'Better Call Saul' star Bob Odenkirk on his next act: English teacher. Watch the trailer

Gary Levin

PASADENA, Calif. – Bob Odenkirk says he was lucky to spend years playing Saul Goodman on AMC's "Breaking Bad" and its prequel, "Better Call Saul," which wrapped its acclaimed six-season run just last August.

This spring, he's back on the network as "Lucky Hank," the unlikely chairman of the English department at a subpar college, at once a cynic and an idealist who's surrounded by underachieving students. In the show, due March 19, he plays William Henry Devereaux Jr. He's joined by another former AMC star, Mireille Enos ("The Killing"), who plays Lily, his wife and the vice principal of a local high school. 

Bob Odenkirk as Hank, an English professor in AMC's "Lucky Hank," based on Richard Russo's novel "Straight Man."

The eight-episode series, based on Richard Russo's 1997 novel "Straight Man," marks a sharp contrast with "Saul," which Odenkirk welcomed, he told the Television Critics Association Tuesday and a return to his comedy roots. 

"Saul was really alone; he had nothing," Odenkirk said. "He wanted Kim to love him, but she was never gonna. He was a tough guy to play ... Saul was funny at times, he just wasn’t aware he was funny, he wasn’t the joke." 

The series, co-developed by Paul Lieberstein, who played Toby on (and wrote for) NBC's hit "The Office," says the idea of a university setting appealed to him, and offered larger stakes than which Dunder-Mifflin employee might get a better parking space. "After 'The Office," I said, 'I’d kinda like to do this with smarter people. I loved this idea about tenure, where you are trapped in success; you can’t leave that job. It allows people to behave very badly."

Bob Odenkirk in the series finale of "Better Call Saul."

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But the project came to Odenkirk just as he was finishing "Saul" after suffering a life-threatening heart attack. "I had to finish the season of 'Saul' and do all the things I signed up for," Odenkirk said. "I had a blank-slate experience ... literally, I couldn't remember any of it, and had a hard time making memories for weeks," he said. "I was weirdly upbeat after that; it was like being this weird little baby bird at the age of 59."

Bob Odenkirk as Hank, Mireille Enos as Lily in AMC's 'Lucky Hank.'

What can he still learn from the traumatic experience? "I want to have a better work-life balance because I don't think I've figured it out yet. We don't get to carry on forever, we just don't. I want to make the best choices with the time I have left."