In The Beginning
Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s “Preacher” comic book hit like a thunderbolt back in 1995, when DC’s mature readers Vertigo line was mostly known for high-brow fare like Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” or Alan Moore and Steve Bissette’s “Swamp Thing.” “Preacher” was different, with its emphasis on humor, violence, and a decidedly Tarantino-esque mish-mash of pop-culture influences. Vampires? Yes. Angels? Sure. A kid with a face like a sphincter? You betcha! Anything could happen in “Preacher,” and it usually did. A filmed adaptation seemed inevitable, and indeed, several attempts were made over the last 26 years, but none came to fruition.
Cut to 2016, and “Preacher” has finally made it to the screen, adapted by stoner movie aficionados Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, with the show being run by “Breaking Bad” alum Sam Catlin. That line-up seems strange at first glance, but Rogen and Goldberg did a convincing blend of blasphemy and ultra-violence with “This Is The End,” and “Breaking Bad” and the “Preacher” comic both share that “anything can happen” vibe (though obviously the definition of “anything” is a bit more elastic in the “Preacher” universe). The creative forces behind the “Preacher” show seem to be the right ones, since the pilot mimics the comic’s anarchic spirit, while making adjustments that don’t undermine it.
Most Bonkers Moment
The tone is set by the opening scene, where a comet that cries like a baby possesses a preacher in Africa, who claims to be a new prophet. Then he promptly explodes, coating his congregation in gore. It’s “Preacher” in a nutshell: funny and violent, and a scene not found in the comics, so even old fans can enjoy the surprise. Even better, it leads to a running gag where various religious leaders explode, including poor Tom Cruise. The best part is that the pilot offers up several subsequent scenes, giving this one a run for its money.
Welcome To Annville
Jesse Custer (Dominc Cooper) is having a crisis of faith, which is a problem, since he’s the resident preacher of the small Texas town of Annville. After getting into some undisclosed trouble, Jesse returned to Annville to fill in for his murdered father, but he’s having difficulty keeping parishioners and staying on the straight and narrow, since his ex-girlfriend Tulip O’Hare (Ruth Negga, a standout in a strong ensemble) keeps bugging him about a big score. Oh, and the town’s newest resident is a hard-drinking Irish vampire named Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun). But everything changes when the aforementioned baby comet possesses Jesse, granting him the ability to make anyone do whatever he commands.
A good chunk of “Preacher’s” pilot is dedicated to establishing the town of Annville and its residents, who include Emily (Lucy Griffiths, with whose work I am familiar), a single mom who pines for Jesse, as well as Sheriff Root (W. Earl Brown, always welcome) and his son Eugene (Ian Colletti), the aforementioned kid with a face like a sphincter. Eugene gets the best scene, asking Jesse about God’s forgiveness. Colletti gets a surprising amount of emotion across through an understandably thick make-up job.
Much less successful is a sub-plot about a kid who wants Jesse to intercede in his parents’ abusive relationship. It’s all story beats that are all extremely familiar, until the wife reveals she’s actually a masochist who enjoys the abuse. But then the husband, Donnie, just decides to start abusing his kid, so Jesse has to step in again. The masochism reveal is meant to disrupt this hoary cliché of a story, but it winds up having no real impact.
Cooper does a wonderful job of conveying Jesse’s despair at his wavering faith, but despite getting the lion’s share of screen time this episode, he’s still somewhat overshadowed by his fellow stars. When Jesse’s anger finally explodes into violence against Donnie and his friends, it’s a satisfying enough beat-down, but we’ve already been through two much more exciting action sequences introducing the other two leads. And when Jesse’s power is revealed at the very end of the episode, he’s not even around to see it. Jesse might be the title character, but in this episode it’s Tulip and Cassidy who get to have all the fun.
And what fun they have, as Tulip and Cassidy both get spectacular introductions. Cassidy not only fights off a cadre of vampire hunters aboard an airplane, but he then gets to splatter into a crater and ambush a cow. It’s easy to see why Cassidy would want to be Jesse’s pal — he’s just the sort of scoundrel that would be utterly tickled by an ass-kicking preacher. Their brief disagreeing in the jail cell, disagreement without antagonism, demonstrates an easy familiarity on which to build their future friendship.
Tulip, meanwhile, is much more antagonistic towards Jesse, since it seems he broke her heart. She still wants him to join her in her new score, which involves a mysterious map she acquires after a spectacular fight scene, set in a car careening through a corn field. Obviously the full details of their relationship have yet to be revealed, but definitely count me on #TeamTulip. Who breaks up with a woman who would draft two kids into helping her build a homemade bazooka?
For Those Who Have Read The Comic (Skip If You Haven’t)
Looks like Odin Quincannon’s coming into the show much earlier than he did in the comic, but I can’t imagine most readers will be that upset, since “Salvation” is probably “Preacher’s” most derided story arc. And hey, everyone noticed the Ratwater brand whiskey with a certain gunslinger’s silhouette on it, right? Okay, cool.
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