This review contains spoilers.
Like a lot of teenagers, I drifted away from comic books. The expense got to be too much, and since I never got a subscription to any comic and only bought them at the store, I was always missing issues, which made it difficult to follow along with the plots. However, when I was in high school, one of our classes had a reading hour on Friday, and a friend of mine brought comic books. From the moment I opened up Preacher, I was hooked, and I made sure that every Friday, he’d bring other issues of it for me to read.
In a lot of ways, it’s the perfect comic for a teenage boy; funny, perverse, violent, sacrilegious, and obsessed with the removal of male genitalia. However, Preacher was also capable of some deep thoughts, deeper insights on faith, what it means to be in a world like ours, to be searching for something. Of course, it never lets these deeper thoughts get in the way of the violence, but what comic book (aside from Harvey Pekar) doesn’t trade intelligence for murder at some point?
That source material is the sort of thing that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have made a career from. Scatological, yet insightful. Poignant, yet puerile. Preacher has bounced around from producer to producer, from development deal to development deal, and it never found a home. Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier couldn’t pitch it to Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein with Rachel Talalay attached to direct. Mark Steven Johnson and Howard Deutch couldn’t turn it into a TV series at HBO with James Marsden attached to play Jesse Custer. Columbia Pictures and Sam Mendes couldn’t get it made into a movie, either. However, oddly enough, a show that was too controversial for HBO ended up going to a network known for routinely strangling powerful creators in AMC, with Hollywood A-listers Rogen and Goldberg bringing it to the small screen with Breaking Bad‘s Sam Catlin running the day-to-day affairs of the show.
It’s a team that seems determined to make the show both true to the controversial source material—perhaps with a few lesser penectomies—and palatable for a basic cable television audience. Certainly, the initial episode of Preacher seems to fit the bill perfectly. Boundaries are pushed, gonads are stepped on, arms are fractured, ministers explode, and yet while the show will undoubtedly ruffle feathers, I don’t foresee a huge outcry, if only because the people who are going to watch it are already fans of the source material, or fans of the Goldberg/Rogen connection.
The pilot episode, directed by Rogen and Goldberg, is a great introduction to the characters as we’ll get to know them. Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) is a disillusioned preacher with daddy issues and a failing flock in a dusty Texas town. Tulip (Ruth Negga) is a gun-toting force to be reckoned with, Jesse’s old girlfriend, and someone who clearly has no issues with getting involved in nefarious plots. And Cassidy (Joe Gilgun), well… he’s got one of the better introductions of any character in any TV series, as he decimates a whole airplane full of vampire hunters without breaking a sweat, then leaps from a crashing airplane only to smash down just outside of Jesse’s town.
One of the better things that the show does is to establish, right away, that Jesse Custer is conflicted between his old life as a petty criminal and his new life as a man of God, a God that he may or may not believe in anymore. This is established in a great, chilling monologue on the nature of violence from Dominic Cooper delivered in the show’s opening minutes. It both chills the child on the receiving end—who wants Jesse to beat up his abusive father—and the audience, because it shows that this is a dangerous, damaged person trying to do right and not getting a lot of encouragement along the way.
Tulip is clearly a bad influence on her former flame. She is introduced with a killer fight scene, literally, and she handles two men sent to attack her with relative ease, yet she’s also got a soft side for children, even if she teaches those children how to make explosives and Cassidy, well… he’ll go anywhere provided you keep him well lubricated with liquor and blood. The show leans heavily on these three characters, not so much introducing them as throwing them at us confidently.
The unknowing viewer might just stumble in and not know who Cassidy or Tulip or Jesse are, but they’re compelling enough that they should make the audience stick around. Sam Catlin’s script is very confident in this fact, and it moves at a very deliberate pace, punctuating each shocking moment with some more productive character work in quieter scenes. You’re going to want to know why Cassidy is being hunted. You’re going to want to know why Tulip is being attacked. You’re going to want to know just what that thing is that blows up several religious figures before landing in the host body of a chain-smoking alcoholic hiding behind a clerical collar. You’re definitely going to want to know what the story is with Eugene (a really great performance from Ian Colletti) and how someone with a face like an anus can be so chipper and friendly.
Even I’m wondering just how the show is going to approach the central questions of the comic (and who they’re going to cast as the Saint of Killers should he show up now that Clint Eastwood is too old for the role), and I’ve read the entire run. There’s a certain degree of confidence involved in the pilot; everyone seems to know where they’re going to go and how they’re going to get there, and the show hints at several things to come without revealing too much. Like any good Western, the secret is pacing, and it looks like Preacher is moving with the laconic stride of a Lee Marvin villain.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan is kind of glad that he wasn’t born a Dothraki. It seems like there’d be a lot of chafing from going around on horseback all the time. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
UK viewers: Preacher arrives on Amazon Prime Video on Monday the 23rd of May.