AMC’s “Preacher” doesn’t look like a show for the dedicated Christian — at least on the surface. As irreverent as anything else that might air on the cable channel, the show springboards off the arrival of a mysterious god-like force, which lands on a chaotic Earth filled with literal angels and vampires, as well as all-too-human monsters.
With their adaptation of the cult comic series, there’s no denying that executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (both big fans of the books) have balls. But here’s what’s unexpected: “Preacher” might be the most intriguing and honest take on Christianity currently on television.
“The themes can’t get any bigger than they are in ‘Preacher,'” showrunner Sam Catlin recently told Indiewire. “What the hell are we doing here? Is there a God? Do we get judged for our actions? What’s the point of life? Those are interesting questions. They’re either dealt with in a very saccharine, pat way in television or they’re just not dealt with at all; all those deep questions that people ask in your undergraduate philosophy class that are really boring.”
Historically, the number of TV shows that even attempt to take on the subject of religion is quite low, and even fewer put a Christian minister, priest or preacher protagonist at the center. This list (from 2011) is not updated or complete, but it speaks to such a rarity: Recent examples are limited to the British sitcom “Father Ted,” the quickly-canceled ABC series “Nothing Sacred” and the long-running family drama “7th Heaven.”
Meanwhile, what’s striking about AMC’s “Preacher” is that while it features a large cast, it’s all assembled around Dominic Cooper as Reverend Jesse Custer. By the end of the pilot, the character, as a man of God, is determined to “save” his flock after rediscovering his faith. It might be a show dense with sex, violence and swears, but it’s also completely committed to telling the story of a preacher and his congregation, warts and all.
Sure, at the beginning of the series the titular Preacher’s not that good at his job.Jesse has left a life of crime but also lacks faith in God. “He’s trying to bring a community and people together,” Cooper said to Indiewire. “But we know in himself he’s lost, and that God is silent to him at this moment in time. That’s what he’s searching for.”
Catlin said having Jesse be a man of faith at the beginning “helped us locate him in this little town. We wanted to show Jesse as something more than a preacher in name only.”
According to Catlin, this was an essential part of grounding the series, given the insane things to come in the show. “We wanted to create a sort of familiar environment,” he said. “An archetypal environment of a small town in West Texas. To have some access point to audience members of ‘that’s familiar’ so when the weirdness started coming in, and the craziness, that people didn’t feel completely saturated.”
The world of “Preacher” is definitely one where anything can happen, so that by the end of the season, Jesse may have a very different attitude toward the church and his own faith. But along the way, some good discussion may come of it.
Why isn’t religion featured more on television? “I think people are always terrified of it,” Cooper theorized. “We live in a world where we’re kind of surrounded by it. And we’ve all got an opinion, and an opinion in this world is a dreadful one. It means a huge amount to some people and not very much to others. I think people get scared that people who are religious will be offended. But the more we understand one another’s beliefs, the more we can, I imagine, get on better.”
Cooper said he felt that “Preacher” could theoretically bring people of different beliefs together, pointing to the burgeoning bond between Jesse and Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun), a crazed but charismatic Irish vampire. “I think you see two very different people, Cassidy and Jesse, who love one another, really support one another,” he said. “It’s a great friendship developing, but they are at absolutely opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of their belief. I don’t think it will cause arguing. It’ll be like yeah, these are the discussions we need to be having.”
Catlin believes, though, that those debates won’t be boring. After all, “those questions get answered by a bunch of sociopaths and maniacs covered in blood.”
“Preacher” airs Sundays at 10pm on AMC.