In the US: Sundays, 9pm (8c), AMC
In the UK: Episodes available on Amazon Prime the day after US airing
Maybe I just found Garth Ennis at the wrong time. Hellblazer had been one of my favourite comics at university, thanks to Jamie Delano’s unique blend of horror, politics and a UK setting. When he left the title, I expected more of the same. Instead, I got Garth Ennis.
For many, Ennis was the best writer of John Constantine, combining horror with a knowing playfulness that undercut the action. For me, I was losing amoral tussles with hunger demons as a metaphor for Western consumption and Ethiopia in favour of tricks on the Devil involving transmuted holy water. Horses for courses, but Ennis was definitely not my 3.15 from Aintree.
That’s probably why I never read Preacher, Ennis’ magnum opus. Even to tell you what it was about, I’d have to look at Wikipedia. To a lot of comics fans, that’s tantamount to not being able to explain the plot of Hamlet, but I don’t care – Garth Ennis stole my student Constantine, wah, wah, it’s not fair.
So is AMC’s Preacher, written and exec-produced by (of all people) Seth Rogen and his childhood pal Evan Goldberg, a faithful adaptation of this esteemed comic? Don’t know and don’t care, either. Ennis – pphhtt. Wah.
What I can tell you is that it stars Dominic Cooper (Captain America, Fleming) as the improbably named Texan, Jessie Custer, a bad-as-they-come criminal who returns to become the preacher in his home town when his father dies. Trouble is he’s a very bad preacher who’s not really convinced there is a God. Then one day, just as he’s planning to give it all up and return to his bad, bad ways, he asks one last time for a sign from God of His existence… and, surprisingly, he receives it. And now, whenever he tells someone to do something, they do it – often more literally than Jessie intended. It’s almost like the Preacher now speaks the very word of God.
And that’s basically episode one, which you might have already seen. I’ve left out Tulip (Ruth Negga from Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD), Jessie’s former partner-in-crime, who’s got ‘one last job for him’ and isn’t going to take no for an answer. I’ve also left out Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun from This is England and Misfits), the century-old Irish vampire who’s being chased by a group of religious fanatics.
We can talk about them and the next two episodes after the jump.
Based on the popular cult comic book franchise of the same name, Preacher is a supernatural, twisted and darkly comedic drama that follows a West Texas preacher named Jesse Custer, who is inhabited by a mysterious entity that causes him to develop a highly unusual power. Jesse, his badass ex-girlfriend Tulip and an Irish vagabond named Cassidy come together, and when they do, they are thrust into a crazy world populated by a cast of characters from Heaven, Hell and everywhere in between.
Is it any good?
Tricky question, actually. I think it’s good in some ways. But it’s flawed in others.
So despite the trailers that you can find promoting the show, this is more of a comedy than a violent piece of noire. It’s a very violent comedy, with a lot of gore and nastiness, but it’s more of a comedy, with Gilgun stealing the show as per usual, even if his ‘Irish’ accent does tend to the ‘aw, begorrah, here come the leprechauns’ at times.
It’s also very surreal, perhaps the most surreal show since John From Cincinnati, with all manner of bizarre events taking place, including global sadness after Tom Cruise explodes, a boy with an arse for a face and a couple of immortal killers singing a folk tune over a catatonic body to entice a supernatural being into an empty coffee can.
As well as some lovely direction and a soundtrack that makes more than a passing nod to Mica Levi’s marvellous score for Under The Skin, these are all things the show does very well – increasingly so over the course of the first three episodes – and that make me like it quite a lot. Or at least want to like it quite a lot.
On the minus side, though, we have an almost exclusively British cast trying their hardest to deal with a Texan accent (Lucy Griffiths from Constantine and Robin Hood as Custer’s church help, being the one who does the best, in fact). We have the usual AMC pacing amped up only slightly so that most of each episode consists of people chatting randomly and/or sitting around in cars looking at the skyline.
There’s also the opacity of what’s going on. I don’t know how much it owes this to the original, but there seems to be a firm expectation by the show that you’re going to stick with it, almost as if you’ve already read the comic book and know why you should stick with it. I know from having read around that the comics, at least, involve Custer going on a road-trip to locate God (yes, he’s literally a priest who’s searching for God). But at the moment, it’s just him sitting around in various locales, looking a bit pained and getting Gilgun to hop up and down on one leg. I don’t know what Jackie Earle Haley is doing, getting houses knocked down. I don’t know why we had a flashback to the Old West to some German-speaking woman and her husband.
It might be marvellous things are ahead, but the show hasn’t really earned my attention in its first three episodes. It’s not quite compelling enough, despite its many amusements.
Which is Ennis all over. Nice ideas, but everything just a bit too glib and surface to really compel.
I imagine this is going to be a show that I watch and like a lot, but never ever love. It’s probably a bit too violent for people wanting some amusement and/or discussions about the nature of God. It’s probably a bit too comedic for people wanting some violence and/or discussions about the nature of God.
But just as many people thought the Ennis’ Hellblazer run was definitive, I’m sure many of you will think this is the best thing since some zombies wandered around aimlessly for six seasons on the same network. Not me, but maybe I watched it at the wrong time.