AMC’s Preacher Is A Compelling Creature

Generally speaking, I am a proponent of slavish adaptations. I allow more wiggle room for adaptations of corporate properties that’ve had decades to accumulate complexities like The F-Lash & Got Ham?, but  creator-driven works ought to be presented faithfully. (Why does neither Dirk Gently TV series  directly adapt Douglas Adams’s marvelous books? Why is the screenwriter who completely missed the point of I, Robot allowed to bastardize Caves of Steel next?) I thought television would be a better medium for Preacher than film because it wouldn’t need to abridge as much. So I was dismayed to hear that AMC’s Preacher (at least its first season) would be more of a prequel to the comics.

It is fortuitous, however, that I haven’t gotten around to reading the Vertigo (a DC Comics imprint, whose branding is absent from the TV series) Preacher comics by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon yet. I certainly know of them thanks to things like Previews & Wizard Magazine. (Back in my day, we had to wait a whole month between spoilers!) So well diehard fans may take umbrage at the liberties taken with their favorite comic book, I’m enjoying the show as it rolls along. It’s not quite right to call it a prequel. Much like Bryan Fuller’s dearly departed Hannibal, this is more of a remix of various elements from the story. In that sense it’s a truer adaptation than something like iZombie, which took the Vertigo comic’s title & basic idea but none of the characters or supernatural cosmology. It hasn’t been lazily grafted onto a police procedural like Lucifer either. At least this adaptation does, however, feel like it’s in the same ballpark as the source material. So this overview will have more TV SPOILERS than comic book SPOILERS.

For a show with Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg at the helm, it’s classier than expected. Breaking Bad’s Sam Catlin may be partially responsible for this. Of course it’s not too classy that it loses its irreverent flavor. It’s full of striking vistas of southern desolation. The cast is the right ratio of pretty : looks like they’re drawn by Steve Dillon. Overall, it works better than I can imagine Sam Mendes’s aborted movie turning out.

One of the big complaints I’ve heard about the show is its lack of tonal consistency. For all I care, tonal consistency can take a long walk off a short pier! Why would I only want one tone? One of the best parts of Preacher is how nonchalantly it flips from one tone & genre to another. Sure, tonal consistency can have its uses in other art, but it’s got no business being forced upon this genre-bender. Unless it has maintained the consistent tone of “Garth Ennis comic” throughout. Cognitive dissonance for the win!

The titular character, Jesse Custer, is the biggest departure from what I’ve gleaned. For starters, he’s got a beard instead of a mullet. Unlike the comics, he actually spends a substantial portion of time preaching. He’s pretty terrible at it until he’s imbued with the supernatural hybrid Genesis. This change is to give him more  context for when he embarks on the driving quest of the comics next season. Considering season three of Better Call Saul will start with Jimmy McGill still not having changed his name to Saul Goodman, ten episodes of Jesse not being angrily disillusioned isn’t that protracted. In light of  the comics’ creators, it is fitting that Dominic Cooper is one of several Brits affecting a Texan drawl here.

Tulip O’Hare looks the most distinct from her comic book counterpart, but I don’t care because Ruth Negga is always awesome. She gets more opportunities to shine here than Misfits or Agents of SHIELD. Tulip is the Devil on Jesse’s shoulder trying to convince her ex-boyfriend to get revenge on the man who screwed them over in a crime job gone wrong. Or she’s the Angel on his shoulder come to redeem him if you agree that his Preacher persona is a sham of self-denial.

Surprisingly Joseph Gilgun is charming as Cassidy since Rudy-1 was the apotheosis of obnoxious on Misfits. (Rudy-2 took a while to grow on me.)  His face somehow simultaneously looks just like Dillon & Glen Fabry’s artwork & not. Vampires are fun when they aren’t bogged down with a lot of vampire hierarchy nonsense. He’s also more moral than I’ve heard he is in the source material. Though he does the “prove I’m a vampire by walking shirtless into direct sunlight” that Edward attempts in New Moon with less sparkly results, so his judgment is suspect.

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Jesse Custer is a terrible friend.

Odin Quincannon is delightfully portrayed by Jackie Earle Hayley. This role is almost the anti-Rorschach, & he still knocks it out of the park. (The showrunners originally planned to genderflip Quincannon.) Odin is the proprietor of Quicannon Meats & Power, the biggest economic draw in the depressed fictional town of Anville, Texas. He thinks he invented the food court. (“FOOD COURT!” is the new “SPACESHIP!”) I wish they’d gone even more outrageous with him as the Prophet of the God of Meat. Be more depraved!

