AMC struck gold in 2010 with its adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s incredibly popular comic book series The Walking Dead, spawning its own talk show Talking Dead and spinoff TV series Fear The Walking Dead. It should come as no surprise then that the network has decided to adapt another famously violent comic book to the small screen: Preacher. Created by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, there have been plenty of attempts to adapt the comic into either film or TV format for the last 10 or so years, but all of them have failed until now. It’s Seth Rogen and his writing/directing partner Evan Goldberg who finally made it a reality along with Breaking Bad writer Sam Catlin who will be taking over day-to-day writing duties when Rogen and Goldberg are off making movies. Preacher recently premiered on AMC, and it’s time to see if the series’ long road to existence has paid off.
The series focuses on small town Texas preacher Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), who returns to his hometown of Annville, Texas to escape a past we are still unaware of. Jesse’s life is soon changed forever when he becomes possessed by a mysterious entity that gives him the power to command anyone to do as he tells them to (think a less psychotic Killgrave from Marvel’s Jessica Jones). Joining Jesse in Annville are his ex-girlfriend and troublemaker Tulip O’Hare (Ruth Negga) as well as wisecracking Irish vampire Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun), both who are also running from mysterious dangers. As Jesse deals with this newfound ability, he must also contend with the colorful cast of characters that make up his congregation including Emily Woodrow (Lucy Griffiths) a single mother who serves as Jesse’s church organist and Sheriff Hugo Root (W. Earl Brown) a rough tempered lawman copping with his disfigured son Eugene (Ian Colletti).
I’m a big fan of the Preacher comics, and when I first heard that it was going to be adapted by the guys who brought us Superbad and The Interview, I was a little skeptical. But, I also remembered that the same duo made This Is The End, a movie that had a perfect blend of comedy and violence and dealt with religious subject matter, things that are important parts of Preacher. The most noticeable thing about the pilot to me as a reader of the comics is how different it is from its source material. I would say that at least 90% of the 90 minute pilot is made up of original material, and only the characters and basic plot come from the comics. For example, in the comics, when Jesse first comes into contact with the entity, it causes a huge explosion that kills his entire congregation and forces him to go on the run from the law. The show seems to be taking a completely different approach given the fact that there was no such explosion, and it looks like the show will stay firmly planted in the small town for the foreseeable future.
The first episode also sets up a lot of questions and mysteries without ever giving you answers unlike the comics which pretty much explains most of what happens in the first few issues. Since I have read the comics, I was able to guess a lot of what was happening in the show, but I’m sure a lot of plot points will be confusing for people who are coming to this cold. What is the mystical force responsible for Jesse’s powers and where did it come from? Who are the mysterious men who are tracking it down? Who are the people chasing Cassidy and Tulip and are they connected? What happened to Jesse’s father who we see in brief flashbacks? These are all question the first episode poses without even trying to give clues to their answers and though some might find this frustrating or confusing, it only makes me more eager to watch the next few episodes to see how it all plays out as well as how it relates to the comic, if at all.
What the pilot changes from the comics in terms of plot and structure, it more than makes up for by perfectly capturing the spirit and tone of the source material including its absurdly violent humor. Sight gags like seeing a completely disemboweled Cassidy lure a cow so that he can eat him whole in order to regenerate, Tulip recruiting a pair of children into helping her build a homemade rocket launcher and that great last scene of seeing the poor guy rip his own heart out in front of his mother because Jesse told him to “open his heart” to her had me giggling at their absurdity and cringing at their bloodiness. One of the highest compliments I can give to the episode was that it felt like a Quentin Tarantino movie: The dialogue was sharp, it moved at a fast pace and it also had a pretty great soundtrack to it. The pilot was directed by Rogen and Goldberg, and I have to say that for a couple of guys who are known mostly for their comedies, they do a terrific job with the action scenes. Whether it’s the airplane brawl between Cassidy and the religious fanatics or the car fight through the corn field between Tulip and her mysterious assailants, all the action is brutal and fun to watch. I could tell that those guys had a blast filming the scenes, and I had a blast watching them.
The pilot also makes it clear that we are watching a world that is mired in shades of grey, an integral aspect of the comic. There are no clear-cut good or bad guys, and even the friendly neighborhood preacher isn’t above reproach. Early on in the pilot, a young boy goes to Jesse seeking help with his father who he has seen hurting his mom numerous times. When Jesse approaches said mom about the situation, it’s revealed that she actually likes and encourages her husband’s actions and gets some kind of sexual thrill from it. Although this doesn’t in anyway excuse the husband’s actions, it does add an extra layer of complexity to a situation where most shows would have made the husband an out-and-out villain. He’s still a violent jerk and deserves every bit of the ass-kicking he eventually gets from Jesse, he’s just not as scummy as we initially assumed.
The casting for the show is absolutely spot-on, and the three principle actors bring something new to the characters they are playing that improve upon their comic book counterparts. Jesse is much more of a silent and gruff “manly man” in the comics, but Dominic Cooper brings an extra layer of emotion and sympathy to the role that makes Jesse seem more vulnerable and relatable. Ruth Negga seems to be having the time of her life playing Tulip who is much livelier and joyful here than she ever was in the comics. As for Gilgun, well except for the fact that it’s a little difficult to understand a single word of what he is saying due to his heavy Irish accent, he definitely brings the required insanity and charisma needed for Cassidy, who is far and away the best character in the comics. Also great is young Ian Colletti as Eugene Root, a boy whose face is severely disfigured due to his failed suicide attempt. Because most of his face is covered in prosthetics, Colletti has to do most of his acting with his eyes and you can see the emotion in them in his brief scene in the pilot.
There was no way in hell Rogen, Goldberg and Catlin were ever going to make a show that followed the exact plot of the comic, it would be impossible to do so unless they had the budget and resources the creators of Game of Thrones have, something AMC can’t afford. Nevertheless, what we have here is an exceptionally engaging first entry that sets up the major tone, themes and characters of the comic perfectly, while also offering newcomers a lot of mysteries to be unravelled. It’s hard to say how things will turn out once the show gets further into the season or how many more changes the show will have to make from the comics, but for now I’m very happy with what we got and am excited by the potential it has. This is definitely my favorite new show of the year so far, and I can’t wait for it to continue.
Preacher airs Sundays at 9PM on AMC starting June 5th
Related articles across the web