PILOT LITE: Preacher (2016 TV Series)

Posted: May 27, 2016 in Pilot Lite
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Preacher has spent a longer amount of time being adapted than it has as an actual, ongoing comic series. Running for 66 issues (plus a few specials) the series is a go-to for people as an example of the best of the medium. Along with Starman, it’s a seminal book of the 90’s and helped to shape and define the culture of comics at that time. Created by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, it’s one of the most insanely violent, blasphemous, shocking, and funny comic series to ever exist. That’s made all the more interesting by how popular it has become. There are people of all walks of life who absolutely love this book. As such, it’s with no small amount of trepidation that many have viewed any attempt at adaptation.
The earliest try came in the late 90’s with Ennis himself writing the script for a feature film. Due to trouble securing financing for several years, that iteration was dropped (but not before some inspired casting was announced which included Samuel L. Jackson as a primary villain). Eventually, Preacher found itself in the hands of HBO and in 2006 they were all set to go ahead with a series directed by Mark Steven Johnson, of Ghost Rider and Daredevil fame. The plan was to literally adapt every issue into an hour long episode. A couple of years later, HBO had abandoned the idea. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Sam Mendes began working with Columbia Pictures to turn the property into a film once more. He talked it up during press junkets, but no real details came to light until it was quietly dropped after a few years.


Arseface make-up test from 1st attempt.

And then, like a weird game of tug-of-war, it was announced that Preacher was coming back to TV, but for reals this time! AMC had the rights, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were adapting and the cast was put into place fairly quickly. Instead of a pilot order, it went straight to series, which is a good show of confidence for the network. Now that it’s finally here, was it worth the almost 20 year wait?

Overall, I think it works pretty well. Although I wasn’t quite sure it captured Preacher‘s tone…until the end. As a pilot, it works great. It effectively displays the personalities of the protagonists and shows that, while the circumstances are different, the characters are similar enough to the comic’s doppelgangers. What was missing for me was the sense of “weirdness” that the comic always reveled in. While I found that lacking initially (seemingly replaced with “mystery”) it comes through in the final moments. I’d rather not spoil it, but let’s say a church member takes Jesse’s suggestion of “Open you heart” a bit literally. That sort of mean-spirited, can’t-help-but-laugh humor is persistent all throughout the comic. While it was obvious that it would need to be toned-down for television, it’s nice to see that it didn’t get excised altogether.

The story essentially follows the same plot as the comic: faithless preacher Jesse Custer becomes the host of a heavenly entity and teams up with his ex-girlfriend and an Irish vampire to get answers. While that seems ridiculous, it only scratches the surface of how ridiculous it ends up getting. The show makes no serious deviations to the set-up, but is clearly going for a much slower burn. And, really, that makes sense for television as long as the characters remain similar.

jesseAs for said cast of characters, they are all fairly well adapted. We, obviously, see the most of Jesse (played by Dominic Cooper) who is very similar to the man of the early pages of the comic. He’s haunted by his past and thrust into a position of power that he doesn’t really want. While the circumstances seem to be different (his father was a soldier, not a preacher, in the comic) in the end, he’s the same Southern-fried good ol’ boy that fans of the series will recognize.

tulipJesse’s old flame with a checkered past is Tulip O’Hare, aptly played by Ruth Negga. Her past relationship with Jesse is hinted at in the pilot, but not gone into in great detail. They seem to have a history but only some implied bad blood, which is a bit of a departure from the comic (since their break-up is a major catalyst for both characters). She’s shown as impossibly resourceful which is a lot of fun to watch. I can’t wait to see what she gets up to as the series progresses.

cassThe third major character to be introduced is Cassidy. I find it interesting that he’s introduced in such a mysterious manner within the show. While working as a bartender on a plane, he’s attacked by a bunch of business men (maybe? They’re not really established other than the fact they’re going to Tijuana) with hidden weapons scattered around. It’s implied that they’re vampire hunters or something. Since the reveal that he is, in fact, a vampire doesn’t come until the end of the scene, it must play as a little confusing for newbies. Joseph Gilgun maintains the character’s working-class Irish sensibility. He seems a perfect fit for the character as is the fact that he talks just as fast as he tears throats from man or beast. My only hope for the character is that they allow him to get as dark as he does in the comic series (oooh…foreshadowing!).

afThe other major characters from the comic aren’t given as much to do. In what seems to be quite the departure, Hugo Root isn’t displayed as a completely uncaring, vile, racist villain and is instead somewhat of a sad and sympathetic character. We’ll see how that develops, as his screen-time in the pilot is pretty limited. Hugo’s son, Eugene (more affectionately known in the book as “Arseface”) is also introduced. Arseface was always a sympathetic character in the comic, but he was mostly played for laughs. It was ridiculous and funny to see a naïve kid with a mangled face become a rock-star or a Punisher-styled vengeance-seeker. The show immediately portrays him as inherently likable but filled with sadness. His entrance to the program displays a normal kid who made a terrible mistake and is forced to pay for it every second of every day. I think the changes to how these two are portrayed may be the best decision the series has made. Three dimensional characterization is vastly preferable on television to caricatures.



Hopefully the Saint will be more than just a silhouette on a bottle.

The last two comic characters, Fiore and DeBlanc, remain on the fringes of the narrative. Aside from looking menacing and eating a tea bag (again with the “weird/mysterious” thing), their role in the overarching story seems to be rather nebulous. In the books, they were bumbling angels who evaded their duty and, after calling on the Saint of Killers (basically an unkillable assassin created by God) to clean up their mess, succumbed to earthly delights…like cocaine. The show seems to have merged them with the Saint, but we’ll wait and see if he makes a full-fledged appearance later.

The series has a lot of promise. The pilot created a pretty solid foundation with some veiled hints as to where the story is going. It seems obvious that all involved have thought long and hard about how the show will evolve and that should be a joy to see. If you haven’t read the comic or watched the pilot yet, I’d suggest you do both ASAP. Since the comic had a definite end (unlike some AMC comic-based shows that seem to be spinning their wheels…) its worth tracking down and familiarizing yourself before diving into the series. And it seems like there’s just enough changed for long-time fans like me to be surprised.



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