With a bang and a double-bill, Season Two of Preacher hits the road. After its fits-and-starts prequel year, On the Road picks up where the comic book began: The Search for God, Day One. And, with executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg behind the wheel, there’s no messing about. Season premiere On the Road is Preacher with renewed faith, a bug up its butt and scores to settle.
Disillusioned Preacher Jesse Custer, hitwoman Tulip O’ Hare and vampire Cassidy are on the road, searching for God. As the episode opens, their lively discussion feels ripped straight from the comic books. The ensuing car chase (complete with Grindhouse style damage to the film print), set to the tune of Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ Come On Eileen an entirely natural combination of both Garth Ennis and Rogen/Goldberg’s sensibilities. Then the trio are pulled over by the cops and, suddenly… The Saint of Killers happens.
Of everything we’ve seen from TV Preacher so far, Rogen, Goldberg and showrunner Sam Catlin have nailed nothing as hard as they have the Saint of Killers. This writer had been dubious about his drawn-out origins tale in Season One, but these two episodes pay off in full. Virtually unseen during his first encounter with the trio, The Saint is like a one man Saving Private Ryan, effortlessly taking apart a squad of police officers, and sending Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy running for the hills. His appearance in episode two, Mumbai Sky Tower, is equally excellent for different reasons; the Saint now turns Terminator (a similarity not lost on ol’ Cassidy), splattering to bits a motel full of gun nuts while, again, Jesse and his friends try desperately to escape.
The most notable difference between the TV Saint and his comic book counterpart is that this one seems to be immune to Genesis. A good thing too, given how trigger-happy (no pun intended) Jesse is with using The Word. Tulip is less than enthused, and the sight of a (notably black) cop forced to sing a stupid showtune for Jesse’s amusement leaves a bad taste, both for her and the audience. Could the Saint and his immunity curb Jesse’s impulses as the series goes on? Rather that than forcing the role of nag upon Tulip, who is already the least ‘fun’ of the three. Tulip O’ Hare and the wonderful Ruth Negga deserve better than that, so let’s hope the show doesn’t have her fall into playing mother too often.
Thankfully, she does get to kick a little ass in Mumbai Sky Tower, which puts the three amigos on the trail of a familiar face in a swanky hotel. The angel-cum-hitman Fiore returns, now playing magician in a grisly stage show which has him committing suicide for audiences every night of the week. Heartsick for dead friend, companion and lover DeBlanc, he bonds with Cassidy over speedballs and ice cream as the vampire tries to convince him to call off the Saint.
There are other rest stops in this two episodes, almost overcompensating for the lack of scope in Preacher’s first year. It’s a staple of the comic book that almost everyone Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy meet on their journey turns out to be either a weirdo or a massive pervert (or both), and their call here at a strip club and a priest friend of Jesse’s turns up the same theme.
If On the Road is the series promising to be Preacher Proper from now on, Mumbai Sky Tower is its assurance that the previous episode was no fluke. Both episodes have big laughs, cinematic action sequences and strong character beats. If anything lets it down, it’s the Preacher himself.
Garth Ennis’s Preacher is one of the orneriest, horniest, most passionate comic books you’ll ever read, most evident in Jesse Custer’s hot-headed righteousness, staunch loyalty to his friends and throbbing perma-boner for girlfriend Tulip. Dominic Cooper’s Jesse Custer, however, is rarely anything but a fence-sitter. If the Jesse of the comic books tended to keep a lid on Genesis, it was usually because he was too riled up to remember it, often opting to punch a guy in the face rather than use the Word. It’s hard to imagine Ennis’s Jesse tolerating a colleague locking a girl up in a cage, whatever his reasoning might be. Cooper’s Custer, however, is indifferent at best, lazy at worst, unleashing Genesis simply because he can’t be bothered to do it the hard way.
This lack of fire extends to his relationship with Tulip and Cassidy, unfortunately leaving us with a Preacher adaptation in which Jesse Custer shares no chemistry with his girlfriend or best friend. It’s not necessarily a bad performance, but there’s none of the passion or spirit which defined the character or his relationships in the comic books. So far, it feels forced and sexless (like The Walking Dead’s Rick and Michonne relationship) there because that’s how it was written, rather than a sense of connection between the characters.
Nevertheless, this is a barnstormer of a beginning to Preacher’s sophomore year. Now that the show has made a good start on the action, its Saint of Killers and the road trip element, we can but hope that its core characters can fall into place too. On the basis of this double-bill, this writer, for one, has faith.
PREACHER SEASON 2, EPISODES 1 & 2: “ON THE ROAD” / “MUMBAI SKY TOWER” / DIRECTORS: SETH ROGEN, EVAN GOLDBERG / WRITER: SAM CATLIN / STARRING: DOMINIC COOPER, RUTH NEGGA, JOSEPH GILGUN / AIR DATE: 25TH & 26TH JUNE (US ON AMC); 26TH & 27TH JUNE (UK ON AMAZON PRIME)