making the show for an audience that’s paying attention,” says Gould, and if it seems like they have fun keeping the audience on its toes, well, they sure do, he declares.
Item: “When Vince was selecting the key fob that Jimmy uses for his Esteem, we thought it would be fun to use one similar to the one Walter White used to trigger his machine-gun ambush at the end of ‘Breaking Bad.’ ”
Bravo to the viewers who noticed!
And what about the so-called Billboard Guy, who conspired with Jimmy in a heroism ruse in Episode 4 — and who eagle-eyed viewers recognized from two weeks earlier.
“We wanted to plant an explanation for how Jimmy met the guy he would use later in his scammy billboard rescue,” says Gould. “Very, very close observers of episode number 2 saw him as one of the clients Jimmy was appointed to represent.”
The character was played by actor-stuntman Eddie Fernandez, who, before his big scene in Episode 4, had to be specially flown from Los Angeles to Albuquerque for that three-second shot of him emerging from a courtroom with Jimmy in Episode 2.
“I’m so pleased that people noticed,” says Gould, “because we did go to some trouble to plant him in that episode.”
An Easter egg like that demands a lot of planning and logistics. But others can happen on the fly, sometimes proving as much a surprise to Gould and Gilligan as to the viewers who catch them.
Item: When Jimmy placed a call on a sidewalk pay phone in Episode 3, a squiggly graffiti tag on its face plate said “JPi” — the likely signature of Jesse Pinkman, who (played by Aaron Paul) Walter teamed with throughout “Breaking Bad” on their chemical adventures and, during the time span of prequel “Saul,” would have been an up-to-no-good teen.
“That wasn’t in the script,” Gould confides with a laugh. “Sometimes folks in the art department or on the set add a little something.”
The goal is to make the series’ warped universe “as consistent and as real to us, and to the audience, as we possibly can,” he says.
With a bonus payoff for those who really pay attention.