Preacher Season 1 Review

Isaac Feldberg

Reviewed by:
On May 9, 2016
Last modified:May 9, 2016


Gutsy, giddily gonzo and gleefully gory, Preacher won't be for everyone, but its confident blending of kooky characters and otherworldly occurrences at least indicates that those on its weird wavelength are in for one hell of a ride.

Preacher Season 1 Review

Four episodes were provided prior to broadcast.

When The Walking Dead lumbered onto AMC, sparking a pop culture phenomenon and establishing itself as one of the most harrowing horror narratives in small screen history, it also signaled a sea change for its network. Up until that point, the AMC brand had signified something sophisticated and slow-moving, refined and romantic, almost novelistic in its series’ approaches to storytelling. Especially with Mad Men and Breaking Bad, but also on shorter-lived shows like should-have-been-a-hit Rubicon, the channel had a reputation for broadcasting prestige dramas with an air of old-school elegance.

By comparison, The Walking Dead was a scrappy underdog, a frequently gruesome and tautly plotted survival epic that preferred blunt-force trauma to gentle massage when it came to hashing out its twists and turns. And yet, viewers were enamored. It’s not hard to envision all the head-scratching that went on within AMC’s boardrooms – the juggernaut success of the series defied expectations across the board. Ever since, the network has been pressured to emulate it: with direct blood relatives (Fear the Walking Dead), post-apocalyptic epics (Into the Badlands), and us-vs-them narratives (Humans, which turned out a lot more tranquil than some execs likely predicted). Nothing, so far, has quite clicked.

Understanding AMC’s current predicament provides some key insight into why the network would commit to something as big, ballsy, and plainly bizarre as an adaptation of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s graphic novel Preacher, one of those “impossible-to-adapt” series with a rabid fanbase ready to pounce on anyone foolhardy enough to try. Like The Walking Dead, it’s based on a comic with a considerable amount of pre-existing plot material, boasts some degree of built-in brand recognition, and – most importantly – differs significantly from anything else on television.

It’s in that last category that Preacher most convincingly asserts itself as a potential watercooler hit in the same vein as its zombie-riddled channel-mate. In the four episodes provided prior to premiere, even as the show’s narrative wheels start turning then accelerating, the most prominent takeaway is more a sensation than a realization: the feeling that Preacher, with its combustible blend of gleeful bloodletting, constant profanity, supernatural chicanery, un-baked Texan flavor, and overarching absurdity, is like nothing else on television right now – or indeed perhaps ever.

That uniqueness starts with the premise – Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), a dispassionate preacher with a history of violence, is inhabited by a strange entity, which gives him powers of persuasion he sets about using to help his congregants better serve God. Around the same time, an Irish vampire by the name of Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun, sporting a nice brogue) falls from a plane into Jesse’s small town of Annville, Texas, and promptly crosses paths with the preacher, forming an odd friendship with him – one justified quickly as two suit-wearing angels show up to retrieve the entity inside Jesse by any means necessary. This already nutty mix of characters is complicated further by the arrival of Tulip (Ruth Negga), Jesse’s gun-toting, wide-grinning ex-girlfriend who’s pursued a less virtuous path than that of her former beau, and the inclusion of Arseface (Ian Colletti), a local boy horribly disfigured after a failed suicide attempt.

But ingredients aside, Preacher feels fresh because of its tone, which is somehow striking, very cynical, grossly off-putting, and consistently hilarious all at once. Annville is only a good Christian town on the surface – a closer look belies cracks in the facade, with all manner of corrupt bigwigs (including one played by Jackie Earle Haley), apathetic sheriffs (W. Earl Brown), and generally loathsome townspeople all crowding at different points into Jesse’s church for a sermon they believe will fulfill some vague cultural obligation before letting them loose again on the world. And Preacher is alive to nuance in its depiction of their seedy, sometimes deeply sad interior lives.

The series is also deceptively good in its treatment of faith and consequence, the two central pivot points in Jesse’s existence. One look at the burned-out, miserable town of Annville partly explains why Jesse, at the show’s outset, is clinging to the last vestiges of his religious conviction, but as he becomes imbued with greater, still mysterious significance in the wake of a run-in with that aforementioned entity, Preacher stays focused on what Jesse’s faith really means and how it intertwines with his somewhat military-bred concepts of duty. More keenly, it finds him grappling with powers he can’t entirely understand and pulls no punches in demonstrating what happens when Jesse, well-intentioned but impulsive, oversteps (hint: it’s not pretty).

The setup for the comics hasn’t really come into full swing in AMC’s adaptation yet, with the series functioning in a more episodic fashion as Jesse takes out his newfound abilities on those around him, but Preacher feels like it has room to grow. Even better, it has the appetite to – the show’s strange, pulpy visual style and frenetic energy means that it bounces between locations and time periods without much warning, expanding the world outside of Annville with a loopy exuberance that feels truly unpredictable. Preacher could go anywhere, to outer space, Africa, the ’80s, you name it, without viewers accustomed to its off-kilter vibe blinking an eye. That approach means the show can sometimes be hard to follow, but it’s consistently well-written and aesthetically pleasing enough to make those confusing portions easy to swallow.

What also helps the series go down smooth is its brilliant cast which, to a tee, works like gangbusters. Cooper is appropriately solemn and thoughtful in his depiction of Jesse as a man coming to grips with what he’s been led to believe might well be his destiny, but he’s such a versatile performer that in one fight, when Jesse reveals a penchant for physicality that brings him nothing but pleasure, the actor runs the gamut from grave to gleeful without making any emotion (or one seriously unnerving smile) seem out of place.

But if the show is carried on his able shoulders, it’s punctuated sensationally by Gilgun and Negga, playing two larger-and-life characters with charisma and range that, simply put, blows anyone around them out of the water. Gilgun has the crazier role, chomping down on people’s throats and busily stuffing entrails back in his body when he finds his torso ripped open, but Negga is perhaps the more impressive figure, believably crafting Tulip as a fierce fighter with a conflicted heart and more MacGyver-like derring-do than the guy himself.

It’s thrilling to find a show that could go anywhere. And Preacher, with its feet firmly planted on its distinctly bonkers, blood-soaked piece of real estate and its characters revving up in all kinds of curious directions, feels limitless. Whether the series sticks to Annville for now, letting Jesse explore his powers and alternately heal and harm his hapless congregators, or strikes out for cloudier pastures (those two angels are on a supposed mission from God, after all) remains to be seen. But regardless of where it goes, there’s reason to have faith in this visually cartoonish and narratively creative series, which at first blush seems to have everything it needs to emerge as this summer’s most beguilingly bizarro new show.

Preacher Season 1 Review

Gutsy, giddily gonzo and gleefully gory, Preacher won't be for everyone, but its confident blending of kooky characters and otherworldly occurrences at least indicates that those on its weird wavelength are in for one hell of a ride.

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