I finally saw the first episode of Preacher, based on the Garth Ennis,- Steve Dillon Vertigo classic last night; “finally” even though it won’t air until the official premiere on Sunday, this episode has been screened at cons and events for a few months now, and review copies have been floating around. I like to keep myself pure, though, and avoided reading too much about the episode or the series. I’ll refer you to Hannah’s longer review for a plot synopsis, but given the violent, profane and globetrotting source material, I couldn’t imagine how this would play out.
Instead of the comic’s page one conflagration, the TV version does a little world building, showing us Jesse Custer as a crappy preacher in a small Texas town, surrounded by a strange cast of characters including his hit-woman ex; a long suffering single mom who is the church’s most avid attendee; a blustering sheriff and his severely disfigured son; and, as the premiere progresses, an Irish vampire who used to be a flight attendant.
Or something like that. The town of Annville is a little Twin Peaks-y; the fight scenes are a bit Pulp Fiction; but the sensibility is all from the comic, I am happy to say. While artist Steve Dillon hasn’t been much part of the promo for this show (although he and Ennis get matching co-executive producer credits) his flat, focused closeups and explosive gore are very much the inspiration here. There’s a simplicity and emptiness to the vistas that are very reminiscent of the comics, along with the black humor and shocking bursts of violence. Our three leads, Dominic Cooper as Jesse Custer, Ruth Negga as Tulip, and Joe Gilgun as Cassidy, all have faces and acting chops that stand up to lingering close-ups; a single shot of Jesse smiling during a fracas was probably the key moment of the whole episode. It’s a very strong and watchable cast.
I knew from This is the End that co-directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg could handle action; along with producer and show-runner Sam Catlin (Breaking Bad) they’ve made a new narrative using all the elements that we loved from the comic. It’s a bit of a remix, but one that at least one episode in, feels right.
Now some SPOILERS if you haven’t read the comic: in the discussion afterwards, mention was made of a wished-for “second season.” I was only vaguely aware that this was a planned ongoing series and that would negate the rather complicated interactions of our three main characters that unfold as the Preacher comic progresses. I thought that story arc was the spine that held all the black humored torture, blood and perversion together, so it will be interesting to see how they handle that.
L-R, Catlin, Gilgun. Ennis, Negga, Cooper and Rogen appeared at the 92nd Street Y last night for a panel discussion afterwards, moderated by Abraham Riesman. The crowd was mostly comics fans, it must be said, and Ennis got the biggest pop and longest applause. The cast is an amusing mishmash: Englishman Cooper plays Texan, and Negga was born in Ehtiopia but speaks with an Irish accent and plays another Texan. Englishman Gilgun has a strong Yorkshire accent but plays an Irish vampire. There was a bit of joking on the panel about all this, and Ennis own authentic Northern Irish accent was compared to the real and fake ones on display.
Gilgun is a hilarious motormouth in real life, and got many laughs with his stream of consciousness answers to questions.
Ennis was okay with the changes, observing that the comic itself was so over the top that a straight adaptation would “make a whirlwind and chaos that would confuse viewers.”
Rogan was asked about how he discovered Preacher and said “Evan and I were virgins so we read a lot of comic books.” Later an audience member asked the question I was thinking of myself: what is the one element that is the most important one in the show. Rogen answered and said it was keeping true to the comic and making something that was “emotionally grounded and relatable but set in a world where anything could happen at any moment. But amid the action you just want those three to be happy in the end.”
That’s not exactly my interpretation of Preacher. I think it’s mostly about loyalty, whether to God or your friend, and the consequences of betraying that loyalty. Maybe some of this will come out in future episodes… or even seasons.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.