Editor’s note: This post contains spoilers for the pilot episode of Preacher! Proceed with caution. For reals, if you haven’t yet watched tonight’s premiere, we highly suggest you do so before proceeding. Okay? We good? Let’s go.
The usual problem with truly great entertainment is that it forces one to reevaluate the media they’ve been consuming and realize just how insubstantial most of it is, how lacking in style, in substance. Fortunately, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Breaking Bad producer Sam Catlin’s adaptation of writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon’s comic book Preacher is so good, it blissfully banishes all thoughts of lesser TV shows to the hinterland of one’s mind for the entirety of its running time.
As everyone who’s read the award-winning saga on which it’s based knows, Preacher tells the story of one Reverend Jesse Custer, a Texas holy man who inadvertently becomes host to the unholy offspring of an angel and a demon. It’s an entity known as Genesis, whose mere existence prompts God to abandon his post in heaven, while revealing his angelic lieutenants–determined to eliminate the abomination and anyone who shelters it–to be as corrupt as any earthly politicians. It’s a satire, told as only a Northern Irishman can: with a heart as black as night and a wit as sharp as a vampire’s fangs.
Speaking of which… As played by Misfits star Joe Gilgun, Cassidy, Jesse’s hard-drinking, fun-loving undead pal, the show’s most immediately likable character, is the only one of Preacher‘s three protagonists to bear a strong physical resemblance to his or her original comic-book incarnation. Not that it matters. Dominic Cooper, with his deep dark eyes, brings a wounded soulfulness to Jesse that makes him an especially vulnerable host for Genesis. It’s easy to believe the entity would entrust its power to him, as Cooper exhibits the same underdog charm that endeared his rakish Howard Stark to Agent Carter fans.
And hey, while we’re talking about Marvel television, Ruth Negga was much missed when her sultry villain Raina was written off of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. last year. Thank God (or Genesis) the actress has found an even better outlet for her inspired line readings. Her trigger-happy Tulip is already the wildest flower ever to bloom in Texas, with her introduction in Preacher‘s pilot a life-or-death brawl in the backseat of an out-of-control car plowing through a corn field, followed by a scene in which she manipulates a pair of farm kids into helping her build a bazooka. It’s the kind of craziness one usually doesn’t see outside of an early Coen Brothers movie. It also immediately makes Tulip–with apologies to Jessica Jones–the coolest comic-book heroine on TV.
Preacher likewise pulls inspiration from Tarantino in its staccato bursts of humor and ultra-violence. Rogen and Goldberg may be known as comedy writers, but they prove here that they’re first and foremost screen storytellers, and they know how to advance character through action. Witness Jesse’s sly self-satisfied smile as he beats the bejeezus out of an abusive husband, or his lovelorn girl Friday Emily’s frustration when she smashes her son’s toy to pieces upon hearing that her beloved boss plans to resign.
Certainly differences abound between show and comic. As was the case with The Walking Dead, Preacher‘s producers have said it will hit the same milestones as its source material but take a different path in reaching them. The pilot, for instance, begins at a point before the comic’s story starts, with Jesse preaching sans Genesis, and experiencing a crisis of faith that will ultimately have him searching for God metaphorically as well as literally. Jesse’s father, depicted in flashbacks, is, in the show’s universe, a preacher himself, as opposed to the comic’s career military man; and Jesse chooses to follow in his footsteps, instead of having his destiny forced on him. But these changes only give the character more of a running start, making him just a little more dynamic, a little more grounded, and a little more relatable despite the power with which he’s gifted.
The same is true of Tulip, who’s a lot more cunning and commanding than her comic-book counterpart was when she was introduced. Conversely, Cassidy starts off a little warmer than his alter ego; and fan-favorite character Arseface begins as a relatively well-adjusted friend of Jesse’s. While his father, Sheriff Root, is just a little less hateful than Ennis’ loathsome lawman.
It’s impossible of course to judge an entire series, or even a single season, on a pilot, designed as it is to sell a show to advertisers and executives as much as TV viewers. But if Preacher can maintain even a shred of the irreverent, frequently profane nuttiness that fuels its first episode, than this Golden Age of Television we all live in just got that much brighter. And Sunday will once more be a day of worship.
Preaching to the Choir
— “Open your ass and holes to Jesus”
— Fun fact: English actress Lucy Griffiths (who plays Emily) was set to star in another TV series based on a Vertigo comic book, NBC’s short-lived Constantine, before her character was written off after its pilot episode was filmed.
— “Pillows. Yeah, that’s a slippery slope.”
— Poor Pedro the Prairie Dog.
— “Is this an ear?”
— The visual inventiveness in Preacher is already top notch, from the toy soldiers that wind up embedded in the skull of Tulip’s enemy to the cross-cut from Cassidy’s jumping out of a plane to a blob of ketchup splatting on Jesse’s breakfast plate. But the most inspired sight gag thus far is, hands down, Cassidy reusing the broken wine bottle with which he impales a would-be vampire slayer to pour himself a glass of his assailant’s hemoglobin.
— “Tom Cruise has died.”
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).
Featured Image: AMC