Alibi V.25 No.21 • May 26-June 1, 2016 

Idiot Box

God, Guns and Guts

“Preacher” on AMC

The best thing about the popularity of Marvel and DC Comics’ continued domination of the movie and TV industry is that it opens the door for lesser-known comic book properties. Sure characters like Captain America and Batman control the summer movie box office, but the success of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” paved the way for characters that don’t even wear capes. So it is with excitement rather than trepidation that comic book fans can look forward to an adaptation like “Preacher,” based on Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s cult series from the ’90s.

The TV show, airing now on AMC in all its dark and messed-up glory, is produced by acting/writing/directing/producing duo Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (who gave us such raunchy hits as Superbad, Knocked Up, Pineapple Express and Neighbors). That seems like an odd couple to adapt an edgy supernatural comic book. But fanboys are fanboys. Shot right here in New Mexico, but set in East Texas, “Preacher” concentrates on small town preacher-with-a-past Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper, who did previous comic duty as Tony Stark’s dad in several of the Marvel Cinematic Universe properties). Jesse has returned to his podunk hometown of Annville after a life well-misspent in order to take up his father’s priestly collar. He’s not doing a very good job of it, so far—boring the few people who bother to show up on Sunday and getting in drunken fist-fights at the local bar.

Jesse’s life changes drastically, however, with the introduction of several oddly anomalous elements. First, his homicidal ex-girlfriend Tulip (Ruth Negga, who also did comic duty as the evil Raina on ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) shows up in town with a mysterious map and a dangerous plan. Next, a drunken Irish vampire named Cassidy (English TV actor Joseph Gilgun) crash-lands (literally) in Annville. Finally, by the end of the first episode Jesse is possessed by a heavenly supernatural entity that gives him the “Voice of God.” What’s it all mean? Well, we’ll have to stick around to find out where this uncommonly unpredictable storyline goes.

Fans of the comic book will know more or less where this is heading. But, like “The Walking Dead” before it, “Preacher” takes quite a few liberties with the original narrative. Ennis and Dillon’s comic was essentially an extended road trip in which our three main characters set out on a cross-country journey to find God (literally). So far, the series makes the economical decision to stick around Annville for a while. Instead of blowing up Jesse’s church and killing all the people in town—which is how the comic started—“Preacher” takes its time getting to know the locals (including fan favorite “Arseface”).

Rogen and Goldberg got their hands dirty directing the pilot episode. They injected plenty of cheeky comedy into it (including a self-consciously campy pre-credit sequence set in “Outer Space” and an incredibly brief movie star cameo). Later episodes tone that down a bit, but the black humor and ominous art direction remain. There’s plenty of violence as well—including a couple of jarring cuts in which network censorship is obviously visible. So at least we know the producers are trying to push the envelope—which bodes well for the future of this freaky, unique cult property.

“Preacher” airs Sunday nights at 7pm on AMC.