Preview: Preacher 1×1-1×3 (US: AMC; UK: Amazon Prime)

A priest looks for God. Literally

Preacher

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 Preacherwritten 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.

About
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.




  • JustStark

    Never really got on with Ennis either. I did eventually read Preacher, back in the mid-2000s, borrowed off a friend and colleague, but the whole Grand Guignol shock-for-shock's sake ethos didn't really impress me.

    (And apparently, from third-hand gossip through people who knew people who worked in comic-book shops he frequented (so treat it as the hearsay it is), he could be insufferably arrogant and very rude).

    I don't know how much involvement Ennis has in the programme, though, beyond presumably collecting a large cheque.

    One thing that strikes me as bizarre is that, in a programme about America where none of the cast is actually American (that at least is appropriate for the comic, which is a non-American writer deciding, for reasons best known to himself, to analyse American society through the lens of the quintessentially American art-form of the Western), they couldn't have found an actual Irish actor to play the Irish vampire. I mean, there was even one in Misfits.

    Perhaps it's like cows, real Irish accents don't sound Irish on screen and you have to use English people pretending to be Irish instead?

  • Andy Butcher

    As far as faithfulness to the source material is concerned, it seems that the TV show is starting the story some time before the start of the comic. If memory serves, the comic begins with Jessie, Tulip and Cassidy discussing recent events, while the TV version is showing us those events in 'real time', instead of flashing back to them.

    As such, I think it might be a while before the road trip actually starts, although whether that's 'a while' as in 'a few episodes' or 'a while' as in 'the whole first season' remains to be seen.

  • Ennis is officially an exec producer, but I haven't noticed anything much involving him in the publicity about the show.

    Re: Irish accents. I do find it odd just how much US shows cast the part and then assume the accent will come along, too. It's not like there aren't Irish actors in the US and Canada (Chris O'Dowd, for example), but they all tend to end up playing Americans or Brits, such as that woman from Merlin who's in Slasher and Brían F O'Byrne. But you get odd situations like Strike Back where you have the American actor playing a Brit and the Australian actor playing an American. One day, maybe they'll get some Brits playing Brits, Americans playing Americans, Canadians playing Canadians and so on.

  • It's AMC – two seasons, probably

  • Andy Butcher

    🙂

  • Mark Carroll

    I can certainly live with slow shows. And, entertainment-wise I'm blessed with accents: a side-effect of my having grown up in England, spent most of my adult life in the US, then moved to Scotland, is that I notice hardly anything on the US-UK spectrum at all. At my workplace we just had a colleague move back home to Georgia (the state) and I'd been in a number of meetings with her before even realizing she wasn't sounding British! (Though, my children were born in Ohio: they both have American accents.)

    So, I'll give “Preacher” a try, I think. I know it knows where it's going so with luck I won't have to penalize it for my developing the suspicion that it's started to just make it up as it goes along. I'm not sure about “Gotham” from that point of view; I wonder if it's sometimes simply faithfully following twists in comics with which I'm but slightly familiar. And, I admit that the reimagined “Battlestar Galactica” did a better job of wrapping up than I expected given how random it appeared to have become.

  • GYAD

    They do have one Irish person in the cast: Ruth Negga (who is excellent in Love/Hate).

  • She was largely the best member of the cast in Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, too. Unfortunately, doesn't get to play Irish here

  • JustStark

    Don't think I've ever seen her play Irish.

    It sometimes seems like all Irish actresses are very good at accents (Saoirse Ronan, Emily Taaffe, etc), but I suspect it's more that the ones who aren't just don't get cast.

    Weirdly Irish actors seem to be given a lot more latitude to just use their natural accent whether it's at all appropriate for the character or not (eg, Colin Farrell) — don't know what's up with that.

  • GYAD

    Gosh, didn't realise she was in that too.

  • Supporting cast – she's the evil minion the SHIELD agents face for most of the first season. Then it all goes a bit silly in the second season and she spends most of it in scaly alien make-up