The Preacher TV show is yet another comic book adaptation, this time on AMC, which is already home of the excellent The Walking Dead. The Preacher comic was ground breaking in a number of ways, most notably that is was the the most successful in bringing that Quentin Tarantino-esque combination of true depth, stupid movie tropes, and otherwordly criminals to comics. But another strength of the comic is that it slowly built to the Grand Guignol that the TV series is trying to drop us right into the middle of, with mixed results.
The Preacher comic is about a guy who has a beef with God and sets off to find him. Along the way, he encounters angels, demons, Jesus’s descendants, and a German man who sets a new standard for disgusting. The Preacher TV show, after one episode, is about everything and nothing.
May 25, 2016: The Preacher TV show is weird, loud and proud. The plot, such as it is, is that there is a thing flying through the heavens crying like a baby, and it somehow enters holy men all over the world, causing most of them— including Tom Cruise preaching Scientology— to explode. While the religious-leader-exploder circles the globe, Jesse Custer is miserable, preaching in small-town Texas to a gaggle of David Lynch-ian weirdos, who delight in being just about as awful as they can be. Jesse hates his job — we hate his job — but there are hints of a criminal past and general bad-assery galore, hints which start to pay off. And then the baby-invisible-energy-thing enters him. There’s also Sherriff Root, who might be more on the ball than he lets on, and his wife, who appears to be comatose. There’s Emily Woodrow, a widow who seems to like Jesse, although he’s not interested, in the way that he doesn’t even notice her interest. And Cassidy, a vampire who is being hunted by persons unknown and has an unknown ally who sometimes gives him money. And all this adds up to… something abstract and unfocused, but genuinely interesting.
The Preacher TV show delights so much in the grotesque that it becomes sophomoric. Many of these elements are part of the comic book universe, but they aren’t dwelled upon in that way that makes me think of 12-year-olds rewinding the hair gel scene from Something about Mary over and over again, the laughs gaining in volume each time. For instance, there’s Eugene, who has a horrible wound around his mouth, and his father puts raw meat in a blender and sends it up to him. Or the woman who enjoys her own abuse, but seems like there might be something wrong with her brain, as she squirms to explain it to her preacher. Somehow, these moments seem forced and uninteresting, although Eugene is a lot of fun with his boundless enthusiasm. (Word is that show co-creator Seth Rogen wanted to play Eugene in a former development of Preacher that got dropped.)
It sounds like the Preacher TV show is terrible from how I’m describing it, but it’s more like a huge unknown. I like it’s taking its time and letting things develop, and not feeling like it has to conform to a format. I don’t know if this is a valid thing for a critic to say, but I would suggest piling about four of them up on your DVR and then trying it. The show has a lot of world-building to do before it gets anywhere. For instance, the pilot wastes some much-needed plot time showing the hunt for the entity that is blowing up the holy men. They do show up at the end… but it’s not really much of a cliff hanger since we don’t know who they are or what they want. I didn’t care about them at all! But I did care to see what would happen to Jesse Custer.
Preacher has a vision and it is going to let us into all of it in good time as long-form story-telling should. I liked the pilot, but immediately wanted more depth, which perhaps I would have gotten from a second show.
I mentioned Tarantino before (and David Lynch) and I will go on to say that Preacher is comparable to his work, in that it not only transcends genre, but also combines them to great fun. There’s a vampire (like Dusk ’til Dawn), elements of a Western (like Tarantino’s westerns), cool criminals (Reservoir Dogs), sleeze bags on the hunt (True Romance), and minor characters who think they are the main characters (Pulp Fiction!). I’m not saying that Preacher rips off Tarantino; I’m just saying that the love of genre-fiddling comes from the same place, that place of the love of cinema wondering, what would it be like if the cool cats from a noir film ran into the blood hunters from a Hammer film? Many films and TV shows have tried to copy Tarantino and failed miserably, but Preacher has the same roots as a Tarantino script. But Preacher, like Dusk ’till Dawn, is weird and not for everyone.
The cast is across the board amazing and having fun with the incredible weirdness. Dominic Cooper (Tony Stark’s younger father in Captain America: The First Avenger and the late, lamented Agent Carter) is Jesse Custer and brings a lot of charm and fun to an underwritten part. Part of the sophomoric vibe I mentioned before is that Jesse is miserable for the first three-quarters of the pilot, which seems to me to be something immature people would think was cool, but Cooper makes it work. Ruth Nega, (Raina on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as Tulip, is having so much fun that I question where the actress stops and the part begins. Joe Gilgin plays Cassidy, and in a show of people going big with their parts, somehow takes that to the next level. He reminds me a lot of the best parts of Colin Farrell, having all that life in his eyes. To say that actors are chewing scenery doesn’t even begin to cover it, but it works for the material. Oh, hey, W. Earl Brown is in it! He’s probably best known as Dan Dority from Deadwood, but for me, will forever be the convict who “keistered” a knife and then had some fried chicken on Justified. Hell, I liked it so much I looked it up; the episode is called “Blowback.” He’s Sheriff Root!
The production elements of the show are also are great, well-directed, with great effects, stylish cuts and establishing shots, and plenty of funny little moments. That kind of quality makes me have faith that the show is going somewhere and it will be fun to go on the ride. And I mentioned before that Seth Rogen created it with his usual directing partner, Evan Goldberg; they were responsible for Superbad and This is the End. So again, nice bona fides, so I’m going to give them a shot.
