From AMC and showrunner Sam Catlin (Breaking Bad) comes the TV adaptation of Garth Ennis’ and Steve Dillon’s iconic DC: Vertigo comic series Preacher. The pilot episode was written and directed by executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Starring Dominic Cooper, Joseph Gilgun, Ruth Negga, Graham McTavish, W. Earl Brown, Lucy Griffiths, Anatol Yusef, Tom Brooke, Derek Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley and Elizabeth Perkins. Season 2 debuts in 2017.
After merging with a bizarre spiritual force called Genesis, Texan preacher Jesse Custer has become completely disillusioned with the beliefs to which he had dedicated his entire life. Now possessing the power of “the word,” an ability to make people do whatever he utters, Custer begins a violent and riotous journey across the country. Joined by his gun-toting girlfriend Tulip and the hard-drinking Irish vampire Cassidy, Custer loses faith in both God and man as he witnesses dark atrocities and improbable calamities during his exploration of America.
Preacher is my favorite comic book series of all time. All time. The second volume (graphic novel) is hands down the best collected work and volume I have ever read for any comic series, so to say that I have high expectations for a television series adapted from Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s masterpiece – would be an understatement. My worries were calmed however during the opening 5 minutes of the pilot when I heard the infant-like laughter of a speeding comet called Genesis crashing through the galaxy and eventually finding Earth.. Right then and there, producers Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and showrunner Sam Catlin had nailed the tone.
In season 1, we spend ten episodes getting to know the small town of Annville and their quirky residents until everything literally goes to hell in the finale – or does Hell go to Annville? Either way, there’s a lot of character building but I’m happy that most of it was spent on our main crew considering the shocking events in episode 10. Jesse is a preacher who has run out of patience but finds his faith renewed after a mysterious force enters his body and grants him the power to use his voice and command anyone to do whatever he pleases. Tulip is Jesse’s badass ex girlfriend who rolls through town again to stir up shit. Cassidy is a vampire who takes a tumble out of an airplane, drops right into town and becomes Jesse’s best friend fairly quick. Then there’s Eugene, aka Arseface, who is trying to live a good life after a tragic event led to his severe disfigurement before the series takes place.
I understood the need to change the pace of the comic for a TV adaptation considering that “shocking” moment of the first issue in the comic is a little nuts since we go from 0 to 100 straight away, so they opted to build up to that moment and make a prequel of sorts to the first issue while adapting for television. Episodes 1 through 9 are a hybrid of taking flashbacks from the source material to generating completely brand new and original material for the TV show in order to build to the big boom of the finale (aka issue numero uno). I both had a great time and got fed up with this method because the show had the tendency to drag on and wear out it’s welcome halfway through.
I kind of liked the way Ennis and Dillon revealed backstory in the books by giving us the action right off the bat and then focusing on stand-alone flashbacks later on to flesh out characters like The Saint of Killers (he’s the cool cowboy played by the fantastic Graham McTavish). Instead we wound up getting a mix of stuff that wasn’t in the comics or odd events that happen much later on getting adapted right away – like the Odin Quincannon stuff. Comic fans will know that this guy pops up near the end of the series, but they opted to introduce him now (and I actually understand why considering his time in the comic comes at a moment when the show would likely need to move ahead towards the end-game rather than take a breather and push the re-set button like it did in the book). Jackie Earle Haley never really goes full KKK crazy evil Quincannon like the comic, but he does a fine job capturing the essence of that character. I wish they had opted for the more disgusting reveal of the comics rather than the smaller and MUCH more subtle “meat reveal” of the show. THE GOD OF MEAT!
The performances are all on point. Dominic Cooper is still trying to find his footing as Jesse but I think he’s getting there. Ruth Negga is enigmatic as Tulip and I think she nailed her comic book counterpart to a T but it’s Joseph Gilgun as the Irish vampire Cassidy who steals the show for me. Gilgun is masterful and his performance as the hard-drinking, drug addled, fist-fighting, Big Lebowski-hatin son-of-a-bitch Vampire is what made season one work for me. I couldn’t stand the episodes that didn’t feature Gilgun…. Every single episode needs a strong dose of Cassidy to really capture the humor and spirit of the insane source material. I think Gilgun should get an Emmy nod for his performance to tell you the truth – the man was born to play this part.
I also witnessed first-hand (through my wife) how Preacher could be a little too puzzling or silly for those who haven’t read the comic. She was confused as to what was going on and even the reveals, which did come eventually, weren’t super clear so I had to flesh it out more for her. The show deals with tons of supernatural stuff. Heaven and Hell are REAL places in this world and they both have agents in the game. Major props to Anatol Yusef and Tom Brooke for playing the two most significant roles in that category this season, because it all starts with them and expands tremendously from there. The cowboy flashback – it all comes full circle by the finale. Jesse’s superpower – you will know fairly soon what that is and where it comes from. In order to really embrace Preacher, you have to be OK with fantasy elements because that’s what this show is – a black comedy western set amidst a battle between Heaven and Hell to claim the Galaxy’s most powerful force that now lives inside a drunk ass Preacher who finds himself on an insane quest by the finale….
I found myself perplexed and overjoyed several times throughout the first season as a major fan of the comic. Knowing that Rogen and Goldberg are also tremendous fans of the source material, coupled with Ennis giving the show his stamp of approval is nice, but I do feel that there were pacing issues here. I’m starting to wonder if when I go back to revisit the show, that I’ll start with episodes 9 and 10, then disregard the others. That’s a shame though because there were some crazy-good action sequences before then. The chainsaw fight in the church, the hotel room corpse pile-up rumble and the airplane introduction for Cassidy were all very fun to watch, but overall the narrative doesn’t move forward fast enough for me. It’s unfair, because I’m a comic nut so that also makes me an impatient asshole at times and I’m wondering if this is a shining example of that (it happens on The Walking Dead – all the time – same deal).
I’d like to think that the series has found it’s footing and that season 2 will be the crazy road trip we all know and love from the comics, but when you spend an entire season building up a familiarity of a certain place, only to blow it all up by the end – it can sometimes have poor results and backfire. I think in this case however, Preacher will only improve and become the show that comic fans like myself all know and adore. New villains, can’t wait to see who plays God (oh yeah, that’s a thing), or Satan mind you… (also a thing), the man in the white suit (you have no idea how amazing this psycho is if you haven’t read this thing), and all the other bizarre and fascinating characters that Ennis and Dillon created all those years ago. We’re getting there… I have faith.