TV Review: Preacher Episode One

The hype for AMC's Preacher had reached a near-inferno: the trailers were intriguing without being too revealing, the casting seemed inventive, and showrunners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg was as enthusiastic about the project as anyone else. What could go wrong?

Well, if the first episode is any indication, quite a bit.

....No. No, that's not fair. Let me rejigger this: I'm a HUGE fan of the source material. It's one of the most innovative comic epics ever created, taking clichés and film tropes and spinning them in ways that shouldn't work, but did. Writer Garth Ennis crafted a hodge-podge of Americana that could connect to a diverse audience, and artist Steve Dillon produced the best art of his entire career. One can easily see why Rogen and Goldberg were so adamant in their quest to have this made.

Unfortunately, the first episode makes it seem like some important things got lost in translation.

Dominic Cooper provides a haunted Jesse Custer, a preacher struggling to make sense with what he's currently doing (trying to cultivate his flock) and what he's done (members of the congregation knows he used to be a bad man). His sense of right and wrong are just as stark as ever, but in this episode he isn't nearly as committed to righting those wrongs as his comic book counterpart is.

The episode drags and Custer deals with the request of a young boy to hurt his father. He consults multiple people, including the wife and the town sheriff, as the anguish of admitting he wants to help but physically can't seems to weigh heavy on him.

Contrast that to Ruth Negga's Tulip, whose on-screen debut captures the violent, bizarre fun of the comics series: we find her in a brutal fight in a running car, and then MacGuyver-ing a bazooka while entertaining two children whose father is off working. Tulip is incredibly engaging; I REALLY want to see more of this diminutive firebrand kicking more ass. The reason she is being pursued isn't revealed, but I'm willing to wait.

The approach to Cassidy is heavy-handed, and it assumes the audience needs to know the true nature of the character spelled out in giant capital letters: HE'S A VAMPIRE. Part of the reason the comic worked so well is that it kept that knowledge from the reader at first, so when he was revealed to be a new, interesting take on the classic vampire it was shocking to the reader. Thankfully, Joe Gilgun is an incredible actor who makes Cassidy a riot to watch, even if we were force-fed a situation that wasn't ever really displayed in the comics.

Still, this episode just felt too long, and Custer seemed too reserved, even during the bar room brawl with the abusive father. The Jesse Custer readers have fallen in love with makes decisive moves at an almost impulsive rate, and he's not afraid to pop anyone in the mouth if he reckons they deserve it. Displaying him as a guy trying to make it as a preacher, trying to make a relationship work with a single mother, trying to figure out what to was just unfulfilling.

We also got a good look at the city of Annville, which, quite frankly, I couldn't give two shits about: the draw of Preacher is that this man is on a quest for justice, and he'll go all over the globe to get it. Annville is only a place where his journey began, and this episode spends entirely too much time in a place that is nearly a footnote in the series.

Hopefully this show rights itself in the coming weeks: there's too much good material to work with to straight-up blow it. I'm guessing as soon as they allow Custer to start his pursuit of God and revenge that it'll pick up and focus on the chaotic glee of the series. Hopefully. But the first episode? Tonally mediocre, slowly paced, and in desperate need of an orgy.