Season One, Episode One — “Pilot”
There has been miles and miles of scrollable articles dedicated to singing the praises of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s foul-mouthed, deeply enshrined 66-issue comic book series from Vertigo. For the devoted, it was a watershed moment, a cornerstone of the medium, yada yada yada. Those who profess to love Preacher the comic are going to find something of a mixed bag in Preacher the television series. You can almost hear a subtle — but no less seismic — rumbling underneath this slickly-polished, painfully contemporized gothic oater. It’s faint, but it’s saying, “Clutch your TPBs close, fanboy. This ain’t 100% for you.”
And it isn’t. At least, this pilot episode isn’t. Sure, you can count the Easter Eggs and speculate on which (decidedly out-there) direction this show will probably take on its long, beaten path towards the four-colored retribution it’s likely aiming for. From the look of things, Preacher isn’t treating its source material like scripture. Instead, for the time being anyway, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Sam Catlin (they developed the show for AMC) appear to have something to say with Preacher. As to what that is, I shudder to think. (Looks like they got the pederast jokes out of the way rather quickly.)
Removed from the comic books, and really, that’s the only way to evaluate this show, it’s plain to see that Preacher comes with its own agenda. It’s not here to preach to the converted, nor is it willing to dig too deeply into what makes its leading man tick. (As a lead, Dominic Cooper is neither offensive nor compelling.) It’s loud and it’s violent, but it’s also squeamish in its own way: Preacher‘s concepts of Heaven and Hell appear to frighten its showrunners; the cosmic inciting incident that sets this entire fracas on its wildly violent path is presented with a B-movie veneer — cheaply made, presumably, because this is the pilot episode. (The bigger set pieces will likely get their war in the sun once that ad money gets made.) As we enter the time of the Preacher, we find a series that likely won’t figure out what it wants to be until much later. I, for one, am willing to watch it suffer its growing pains.
WHAT WORKED: Underneath all its gonzo establishing sequences, Preacher finds its starring trio recalling its pulpy cousins, strongly in places, faintly in others. Joe Gilgun is ostensibly Cassidy given wily form: his angular features and Jim Carrey-esque facial contortions don’t distract from the character’s menace nearly as much as those trailers led me to believe, and his thick Irish brogue is used to great comic effect. (An entire sequence aboard an airliner is as incomprehensible as it is really goddamned funny.) Dominic Cooper certainly looks the part (though no, I don’t know why Jesse has a Lone Star/horseshoe tattoo on his back), but his squintin’-in-the-mornin’-sun performance ain’t near as charismatic as it ought to be. Cooper is far more unhinged than anyone was probably prepared for. And then there’s Tulip.
Five minutes with Ruth Negga is all you need to be convinced that she was the right choice for Tulip. She’s brassy, tough, and prone to violence, a far cry from the fidgety wanna-be killer Tulip was in the beginning of the comic book series. And there is an undercurrent of vulnerability that will hopefully come in handy later in the series, especially when the show begins to sell the purportedly passionate love affair between Tulip and her chosen Man of the Cloth, because right now…
WHAT DIDN’T: …if there’s a connection between Tulip and Jesse, I’m not feeling it at the moment. And the “one last score” conceit that brings these two together is about as lazy as storytelling gets.
Jesse Custer is Annville’s resident preacher, and as such he’s mired in all of the small hamlet’s comings and goings, inane as most of them are (squirrels don’t survive long in church bar-b-ques, apparently). He’s also privy to all of its secrets and lies, and this week found Jesse involving himself with a family squabble that isn’t quite what it seems. The subsequent bar fight establishes that Mr. Custer is a force to be reckoned with, but what came before has me awfully worried that Preacher is going to attempt to take a page from the Lucifer book of weekly serial storytelling. A “Plight of the Week” is the last thing this show needs. It has more pressing matters to burden itself with.
Jesse: “I don’t hate you, Tulip. I wouldn’t know how.” Tulip: “Don’t make me teach you, then.”
BEST MOMENT: Cassidy gives Jesse a seat. The bar fight sequence is too polished for its own good — it has a rhythm that is patently familiar, especially if you’ve ever seen Kick-Ass or Kingsman — but there is a second, just a second, that made me feel like I was watching a bonafide Preacher adaptation: Jesse’s all but cleared the room with his righteous wrath, but there’s one fool running back into the fray. Jesse’s too fixed on putting his fist through another good ol’ boy’s head, so he doesn’t see this guy coming. Cassidy kicks a chair into the path of the miscreant, which sends the would-be assaiant flying. The action hardly disrupts Cassidy’s enjoyment of the rot gut he’s swilling. (He even offers a toast to Jesse, which was adorable.) A moment of perfection amid an imperfect storm.
EPISODE’S MVP: Eugene Root. When I saw that Ian Colletti’s Arseface would be decidedly easier on the eyes than his comic book counterpart, I called foul. But those big soulful eyes set upon that suckling cherub won me over almost instantly. If you’re looking for earnest sincerity on this show, you’ll likely find it in Arseface first.
GONE TO TEXAS:
– The episode begins, fittingly enough, with “Time of the Preacher” by Willie Nelson. Not only is it a gorgeous tune that sets the mood, it’s the song that kicked off the Preacher series as well. Somewhere I can see Garth Ennis quietly nodding his head.
– Seems Preacher has adopted the Captain America: Civil War approach to establishing locations. Those fullscreen title cards are going to get tiring really fast, Show.
– We see Jesse’s father, John Custer, in a dream sequence that is framed almost identically to a certain panel used in Preacher #8. (I won’t spoil it here.) We never do see who’s holding the gun to John’s head, though. (That’s probably coming later.)
– Quincannon Meats appears to be located in Annville, Texas instead of Salvation in the comics. So we’ll be seeing Jackie Earle Haley’s Odin Quincannon much sooner than I anticipated.
– Dunno why Annville and Quincannon are thrown in together. Makes it seem to die-hard readers like me that Preacher isn’t going to aim for the long game.
7 out of 10
Next: “See”, soon.