Despite the fact that recent years have seen cable television networks littered with series based on comic books, it’s safe to say there has never been anything quite like the AMC’s Preacher premiere episode. Based on the classic Vertigo series of the ’90’s, it stars Marvel TV veterans, Dominic Cooper (Marvel’s Agent Carter) and Ruth Negga (Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD), as the titular man of God, Jesse Custer, and his on again, off again soulmate and all around badass, Tulip.
The Preacher premiere episode throws us headfirst into a fully-formed world with a story that honors the source material. Despite its loyalty to the comics, however, Preacher has shown that it is not afraid to find its own path.
Though it’s a cliche to say a show opened with a bang, how else would you describe a first scene where an African preacher, having been gifted with the Word of God but unable to handle the power, explodes on his entire congregation, showering them with viscera? Afterward, it starts to get odd, introducing us to Irish vampire Cassidy, played by Joseph Gilgun.
The scene turns on a dime from decadent, drug-fueled, party to a level of violence that even pushed the boundaries of AMC, culminating in Cassidy’s taking a moment to fill a bottle with the blood of a dispatched opponent. Tulip is introduced in a similar manner.
These introductions on the Preacher premiere, though perhaps jarring to non-readers, make it clear that Jesse’s future allies are not people to trifle with. But none of these supporting characters matter if the Preacher himself isn’t intriguing. Fortunately, the show understands this, introducing us to Jesse Custer somewhat earlier than the comic did, allowing almost the entire first episode to explore his character.
We start on a man preaching a bland sermon to a bored, half-empty church. We receive first hints and then vivid proof of his violent past before the episode ends with him receiving both power and purpose, setting up the rest of the season. Throughout, Dominic Cooper puts aside all memories of Howard Stark and shows us a man who, despite returning to his hometown, feels utterly lost.
Going forward from the Preacher premiere, it will be interesting to see how the show handles the darker aspects of the comic. Already changed were the comic’s destruction of Jesse’s church and congregation when he receives his powers, probably to avoid wiping out the supporting cast in the first episode.
There’s a bright starkness to the photography, as befits a show taking place in Annville, Texas, which gives the show a hyper-reality that still seems to exist outside of regular time and space. While eventually the comic went on to feature no less than a conversation with God, it’s hard to imagine how to translate that scene to film, not without offending most viewers.
However, that’s probably the point. No one wants a watered down Preacher, and there’s no indication in their history that producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have ever shied away from controversy.
Viewer reviews of the Preacher premiere have been mostly somewhere between “good” and “great” mixed in with a bit of concern as to how the series will continue to adapt the comic story.
Almost every show improves wildly from its pilot, though, and if Preacher continues this trajectory and builds on an already exemplary premiere episode, there’s every indication this adaptation of Garth Ennis’ classic comic will be one of the best shows of the season.
[Photo by Matthias Clamer/AMC]