It was the time of the Preacher…
An absent God, an alcoholic drug-addled vampire, a guy with an arse for a face and the Preacher taking them all to task. Hardcore BDSM, a guy with a head shaped like a penis, a turd-flinging ‘chosen one’, numerous abusive relationships, John Wayne, Bill Hicks and more swearing and blasphemy than your average episode of South Park. With a roll-call like that (and this is barely scratching the surface, mind), Garth Ennis’s beloved but controversial comic book series Preacher always seemed utterly unfilmable to any sensible mind.
Which didn’t stop them from trying. Rumours of movie and TV adaptations have been in the running for almost as long as the book itself, with names like Rachel Talalay, Kevin Smith and Sam Mendes all attached at some point – the darkness and controversy of the material even scaring off HBO in the process. Leave it to Sam Catlin, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg then, of Breaking Bad and This is the End mixed fame, to finally bring Preacher to the screen, more or less intact.
No swearing or explicit sex, then, being an AMC production (even The Walking Dead’s famous pottymouth Negan couldn’t get around that one), but heaps of violence instead. Dominic Cooper is titular Preacher Jesse Custer, Ruth Negga his old flame and hitwoman Tulip O’ Hare, and Joe Gilgun the vampire Cassidy. This first season functions as a prequel to Gone to Texas, Ennis’s first book. Here we meet the main trio for the first time, and watch as conflicted man of the cloth Jesse Custer meets Genesis, discovers his newfound powers – the ability to command others to do his bidding, like Tennant in Jessica Jones – and begins to question God’s parenting skills.
Don’t go expecting the road trip just yet, then – Custer and Co. being stuck in Annville for the entirety of the first season. Here showrunner Catlin gives the town’s residents greater depth than they were ever afforded by Ennis, many transforming from characters to rounded (ish) personalities, from town sheriff Hugo Root to barroom bully Donnie. Some of this is a result of classic TV decompression – can’t afford to get to that road trip just yet, and nor would it work – but it’s usually worthwhile. Especially in the case of the sinister Odin Quincannon (Jackie Earle Haley), the local meat and power salesman (think Mister Burns but creepier), a scarier, more sinister version of the meat-shagging weirdo of the books. It’d be the show’s standout performance, if Preacher wasn’t already packed full of them.
This isn’t always the case, mind. Lucy Griffiths’ mild-mannered organist and church book-keeper is a waste of time, and the entirety of Jesse and Tulip’s shared past is a boring nightmare. Jesse’s predictable past as a crack shot badass renders him the least interesting character in his own show, a development not helped by the casting of charisma vacuum Dominic Cooper. To say that Jesse Custer the man of moral fibre and passion is gone would be inaccurate – this being a prequel, he just hasn’t arrived yet. Worryingly, his best mate and girlfriend have more chemistry together than Cooper does with either (certainly something Jesse wants to watch), Gilgun and Negga frequently stealing the show from under his cowboy booted feet.
And we haven’t even gotten to Arseface or The Saint of Killers yet. Despite the show remaining rooted in Annville (give or take its frequent flights of fancy further afield), it reaches some truly bizarre places anyway, kicking off with the best celebrity cameo this side of This is the End. This may not strictly be Garth Ennis’s Preacher, but it does a great job of capturing the heart and soul while also toning down some of the depravities. It’s still plenty shocking on its own merits though, particularly in its barnstorming first and last episodes.
What non-readers will make of it all is anybody’s guess. The first half of the series is a crazed mess of ideas, trying to squeeze what might be too much into the template of an entirely different show; like the soap opera of True Blood crossed with the energy of Ash vs The Evil Dead and high-concept antics of, well, Preacher. Once it settles into its own peculiar rhythm, however, it works like gangbusters. For its faults, Preacher is ambitious, inventive and intelligent - ultimately going a lot further than we ever could have hoped for from an AMC TV adaptation of what might be comics’ most difficult epic.
Sure it falters here and there (there’s a rumour going around that nobody’s perfect) but it does so with a charm and bravado that is utterly, indelibly Preacher. Amen.
PREACHER – SEASON 1 / CREATOR: SAM CATLIN, GARTH ENNIS, EVAN GOLDBERG, SETH ROGEN / STARRING: DOMINIC COOPER, JOSEPH GILGUN, RUTH NEGGA, JACKIE EARLE HALEY, IAN COLLETTI, LUCY GRIFFITHS, W. EARL BROWN