About the Comic
Here’s an interesting thing about the Preacher comic: It’s finished. It had a story to tell and it did so and now it is not around anymore, which is unusual for a successful comic book. The Walking Dead, for instance, is still ongoing and probably still has tons of stories to tell. But we can assume the Preacher TV show has a conclusion that we can eventually see, if the series is successful. So, no matter how weird the Preacher TV show is, or how unfocused, I’m assuming that we’re going to eventually get focused and get going.
I’m willing to give a good, quality show a few episodes to find a plot.
August 1, 2016: If you haven’t already, don’t give Preacher a chance.
The Preacher TV show was, as I stated after the first episode, a big mess. Plot threads that went literally nowhere, a few shadowy figures in white outfits, and what, really, was so bad about Quincannon meats? Ultimately, it just seemed like a company in a small town with a lunatic CEO.
And juvenile? Oh, Lord, yes. Whenever there was an opportunity for a close-up of something awful, they went for it, up to and including some trashy jokes, S&M, Wizard of Oz fetish, Sad Dorothy Betsy Schenck with her disenchanted husband who would no longer spank her until she had to sit on an economy pack of frozen vegetables— stuff that would not be out of place in a ‘90s era Pauly Shore movie. And there’s no way I mean that in any kind of a good way.
I had the sense that the creators, writers and directors didn’t see their characters as characters, but as punch lines. And if you go all the way back to the ‘90s comic book adaptations, you will see where treating the source material, which is in this case more adult, as a joke will only get you bad movies and TV. No one had any real motivations. Preacher reminded me, ultimately, of Hollywood debacles, like your Waterworlds, your Heavens Gates, your Terminator Salvations, which were big on ideas, but missing the bulls-eye by a few blocks on execution.
The moment that best exemplified Preacher?
That guy with his severed penis in a box, hoping God will re-attach it. The only good thing to come out of the brief spotlight on John Wayne Bobbit was that we learned that it is relatively easy to re-attach a penis medically. This was just pure gross-out.
Just to prove that it was a bunch of stuff that happened and no plot, we’ll look at Cassidy, the vampire. He was introduced with a bunch of vampire hunters who had finally caught up to him. They fight, he kills them and falls out of the plane. Cassidy mentions the vampire hunters two or three more times. But they never come up again. Literally, Cassidy is doing exactly what he seems like in the show, odd job because he likes Jesse Custer. There’s no story arc for him, except that he likes drugs and hookers.
To go on with this list of non-plot, why did meat overlord Odin Qiunncannon literally murder those people who wanted to buy out his company? Because Jesse told him to “Serve God,” and Odin interpreted that to be the “God of Meat” and killed those people? Snuh? And for God’s sake, why did Emily, Jesse’s gal Friday, feed Miles, her would-be suitor and the mayor of Annville, to Cassidy? She hated Cassidy! And why were there no consequences to any of those actions? Emily didn’t even seem to feel bad! She volunteered all her spare time at a church! Sure, she loved Jesse (a plot line that went nowhere), but she had to be at least a relatively good person!
The writers just seemed to be putting in moments to surprise us, without in any way furthering the action.
I’m not above a little fun for fun’s sake on a TV show— like all that endless chattering on Gilmore Girls— but the Preacher TV show seemed to be a whole season of stage setting with very little of the action meaning anything, particularly since the town of Annville is literally blown up at the end of the season.
And I read the comics, I knew that was going to happen. But since the series had been set up as a prequel, I was willing to feel like there was going to be something different going on. But nope, everyone and everything in the whole first season is probably mostly gone, except for a handful of main characters.
Anyway, the plot, such as it was, was that Jesse Custer, the town preacher, used to be an outlaw but was now trying to be a good man for some reason that we never learned. And he is imbued with the power to command others with “the word” from an otherworldly entity called Genesis, the progeny of an angel and a demon who broke some rules and had a kid.
Jesse’s ex-girlfriend, Tulip, came and hung around town because Jesse called her and, in her own way, she got involved in some of the town’s goings on. In one memorable scene, she ran some errands for the church. Then there was this guy who screwed her and Jesse over, who she wanted to kill… and then didn’t want to kill.
Odin Quinncannon wanted to buy Jesse’s church and the land it was on because… more cows.
The sheriff’s disfigured son disappeared because Jesse told him to “go to Hell.”
And the guy who watched the pressure gauge on the town’s methane fuel factory died getting some kinky sex from what I can only assume was a prostitute, and the town literally blew up.
So was the Preacher TV show good? Not really.
It had all the elements, a sense of style, some heavyweight actors, a sense of humor and some fun, but there was literally no plot. It was maddening. Sure, the Saint of Killers was cool. He’s played by Graham McTavish from Outlander and Creed. But in the show, he just seemed like a really unlucky cowboy with a penchant for violence in a ham-fisted remake of the final fifteen minutes of Unforgiven. And then he was in hell. And then he was after Jesse in the last twenty seconds of the show.
Hell, I’ll watch Season 2. But I can’t recommend it to anyone. I wanted to like you, Preacher! I really did. You’re a lot better than CSI: Cyber. But not nearly as good as CSI: Miami.