After years and years in development hell, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher has finally made its way to the screen via AMC and from my view, we’re off to an okay start.
Our premise for the pilot is more or less right from the books. Genesis, a heavenly force with power that can rival God himself, comes to Earth and inhabits the body of preacher Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) and gives him the word of the Lord. Meanwhile ex-girlfriend Tulip (Ruth Negga) and Irish vampire Cassidy (Joe Gilgun) happen to stumble into Jesse’s life and join the ride as angels try to track down and retrieve Genesis.
AMC’s take on Preacher so far feels as if they half-heartedly embrace the spirit of the original comic from my view. Deviations from the source material are of course made and they equally add up to be good and bad choices here. Given the religious themes and subjects and how they are personally explored in the book from its damning viewpoint and satirical jabs at just about anything without a care in the world, it would always a risk for anyone to want to translate.
Preacher at its heart though is a road trip story about three friends finding themselves as they try to find God, literally, find God himself. The road trip just wasn’t the central premise, but our view into the huge world of the book.
In the pilot at least the characters get the clear focus and that is easily the highlight of the entire episode. Cassidy and Tulip in particular thanks to spectacular casting. Ruth Negga as Tulip certainly steals the whole hour by being, if I’m honest, a better version of herself than from the comic. Tulip here feels more confident and openly badass immediately and Negga plays it with such a coy slyness to it that I was won over instantly by her charm. Her introduction scene alone is enough to make me want a whole episode of just following her around. From homemade bazookas to shooting down helicopters and those children playing amazing straight men to her, it just works perfectly.
Her reconnection to Jesse later does show that she is capable of hitting on the more down-to-earth side of Tulip’s character, but she still keeps her badassness in tact.
Cassidy himself gets a very memorable introduction scene that invokes the crude and carefree fun of the original character. Joe Gilgun is just a perfect fit for him and is just as well informed about when he’s introduced as Tulip was in her intro. It’s a highly fast paced and frantic scene and keeps a sole focus.
As for our titular preacher himself, Dominic Cooper’s Jesse took a bit for me to warm up to as I felt he didn’t come into his own until later into the episode compared to Negga and Gilgun. I like Cooper as a performer, but throughout most of the pilot he feels like another conflicted anti-hero you’d find as the lead of an AMC show, or nearly any other television show this day and age. Now one deviation I do like from the comic involves Jesse. Genesis in the book outright goes to Jesse as his vessel, but here Genesis encompasses various religious leaders across the world trying to find a host, including a jab with Tom Cruise and Scientology that feels very in tone with the spirit and humor of the comic. It’s an interesting choice that I like and helps give insight to the larger world of the show and the scene where Genesis chooses Jesse is a highlight, but its said larger world that should be the focus.
Exploring Jesse’s life inside Annville and expanding on it from the books was okay, but it wasn’t that very compelling given the huge scope said books had. Nothing stands out as interesting from the issues Jesse deals with, even in his visit with Arseface (Ian Colletti), a key figure from early in Preacher along with his father, Sheriff Root (W. Earl Brown). Arseface himself is nicely translated as a character but one aspect isn’t and its a problem of the pilot, its not very funny. Black comedy and dark humor are as much a part of Preacher‘s DNA as railing against Catholicism and blood splattering everywhere are and it just feels lost in translation. There are good bits of humor, the aforementioned Tom Cruise joke, anything with Cassidy, and particularly Jesse’s first use of The Word towards the end of the pilot, but the underlying weird fun that comes from the humor of the story is absent to me. Without the absurdity being as much an equal part of the story as everything else, it really can’t work.
One can hope we can say adios to Annville soon and start on the finding God road trip.
The start to Preacher on television isn’t a bad one. An undefined tone does hurt it, but the work of the main characters and their performers do help out a lot and what’s left of the book that’s in the episode is certainly welcomed. As long as the true spirit and feel of the comic can come through as we go along, this show should be one hell of a ride.