It’s been over twenty years since the original debut of the Vertigo comic book series Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. The series was a darkly comedic, satirical look at religion through the lens of action movies and ideas rooted in horror and the supernatural. It’s a wild story that involves a small-town reverend literally searching for his faith, a trained marksman and an Irish vampire. Somehow this series has now been turned into an AMC series developed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, along with Breaking Bad’s Sam Catlin.
As pilot episodes go, Preacher attempts to set up it stakes in a bold and ambitious way and it is largely successful. I can get into my experience with the comics and how they match up with the show in the notes at the bottom, but suffice it to say that Preacher has certainly been altered quite a bit to work as a weekly serialized action-horror-comedy-drama. This may end up upsetting some Ennis purists out there, but I felt like there was a fine balance in capturing a tone found in his twenty-year-old comic and updating it for a modern audience.
The biggest question I really have about this whole concept is what this series really wants to feel like on a weekly basis. There is a clear gripe I think many will have with this pilot and it’s trying to figure out its lead character, Jesse Custer. Dominic Cooper does all he can with the role, including building a decent Southern accent, but much of this episode finds him moping around and proving to the audience how much of a down-on-his-luck loser he seems to be. Jesse is an awful preacher with a shady past and the only glee in him comes from a bar brawl he successful wins.
Compared to the two other key characters we meet, Jesse does not begin as the most compelling figure, despite moments of sympathy we find for him. While a scene featuring him and the disfigured Eugene (Ian Colletti) actually comes off as charming for both characters, having him talk out issues involving a husband beating a wife or the basic nature of his work as a preacher with the church organist (Lucy Griffiths) comes off as quite a downer compared to the craziness found elsewhere.
Let’s talk about elsewhere, shall we? This episode begins with a title card indicating we are seeing outer space, as we watch some kind of entity travel through the cosmos and land in Africa. This entity ends up traveling between different people’s bodies and causing them to blow up (this fuels one of the episode’s best jokes about a big movie star). Eventually Jesse finds himself inhabited by this entity, which entitles him to a special ability to command people. Knowing the comics means I already know what is going on, but just be aware that this entity was less interested in people holding onto one-sided beliefs and more willing to pair itself with a man questioning the truth, but wishing to be good.
There is a world of discussion to be had with that, but why not talk about the Irish vampire? Joe Gilgun makes a remarkable debut as Cassidy, a hard-drinking demon of the night, who seems virtually indestructible. His sense of humor will easily lead to great things as this show carries forward and puts him on the same path with Jesse. Gilgun is only outdone by Ruth Negga as Tulip. She is introduced as a butt-kicking woman who manages to build a bazooka out of scraps. The fact that she is Jesse’s ex-girlfriend puts her in Jesse’s life as well and we can only wait to see where things go, once Jesse realizes what kind of power he possesses.
Where things are headed will likely be addressed quickly in the second episode, as we end with two men approaching the Texas church Jesse gives his nonsense sermons at. They have been all over the world trying to find the entity and now we may get a chance to see what they are really up to. That’s the thing about a pilot, so much needs to be done to establish characters and some sort of plot, so you really have to hope enough of it sticks. W. Earl Brown certainly understands this, as his Sheriff Hugo Root character has a lot more going on than what is seen in the comics, meaning we have something to latch onto, as this series continues to move forward.
As the directors for this pilot episode, Rogen and Goldberg establish a visual tone that is fitting for this adaptation. While their directorial work on This Is The End and The Interview may cause most to think of the outlandish comedic scenarios presented, there is a level of manic chaos that tends to play well. With Preacher, cinematographer Bill Pope was brought on board to help deliver on a look for this exceedingly ridiculous world that does well to balance the absurd with the quieter moments. One now just has to look at the overall tone.
Cooper may deliver what is necessary, but I can only hope this show finds a way to really balance the introspective side of his personality with the bizarre situations that will be constantly presenting themselves on a series like this. Obviously the pilot has to do a lot to establish just who Jesse Custer is and by the time it ended, it looked as if Jesse was on a bit of an upswing, but we’ll still have to see where that goes.
With ten episodes on the way, we’ll at least get a good amount of time to watch Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy hang out together. That’s really what works best about the comics. Ideally the show will do good to better capture its own voice. So far it knows it can deliver on the wilder aspects. Now it is just time to see if it can balance the inherent drama buried within all this pulp. If Preacher can keep up a good sense of humor about all of this as well, well good on it for that too.
Preachin’ To The Choir: