Preacher, Episodes 1-4
Starring Dominic Cooper, Ruth Negga, Joseph Gilgun, Lucy Griffiths and Jackie Earle Harley
Produced by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Sam Catlin, Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon
Premiering on AMC on May 22
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
"Jesus... what kind of a preacher are you?”
What comes off as an irreverent line in the pilot quickly becomes something of a mission statement for AMC’s Preacher, which underneath its veneer of schoolboy naughtiness might just be the network’s most good-natured comic book adaptation yet. Adopting a funnier but altogether more grounded take to Garth Ennis and Steve Dillion’s Vertigo epic, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s Preacher is instead a mediation of power, responsibility, and the unintended consequences of when heroism is subverted by ego.
Similar to the CW’s iZombie, Rogen and Goldberg have taken a fair amount of liberties with Preacher’s source material, streamlining its structure and front-loading just the bare minimum of its mythology to make for a more engaging and accessible story. The pilot in particular might be considered the most rambunctious episode of the bunch, with Quentin Tarantino-esque bursts of violence introducing characters like Irish vampire Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) and fast-on-her-feet tough gal Tulip (Ruth Negga). While later episodes take a decidedly more relaxed approach in terms of set pieces and violence, Preacher still isn’t afraid to go over-the-top with the blood and gore, but makes these sequences more palatable with its sense of humor, such as the scenes in the pilot where Tulip teaches a pair of latchkey kids how to make a homemade bazooka and Cassidy uses a champagne bottle and the torso of a would-be assassin as a makeshift blood keg.
But as far as the first four episodes of this series is concerned, Preacher’s emotional heart lies with Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), a man with a violent past who struggles to keep his anger in check and stay on the straight and narrow as a man of the cloth. Like Walter White, Don Draper and Rick Grimes before him, it’s that simmering rage that defines Jesse Custer as AMC leading man material, but unlike his dramatic predecessors, there’s also a surprising optimism to Jesse once he receives his mysterious power from beyond. Rather than making the hard and fast decisions about religion that Ennis and Dillon did, this Preacher is altogether more ambiguous about God and the hereafter, and so you can’t help but feel something when Jesse tries to use the hypnotic Word of God to benefit his church — the very definition of trying to do the right thing using the worst means possible.
Yet that spark of hope winds up drawing supporting characters around Jesse like moths to a flame. From Superbad to Pineapple Express to This Is The End, Rogen and Goldberg’s work has always gravitated towards male friendship and camaraderie, and the chemistry between Jesse and Cassidy might be the most engaging part of the whole show. While ne’er-do-well Tulip pushes for Jesse to return to his criminal ways and wide-eyed single mom Emily (Lucy Griffiths) longs to make Jesse settle down, it’s only around this screwed-up Irish vampire that Jesse can truly let his hair down and be his own imperfect self. It’s a testament to Cooper and Gilgun as actors, because even though the characters have only known each other for a few weeks, there’s just this quiet cheerfulness between the two that makes it seem as though they’ve been friends forever — when Cassidy refers to Jesse in a later episode as his “best mate,” you believe it.
Meanwhile, the dynamic between Jesse and Emily is also a fun one, even if it comes at the cost of making Tulip seem more like the bad guy for rocking the boat — Emily is naturally sweet, and like Tony Stark and Pepper Potts before them, it’s not so much a “will they or won’t they” as much as it’s a “when will they finally take the plunge already.” Additionally, Anatol Yusef and the marvelously cast Tom Brooke steal the show as DeBlanc and Fiore, who are on the hunt for the Preacher, and wind up becoming one of the show’s best running gags, as the truly weird pair run afoul of Cassidy again and again and again.
But perhaps the most surprising character of the bunch is Ian Colletti's Eugene, better known to Preacher fans as the deformed teenager Arseface. But Colletti's character is instantly sympathetic, and even when Cassidy makes a crack to Jesse about the boy’s appearance, you immediately feel bad for chuckling along with them. Out of all the morally ambiguous characters in Preacher, it’s ironic that Arseface is the biggest true believer here, and he may be the best representation of the show as a whole — there may be some ugliness on the surface, but there’s a surprisingly endearing streak underneath.
Still, some of the characters do take a bit of a slower burn than others. Ruth Negga’s Tulip gets some of the best monologues in the entire show — she makes getting out of a speeding ticket more dramatic than some other shows can milk in an entire episode — but sometimes she doesn’t always stick the landing delivering some of the black comedy bits, like a line about her history with her alcoholic uncle. Additionally, with the inclusion of Emily in the series, Tulip’s likability factor drops a bit after the pilot, as she constantly tries to get Jesse to fall off the wagon and to take what’s considered the job of a lifetime. Meanwhile, Jackie Earle Haley as the show’s big bad, Odin Quincannon, takes until about the fourth episode to really start to come together as a character — once you see what the show has in store for him, it’s a nice direction, but until then, it does feel like Preacher stalls for time when it comes to him, even if Haley tears up every scene with his understated malevolence.
With all this great raw material to work with, Preacher also succeeds in building Jesse Custer’s small Texas town into a living, breathing bit of backwater. Regular viewers are going to be rewarded early, because none of Jesse’s deeds, good or bad, go unpunished, and seemingly throwaway characters wind up coming back for seconds or even thirds. And ultimately, that serves this series’ greater message — there are consequences to every action, and the more powerful the actor, the more devastating the reaction down the line. Yet even with some potentially catastrophic events coming down the road, there’s an undeniable warmth and likability to Preacher that I think will go a long way towards positioning the show as a worthy companion to its bleaker sister shows in The Walking Dead franchise. While Rick Grimes and company can sometimes be alienating in their bleakness, Jesse Custer has his arms wide open, ready to welcome new viewers of all denominations rather than just preach to the converted. And that’s the kind of Preacher I’m more than happy to stand behind.