Preacher Series Premiere Review: Pilot

AMC’s Preacher delivers the goods in in its darkly funny series premiere.

This Preacher review contains spoilers.

Preacher Episode 1

Right off the bat, credit must be given to Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon for creating a comic book that serves as such rich source material for AMC’s newest page-to-screen comic adaptation, Preacher. Known for its edgier fare, DC’s Vertigo imprint was a perfect home for Ennis and Dillon’s violent and twisted tale of a vigilante priest. If anything, under Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s watchful eye (as both writers and directors), AMC’s Preacher embraces the very things that made the Vertigo title such a cult hit. Violence? Check. Mayhem? Check. Vulgarity? Check again. But there’s more to this show than these similarities to the source material. Rogen and Goldberg are fans of the comic book, and it shows. The drama is punctuated by plenty of dark humor—or is the dark humor punctuated by plenty of drama? The end result is a fun show with complex characters and a very dark side.

Dominic Cooper is Jesse Custer, the titular preacher, a man of the cloth who has little faith in what he preaches to his modest West Texas congregation. Cooper is certainly winning in the role. He’s charismatic and wry, with an underlying toughness that he has trouble hiding. Indeed, Jesse Custer is a man with a dark and mysterious past, a man who knows from vices and violence. His flock is just as troubled and lost as he is, too. Like them he’s in need of a kind of personal salvation that may never come. Jesse trucks in uninspired sermons and half-hearted spirituality. So it’s no surprise when he decides to leave the church behind and give up preaching altogether. But not before asking God for a sign that he should continue His work. But more on that in a bit.

Preacher is built on the foundation of a trinity of characters, with Jesse being one of the main characters. There’s also Cassidy, a gregarious Irishman slinging drinks from aboard a private jet. It’s immediately obvious that he’s no mere bartender—handily taking down his attackers with violent aplomb. The best part isn’t the in-flight melee, which is frenetic and over the top. No, it’s Cassidy’s exit from the plane, sans parachute and covered in blood and gore. The next time we see him, he’s alive despite sitting in a crater surrounded by his own entrails. So no, he’s not your average bartender at all. If anything, all signs point to him being a vampire. But he’s also Jesse’s foil and the show’s comic relief in a way that doesn’t feel forced. A lot of the credit for this goes to Joseph Gilgun, who brings a real spark to the role.

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The same could be said for Ruth Negga, who plays Jesse’s ex-girlfriend, Tulip. She’s more than just a former lover, though. She clearly has a rich backstory of her own, one that has her trying to recruit Jesse for one last job. That Jesse is taking the preacher thing so seriously does little from dissuading Tulip from appealing to his more vengeful sensibilities. In the meantime, we get to see Negga play Tulip with a smirk and a ferocity that’s both playful and a bit terrifying. Like Cassidy, she knows how to fight, whether it’s with her fists or an ear of corn. The bit with the corn shone and the coffee cans is equally inspired. Tulip is definitely someone you want working with you, not against you.

We do get to see what Jesse’s capable of, too, as he engages in the kind of brutal bar fight with an abusive husband that would make Jason Bourne proud. Which brings us to Jesse wanting to leave the church behind altogether, and asking God for a sign that he doubts he will ever get. We already know strange things have been happening to holy men all over the world, causing them to explode. (Tom Cruise suffers a similar fate, exploding during a Scientology service.) What happens to Jesse is equally strange, but whatever the force is that he encounters, it imbues him with a supernatural ability to persuade people. In this case it’s Ted, a middle-aged milquetoast who allows his life to be ruined by his control-freak mother. Throughout the episode, Jesse has patiently told Ted to open his heart to his mother. After receiving his mysterious power, he unwittingly encourages Ted to literally cut out his still-beating heart.

As far as first episodes go, this is a strong introduction to a show that is both entertaining and repulsive in equal measure. And I can tell you, having watched the first three episodes, Preacher only gets better from here.

Some closing thoughts:

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Arseface, whose scenes with Jesse are real standout moments in an episode that’s full of them. Called Arseface for obvious reasons, the character is nonetheless not portrayed as a freak, but as someone who has lost his way in the world. Like Jesse, he’s just as much in need of saving as anyone else. His unfortunate deformity, caused by his own hand, is beside the point. If anything, his deformed face causes viewers to see the scared soul lurking inside.


4 out of 5