Preacher is one of those comic book properties that really sizzles on the page. Its panels brim with the kind of excessive violence and profanity that would make Quentin Tarantino proud. Penned by Garth Ennis and drawn by Steve Dillon, the Vertigo title is considered by many to be a cult classic. An imprint of DC Comics, Vertigo had a way of truly pushing the storytelling envelope, especially in the 90s. Hellblazer comes to mind, as does Animal Man. Like those titles, Preacher had a gritty sensibility that didn’t exactly lend itself to episodic television. Not for lack of trying over the years, though.
It’s quite fascinating, really, that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were the ones who were finally able to breathe life into the property for television audiences. Sure, I was skeptical at first, even though I’m a fan of their movie work overall. Rogen and Goldberg have a knack for marrying vulgarity and violence with humour in a way that can be oddly endearing, if occasionally nauseating. This Is the End, the apocalyptic dark comedy flick written and directed by the longtime duo, is not all that different from Preacher—and this is a good thing for fans of the comic.
So, that being said, here’s my spoiler-free take of the first three episodes.
Right off the bat, it’s clear that this show is bold, stylish, and darkly funny. Like the comic, the small west Texas town of Annville is populated by freaks and assorted malcontents. Good or bad, many of these people are in need of saving, and that’s where Jesse Custer comes in. As played by Dominic Cooper, Custer’s Preacher is a man with good intentions but of very little faith. He wears the white collar, and he stands before his modest congregation every Sunday, but his heart simply isn’t in his lacklustre sermons. He’s just as much in need of saving as his flock. Cooper is a great choice for the part, pairing rangy physicality with squinty-eyed gravitas. He’s compelling to watch, even if he’s just pondering the empty pews in his church. It doesn’t hurt that he bears more than a passing resemblance to his comic book counterpart. Generally speaking, AMC knows a thing or two about casting actors to assume roles previously filled by an artist’s skilled hand. Case in point: The Walking Dead (an Image Comics title, though, not Vertigo).
Ruth Negga, who plays Custer’s former flame Tulip, is also a compelling onscreen presence. Diehard fans of the comic may not like that Negga’s Tulip is not a blonde, but after watching her for a few minutes, none of that will matter. Negga has charisma to spare, imbuing Tulip with a fiery energy that spells danger for anyone who gets in her way—and a lot of people try to get in her way.
Rounding out the main cast is Joseph Gilgun, who plays Cassidy, a man with supernatural abilities who’s far older than he looks. Fans of the comic already know the truth about Cassidy, but I won’t spoil that here for people who are coming to AMC’s Preacher with no knowledge of the comic. Suffice it to say, Gilgun’s casting is absolutely spot on. Like Negga, Gilgun is a lot of fun to watch; he is Cassidy, as far as I’m concerned.
Sure, there are other familiar faces from the comic, including Arseface, played with surprising pathos by Ian Colletti. His appearance is exactly what you’d expect of someone known as “Arseface.” It’s a credit to the writers that his scenes aren’t played for laughs. Even his dialogue, which appears onscreen as subtitles, is played straight. This is fairly consistent with the notion that Preacher’s producers do view the show as a drama first. All of the violence (and there’s a lot of it) is part and parcel with a man of the cloth who is also a justice-dispensing vigilante. This task is made easier for him when a mysterious force bestows him with a strange supernatural ability that is basically a Jedi mind trick on steroids.
In closing, I will just say this about the first three episodes of Preacher: I love this show, and I heartily recommend it. You don’t need to be a fan of the comic to appreciate the show’s darkly comedic tone. The many pop-culture references (“The Big Lebowski is shite”, Cassidy proclaims at one point) are an added bonus.
Preacher debuts Sunday, May 22nd at 10pm on AMC in the US, and on Monday May 23rd on Amazon Prime Video in the UK.