(Spoiler Policy Regarding the Comics: Preacher recaps will steer clear of comic spoilers in the main text, but for comic readers or those interested in learning more, there’s a “Comic Issues” section at the bottom that deals with specifics. As always, be respectful of fellow fans and avoid spoilers in the comments).
First off: as Collider’s “comic book guy,” there was absolutely nothing that I was more nervous about than the Preacher show on AMC. I 100% love the Preacher comic. I read it at least once a year from start to finish, and have done so for around 10 years at this point. I love the series’ link to the heartland of the U.S.; I love the insane story beats and characters that you can’t help but adore along the way; I love the surprising amount of heart that’s infused into big issues like nothing I’ve ever read; I love Cassidy, for his lovable personality and his crushing flaws. When I first heard that the AMC show was going to make some changes to the source material, I started to get more than a little nervous about how this adaptation was going to be portrayed, and if audiences would be welcoming of it. So does AMC’s Preacher manage to knock it out of the park regardless of its departure from the original comic? A resounding, relieved “yes.”
Our episode begins with a mysterious force careening through space, a hint of a screaming baby and the thunder of God moving with it. As the force reaches Earth, it strikes a preacher in a downtrodden town, causing the soothsayer to command everyone in his chapel to quiet down before exploding into a fine paste. It certainly is a way to make your audience wake up and jump in their seats after seeing such a shocking scene, which is par for the course when it comes to Preacher. What Preacher manages to do right is establish, and weave together, so many of its central mysteries and subplots in a seamless fashion. Granted, if you read the books, you know what’s coming, but I would imagine that for those who haven’t, they’ll be surprised and gratified to know where the story is taking them.
Enter Jesse Custer, the preacher in this story, as he leads a run down church in small town. Custer’s frustration is palpable as he deals with the problems of his “flock,” with various allusions made to a darker past. The town functions as a character unto itself, growing progressively more bizarre as time goes on. In describing this series, the best way to do so is comparing it to “what if the Coen Brothers had made a horror movie”? Jesse functions as a hard-drinking, well-meaning antagonist, seemingly normal amidst the sea of strange. While the macabre breathes around every corner, it wouldn’t mean as much if that same darkness wasn’t also interesting and the series excels at making you want to see the details in the madness along the way. Dominic Cooper brings us a conflicted protagonist who is seemingly struggling to keep his internal demons at bay, while struggling with external demons that happen to fly into his chest toward the end of the pilot episode.
The highlight of the episode is Joseph Gilgun’s Cassidy. WIthout revealing a ton about Cassidy’s character, the series manages to instantly make you fall in love with him, which is certainly an accomplishment considering we see him tearing apart other people in the belly of an airplane. Cassidy simply oozes charisma and lights up the screen every second he appears. You can pretty much figure out what Cassidy is early on in his appearance (hint: he hates sunlight and drinks blood), but they manage to put a nice twist on the old lore throwing in a few curveballs into the old legends along the way. Ultimtely, I’d be hard pressed to think of an actor more fit for this role than Gilgun.
The main female protagonist of the gang is to be found in Ruth Negga’s, Tulip who breaks onto the scene in spectacular fashion in a similar style as Cassidy. Regardless of the changes to the overall story, the series does manage to understand that the spirit is hard, fast, and mean with Tulip’s introduction being no different. We aren’t entirely sure of what Tulip’s deal is here, what she’s running from, or who she’s fighting exactly, but the method of the presentation certainly makes you want to learn more! The most action packed scenes of the night see Tulip fighting armed assailants in the back of a moving car through a cornfield, and eventually fashioning a makeshift bazooka from spare parts she manages to find at a farm populated by two wide-eyed kids. Again, it’s an excellent introduction for one of our leading protagonists here, and Negga manages to knock it out of the park with her Tulip.
Delving into the town again, the supporting characters manage to range from the downright bizarre in Eugene, a.k.a. “Arseface,” to the mundane in Emily, Custer’s assistant in all things sermon-related. While the former is one of the more beloved mainstays in the original series, Emily is an entirely new creation, seemingly placed in there to act as another love interest to Custer and to add a sense of normalcy in the ever-growing horror in the town of Annville. We’ll need to wait to see how she pays off moving forward, but for now, she acts as a means to an end for some of the story beats. Arseface on the other hand presents such an intense visual that you can’t help but wonder what on earth happened to this poor kid, and why he has such a cheery disposition. The show manages to once again set up mysteries extremely well, with Arseface being another prime example.
After Jesse is seemingly “infected” by the otherworldly force, he delivers a sermon to the town of Annville, along with Tulip and Cassidy who have joined them, stating that he’ll be there to lead them to salvation. With television pilots, it’s always a tough balancing act when it comes to presenting an information dump on the audience while also weaving in enough mysteries to have viewers return week after week. ABC’s Lost is a prime example of a series that was able to reel audiences in instantly, and Preacher stands shoulder to shoulder with it. The series manages to live up to its comic book roots while also presenting a new, compelling adventures for fresh watchers to sink their teeth into, like Cassidy sinks his teeth into an unsuspecting mare. AMC has another winner on it’s hands with Preacher and I’m excited to see where it goes moving forward.
Rating: ★★★★★ Bloody Excellent
– The Tom Cruise joke is inspired and will probably be one of the more noteworthy asides from this opening episode. It certainly got a good chuckle out of me.
– I think I can say without a doubt that this series hands down wins the award for best television soundtrack of 2016. The song choices along the way should be commended.
– What a horrific way to demonstrate Jesse’s “power” in that ending. Be ready for plenty more examples of that moving forward if it sticks with the source material.
– Cassidy: “Aww but what do I know? I’m just another shit-faced Irishman am I not?”
COMIC ISSUES (i.e. Spoiler Town)
– Nice nod to Genesis with the crying baby, as it is a flaming baby’s head in the comics. I think it would be somewhat difficult to bring that to the actual television screen, which I understand. If you want to reel folks in, it might be a little tricky to do it with that as your opening salvo.
– The vampire hunters Cassidy fights could be any number of things. They may be the Les Enfants parading as vampire hunters, or offshoots of the grail. A few times in the books, Cassidy mentioned the hunters but they were never shown in this light.
– Preacher staying at the town and deciding to retain his position as a preacher is probably the biggest departure from the books. His right hand lady doesn’t even exist in the books for example. The trio of Cassidy, Tulip, and Jesse pretty much hit the road immediately in the first few issues.
– Tulip hanging around Jesse and begging him to do a job with her is another swerve. When the two meet in the comics, they hadn’t seen one another in years.
– Cassidy takes off his sunglasses in the show. In the comics, he never does until the very end and there’s a very specific reason for that, which I’m sure will eventually be touched upon in the AMC entry.