And not a single F-bomb was dropped that day.
Of all the potential candidates, who would have thought the one to finally tone down Preacher would be Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, of Superbad and This is the End fame? No, hear us out. Much as we absolutely adore Garth Ennis’s gloriously offensive comic book epic, there was no way it was ever going to get to cinema or TV intact. If you can’t do it properly, why even try? Regarded by many as unfilmable, it would truly take a talented voice and hand to bring us a live-action Preacher that is in any way watchable.
AMC’s Preacher then, produced by Rogen, Goldberg and Breaking Bad’s Sam Catlin. Dominic Cooper is Jesse Custer, conflicted man of the cloth, (barely) functioning alcoholic and secret badass. Town Preacher of Annville, Texas, Custer struggles with daddy issues, severe hangovers, dwindling attendance numbers at his sermons and a lack of Church funds. Enter Genesis (not mentioned by name), a powerful supernatural force seeking its host. All the way from outer space Genesis comes (no angels or demons yet, then), via Africa, Russia and one of the funniest, explod-iest A-list cameos ever seen. The pair’s meeting is far more drawn out than it was in the book, but then, so is everything about Preacher’s pilot.
Where, in typical Garth Ennis style, Gone to Texas wasted no time in getting Jesse to his preaching, this pilot takes more of an ambling approach, letting us get to know Jesse a little before it all goes to shit. It’s Preacher alright, but not exactly as we know it. Jesse as an ex-hitman will probably offend a few purists (this writer included), but bear with it, at least there’s a Johnny Cash soundtrack. At the same time, your new favourite TV characters make their own noisy and unique entrances - hitwoman Tulip O’ Hare (Ruth Negga), to the tune of Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain and an exploding helicopter, and bloodsucker Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun), demolishing a room full of vampire hunters and falling out of a plane from thousands of feet. Both excellently staged action sequences, setting the series’s more violent tone while Jesse is busy bingeing and brooding.
Not that he doesn’t get his own chance to kick a little ass too. Entirely appropriately given the source material, the first episode’s action culminates with a bloody bar fight, the most Preacher of all Preacher things (aside from maybe the blasphemy and the swearing). Cooper, looking like he stepped right out of a Steve Dillon drawing, is surprisingly fun in the role, giving a quiet charisma that should fend off accusations of his usual blandness for a while now. He has his work cut out for him though, Gilgun and Negga already emerging as show-stopping scene stealers. Say hello to your new TV crushes. Maybe nobody’s TV crush, but a special mention should also go to Ian Colletti’s sweet young Arseface, butt of the joke and poster child for Preacher’s authenticity.
All of these very familiar elements come to play in a strong, confident opening episode that doesn’t so much as lay its pieces out as slam them on the table. It’s Preacher, but on its own terms. Like the book, it hurtles from sentimental to outrageous, serious to laugh-out-loud funny, reigned in but never feeling restrained or restricted. This hopefully bodes well for the future and forthcoming storylines, although one can’t help but wonder how far with the casual (and none so casual) blasphemy Preacher will be allowed to go. God, are you listening? If so, you might want to change the channel for a bit.
It may not be the story you’ll recognise, but (so far, bearing in mind this is only the first episode) this is 100% the Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy that teenage comic fans grew up reading. With a whole series to go, this is the strongest opening episode for a TV show we’ve seen in years. Praise be!