Preacher, AMC’s new show, based on the cult classic comic series of the same name, by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, has a lot going for it.
The source material is second to none, written by an inventive creator at the height of his prowess, stars in Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga who are familiar with the intricacies of appearing in comic-book properties, and airing on a network known for pushing the limits of its scripted series like The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad.
The only question mark was the driving force behind the project, uber-producing team Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who are known more for upbeat comedies than gritty genre work. In fact, their only attempt before Preacher at creating a comic book inspired work was 2011’s The Green Hornet, generally considered by most critics as middling at best, with a worldwide box office return that barely saw the film make back its budget and marketing dollars.
Not familiar with the comic? Here’s the description from AMC:
“Based on the popular cult comic book franchise of the same name, Preacher is a supernatural, twisted and darkly comedic drama that follows a West Texas preacher named Jesse Custer, who is inhabited by a mysterious entity that causes him to develop a highly unusual power. Jesse, his badass ex-girlfriend Tulip and an Irish vagabond named Cassidy come together, and when they do, they are thrust into a crazy world populated by a cast of characters from Heaven, Hell and everywhere in between.”
Dominic Cooper is no stranger to comic book properties. As Howard Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he appeared first in Captain America: The First Avenger, and reprised the role on television in Marvel’s Agent Carter. As protagonist Jesse Custer, Cooper shines.
Both tortured by his mysterious past and a present he feels helpless to change, his Jesse Custer is clearly lost. “Abandon all hope all ye who enter here” rings true in his portrayal. Feeling abadoned by God, Cooper’s emotions are raw and roiling just beneath the surface.
Cooper is well cast, and while classically handsome and a leading man in every sense of the word, the design team on Preacher have managed to mute his good looks and roughen up his appearance so it matches both the town in which he lives and his conflicted state of mind.
I cannot wait to see the depth Cooper will bring to the role over the rest of the season!
Ruth Negga stars as Jesse’s foul mouthed and take no prisoners ex-girlfriend. Initially, I questioned Negga as Tulip, given the character in the comics is a grim blonde. However, Tulip’s introduction during the pilot cleared any doubt of her being the right choice.
Negga’s cockiness is perfect, her swagger effortless. She and the writers don’t let Tulip become a cliche however, and she gets a chance to show both her humanity and her sense of humour.
Joseph Gilgud stars as Cassidy, the Irish drifter that makes Custer’s acquaintance in a local bar. Like Ruth Negga and Dominic Cooper, he’s able to showcase his physicality, which will be key to his character’s long term progression.
Gilgud’s comedic chops look like they will serve his castmates well, though his particular accent was at first a little challenging to understand; no doubt that will ease as the episodes continue.
Anvil, Texas, the tumbleweed dustbowl that serves as the setting for Preacher also gets honourable mention. While not technically a member of the cast, it’s haunting and majestic. Its a uniquely desolate backdrop that hints at the secrets to come.
The visuals in the show are truly stunning and the Texas backdrop is a large part of that.
SPOILERS FOR THE PILOT CONTINUE BELOW.
You’ve been warned.
Seriously. Turn back now if you don’t want anything ruined.
The Pilot: A great start
Preacher opens with a flash of light from outer space, streaking toward earth. The light lands in Africa, striking a firebrand preacher who says he’s infused with the word; before he explodes, showering his congregants with viscera and gore. This happened throughout the episode; religious personalities exploding. Even Tom Cruise gets offed while leading a Scientology ceremony.
We meet Jesse Custer, a Preacher in a small town, who isn’t very good at preaching, nor is his heart really in the work; he feels that God has abandoned him and isn’t really listening…but he still tries, doing the best he can with the tools he has.
We learn that he has a past. We don’t know exactly what he did, but it seems as though he used to do bad things and he’s called upon to intervene in situation of domestic violence. He declines as it’s a sin and violence only begets more violence. He decides he can’t fight it anymore and he’s going to give up his life as a preacher.
We then meet Tulip, a hard punching, wise cracking, all around tough gal, in the middle of a car chase. It’s about as intense as an intro gets. She’s garroted while driving and bites a guy’s ear off.
Then she makes a bazooka out of cans and booze and shoots down a helicopter. The entire brouhaha was about a map…that presumably leads to a job because she later approaches Jesse about helping her out. He declines, but she later pays a visit to his church, so who knows how long he holds out.
We then meet Cassidy who’s on a plane with a bunch of fellas; it’s all going great until he finds a bible in the bathroom and realizes they’re a bunch of cultists out to get him. Spoiler alert: he’s a vampire.
So they try to kill him…fail, and he jumps out of the plane without a parachute, just an umbrella.
Eventually he runs into Jesse at the bar; Jesse’s been drinking because he spoke to the abused wife and she refuses to come forward. He’s done his best but he is frustrated.
The abusive husband lays a beating on Jesse, and he takes it…but eventually snaps, and pounds the heck out of the husband and his friends as a warning.
He goes to the church and asks for a sign; the light that’s been exploding holy men bursts in and knocks Jesse out.
He awakes three days later and decides not to give up preaching.
One of his most difficult congregants asks for his advice and Jesse tells him to be brave and open his heart. Which the congregant takes literally…and cuts the heart out of his own chest afternoon after being honest about his feelings.
That’s Jesse’s power. The Word. He can make people do anything he says.
The Cast, as mentioned previously is excellent. So too are the supporting characters of Emily, Eugene, and the Sheriff.
Rogen and Goldberg set the perfect tone of the episode with striking visuals and a good script that even had a few nods to comic fans; Tulip commenting on Jesse’s hair was quite funny. In the comics he had long hair, but in the show it’s quite short.
If the scripts continue the mix of action and humour, the show will be a great success. Its tone and pacing were both very strong. The creative team were able to capture the general sense of hopelessness throughout the beginning of the episode, and showed flashes of hope returning.
The perfectly captured the essence of the comic (which they refer to as a graphic novel in the opening credits, but that isn’t technically true) and were able to faithfully translate it to the screen.
Another highlight was the pilot’s soundtrack. It was as diverse as the cast and supported the plot nicely. From Johnny Cash, to Carly Simon, they spared no expense in getting their music to fit the mood and it really worked. Often you don’t notice the soundtrack in TV as you do in movies, but Preacher was far closer to a film experience than traditional TV, and the soundtrack was a strong part of that.
As a huge Preacher fan I was very pleased. There was little I didn’t enjoy.
The not so great
I hesitate to describe anything as not so great but I will say this: for anyone unfamiliar with the comics, the show is a little difficult to follow.
If you don’t have a background on who the characters are it’s definitely a bit confusing. I got halfway through the episode and thought a non fan might have trouble. I then asked a non fan to watch it with me, and we started it again from the beginning. As I predicted they did have trouble keeping track of exactly what was going on.
They were quite intrigued by the episode, and were clear they’d like to continue watching to see where it goes, but they were not able to follow all the plot threads.
For example because Tulip bites off the guy’s ear, when Cassidy bites the guy’s throat on the plane, it isn’t immediately obvious it’s because he’s a vampire. You can guess it by the end, but the show definitely isn’t spoon feeding you any answers.
I think if non-fans give the show a chance they will definitely like what they see, but getting them to continue watching given the show’s complexity could be the trick.
However, that same problem could end up being the show’s strength: unlike most shows on TV today, it isn’t assuming it’s audience is dumb. It believes we want a rich and complex plot, with multiple layers.
Based on the pilot, this show is worth watching.
It’s a unique story filled with a complex cast of characters and it’s only going to get better.
It’s the right creative team, with the right cast, on the right network.
Just watch it.
Potentially hard to follow