You Should be Watching This: Preacher
Hey everyone, and welcome to the first edition of You Should be Watching This! I realize it's a bit of a pushy title, but it's also the type of thing I say all the time when I'm desperately trying to get someone to adopt a new show. The title's also more direct than calling the column The Boob Tube or The Watchlist or The Water Cooler (though to be honest I liked that one a lot). At any rate I didn't want to choose a title that's more clever than I am, and also I liked the idea of a sister column to You Should be Reading This, as I'm hoping to incorporate some titles that could possibly fit into both columns. Like say for instance, Preacher.
As for the column itself, I'm excited to get the chance to write about the variety of shows I like to watch, as TV is the final part of my entertainment triumverate with movies and comics. Just like those other two, I often get completely obsessed with television, devouring hours of TV a week, especially when my favorite shows are on the air, such as Game of Thrones or Better Call Saul. It's honestly amazing how I can get through so much content in a week, especially during the peak season where I'll have anywhere from 5-7 series that I'm keeping up with. I'm also hoping to be able to write some of my favorite shows of the past, perhaps even go through some re-watches. All of these shows simply add up to who I am as a TV viewer and fan, and I'm glad you guys can come along for the ride.
At any rate, It's Clobberin' Time!
TV Series: Preacher
Created By: Sam Catlin, Garth Ennis, Evan Goldberg, & Seth Rogen
Episodes So Far: 6
New Episodes Air: Sundays at 9 pm.
It's still bizarre to me that a TV adaptation of Garth Ennis' Preacher even exists. When I was in college, the comic was sort of a right of passage because it felt so rebellious. As it was with most people who read the medium at the time, superhero titles were my inroad into the world of comics. Sure, there were many other titles with complex heroes and stories, such as Neil Gaiman's timeless masterpiece Sandman or any number of books by Warren Ellis or Alan Moore, but my comic diet mostly consisted of the tights and capes set. Then like a pale rider into my sleepy town of complacency came Preacher, which fed into my love of crime fiction and westerns, and compelled me to keep reading with its overt violence and sexuality. The story's energy was ineffectious, as was it's anarchist tone and penchant for sacreligious images and raucous humor.
Forget about existential searches for God; this comic was about a literal one. Garth Ennis' epic series concerned a small town preacher named Jesse Custer who is imbued with "The Word of God", literally allowing him to command someone to do anything he commands them to do. His condition is the result of a possession by an entity named Genesis, which is the offspring of a sexual union between an angel and a demon; an entity so powerful in fact, that God has abandoned his throne, and with no one at the helm Jesse decides to find the Almighty and make him answer for abandoning his post.
Is this a loaded enough premise?
What if I told you that Jesse's ex-assassin girlfriend Tulip was along for the ride, as well as an Irish vampire named Cassidy? Still not enough? How about how Custer speaks to the spirit of John Wayne for guidance? Or how Jesse and his crew go on to face serial killers, vampires, cops, outlaws, perverts, an illuminati-like religious sect, and The Saint of Killers, the personification of death itself. Somewhere in between John Ford, John Carpenter, and Quentin Tarantino, Preacher makes you care for its characters as its puts them through Hell on Earth, and you can't wait to see if they reach the other side.
Of course, growing up in the Bible-belt instantly gave me a twinge of guilt every time I opened up Preacher's pages, but writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon crafted a story so addicting and insane, I couldn't help but keep going right through to the bitter end. This is a story that takes you everywhere, from the deserts of Arizona to fortresses in Europe to literally Heaven and Hell. It's a story so enormous (and so controversial) that I felt it would truly be impossible to bring to it to the big or small screen.
Yet here we are.
When Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg announced in 2014 that they had plans to adapt Preacher for AMC, to say that I was skeptical would be putting it mildly. Others had tried and failed, and with good reason; Preacher was just too wild and unwieldy, but perhaps Rogen and Goldberg had just enough lunacy in them to do the story justice.
Well, now that we're more than half way through the show's first season, I'm happy to report that the series has managed to capture the spirit of what Ennis and Dillon had created before on the page. In TV series form, Preacher is crazy-fun, with wild bloody ferocity and an irreverence that often catches you off guard. While there's definitely been some tinkering with story, as settings have been condensed and characters moved around, I can't argue with a lot of the what has gone on so far.
In fact, you could almost say the story up to this point in the show has been like a prequel to the events of the comic series. In the first volume of Preacher, Jesse and friends are already on the road and we learn about Genesis through flashbacks. Though we're over halfway through the first season, Jesse on the TV show has not even left Anneville, TX, his point of origin, even though he has already been possessed and has been learning to control his new powers.
While this strays from the original story, the show is still managing to work by keeping its characters true to their original incarnations. Jesse (Dominic Cooper) is still a bit of roughneck cowboy who has been badly trying his hand at being a reverend when he gets possessed. He's got a checkered past, but underneath he's still good person and believes he's trying to save people. He knows his town is rotting from the inside and maybe he can use his new power to turn things around.
I really like what Dominic Cooper is doing so far. Jesse has so many sides to him and the actor gracefully moves between the different aspects of his personality without betraying the character. You see the melancholy in Jesse's eyes turn to hope after his possession, but also revel in it when his thoughts turn to vengeance, or violence, or obsession. This is a star making turn for Cooper, who has shined as Howard Stark for Marvel, but is really getting to sink his teeth into this character and we're all the better for it.
As for his compatriots, Jospeh Gilgun and Ruth Negga are both unhinged and hysterical as Cassidy and Tulip. Gilgun is the MVP of the show so far, bringing demented energy to Cassidy's hard drinking, cork snorting Irish bloodsucker. Sure, he's a terrible "person", but man is he entertaining, and I love how he instantly bonds with Jesse. His fight scenes are shot with reckless abandon and have been one of the show's big highlights.
Negga's Tulip is also a wildcard. In her first scene, you witness as she destroys two hitmen in an insane fight scene in the back of a speeding car. This then leads to her constructing a homemade bazooka and taking down a helicopter. Negga is ridiculously charismatic; playing Tulip with a wounded vulnerability that keeps you rooting for her, even as strays down what you know are terrible paths. The show has already taken the character to places she didn't go in the books and it'll be fun to see where they go with her from here. I do think we need some more hints to the former relationship between Jesse and Tulip, but there's plenty of time to dive deep.
To its credit, Preacher even manages to strengthen some of its cast of characters compared to their written counterparts. W. Earl Brown's sherrif Hugo Root is still a major league jerk, but there are dimensions to him that the book never found, because you see how he's suffering on account of raising the town pariah. The same goes for Jackie Earl Haley's Odin Quincannon, the owner of the local meat-packing plant, who rules the town with an iron fist. Haley brings real menace to the character, who seemed little more than an annoyance to Jesse originally.
Much like AMC's first foray into comic adaptation, The Walking Dead, I believe that these early episodes add up to a ton of potential. Preacher feels to me like a throwback to 90s independent cinema, with its violence and humor completely knowing no boundaries. Add in the vignettes into the origin of the Saint of Killers and I think this season could end very strong, leading up what could be a terrific second season.All involved seem to be onboard with the spirit of Preacher and in tune with why it was so awesome to begin with. I can't wait to see its path from here on out and if the series will be able to recreate the comics' ultimate triumph as a pulpy masterpiece.