Emily was a wildcard. She’s not in the comics & she’s almost painfully normal. Good on Lucy Griffiths for getting a recurring role after Constantine ditched her following its pilot. I was not expecting her to feed her slampiece, Miles the Annville Mayor, to Cassidy. Let this be a warning never to vex single mothers.

Although it’s not on HBO, the slapstick ultraviolence is spectacular! Tulip & Cassidy get wonderfully over the top introductions. The second episode has a chainsaw fight with the best use of “Wynken, Blynken, & Nod” that’s up there with classic Sam Raimi & Peter Jackson. The rematch is prematurely ended via the power of vehicular homicide. Then there’s an even bigger motel fight which emphasizes the humor even more by being mostly shown through a hole in the wall.

The pacing tends to be deliberate & oblique but it gives a nice horror movie vibe. The speaker mounted to the church & foreshadowy power plant dial are particularly ominous. My favorite aspect of this is when Donnie, Quincannon’s top henchman, realizes Jesse has supernatural powers. Jesse had already publicly humiliated him by breaking his arm. This is around the time that Jesse is at his most popular,so it seems to Donnie that the town has gone mad.  It’s his misfortune to be a redneck thug supporting character in this tale of  paranormal power corrupting absolutely rather than its protagonist. The horrified looks on his face are priceless.

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The power of Genesis allows Jesse to command people to do as he says, much like Jessica Jones’s non-purple Kilgrave. The problem is he’s not very specific. After accidentally causing a neurotic parishioner to commit suicide in front of his mother, Jesse tries to use his powers for good. He & his messiah complex are lousy at it. Instead of removing a bus driver’s lustful thoughts towards one of the girls he ferries, he just makes him forget who she is. Rather than cure a comatose teen, he just makes her open her eyes. Rather than convert an atheist to Christianity, he transforms him into a righteous zealot in the cause of materialism.  He does use his powers to get some answers out of the two bumbling Angels hounding him, so at least he’s not as thick as the cast of Lost.

Which brings us to the midway part of the season that came very close to breaking my disbelief suspension. Eugene tells Jesse that using his power to make others forgive him was wrong. Frustrated by his ingratitude, Jesse says “Go to Hell, Eugene!” Eugene promptly teleports to literal Hell. Up until this point, Jesse’s power was limited to how others interpreted his words & the confines of their own abilities. So this makes makes no sense unless Eugene already knew how to travel to Hell instantaneously. It does lead Jesse to sublimate his guilt by cruelly alienating all his friends at a most awkward dinner, so that’s fun to watch.

The show’s approach to Eugene, otherwise known as Arseface in the comics, is intriguing. He’s introduced sympathetically as a disfigured teen pariah. It’s only after he’s sent to Hell for calling out Jesse that we learn he was disfigured in a botched murder-suicide. (In the comics, it was just a botched suicide.) Attempted homocide is a valid reason for shunning someone! (Contrariwise, the show’s core trinity are successful murderers.) This twist was much more effective than revealing his whole backstory up front. Some reviewers feel this deviation was a mean trick. This twist was much more effective than revealing his whole backstory up front. Eugene understanding that he’s committed a heinous crime that shouldn’t be forgiven is compelling. (Why he’s not locked up for permanently brain-damaging his unrequited lover hasn’t been explained. Perhaps his father, the sheriff, managed to make the charges disappear?) Maybe Jesse ought to just leave him in Hell? It’s up you, the viewer, to decide! Everything is morally ambiguous! Ruminate on that mind-cud!

Not everything hits its mark. Flashbacks to Jesse’s childhood feel like unnecessary padding. Much like Wynonna Earp’s dad, Jesse’s moral father is dull as ditch-water. (At least he doesn’t improbably insist on being a direct descendant of George Custer.) His getting shot in front of his son comes as an even greater relief than the Waynes strolling down Crime Alley.

Tulip is unsuccessful in enlisting Jesse on her revenge caper, but she discovers Cassidy is a vampire after accidentally pushing him out a window in a case of mistaken identity.  She follows up by scoring him drugs & having dispassionate sex with him. I thought she was doing this to enlist a vampire as her ace in the hole against  the man who wronged her, yet they don’t go off a-murdering together either? In the penultimate episode, Tulip finally goes it alone. Jesse leaves her an impassioned voicemail as we get a prolonged close-up of Tulip starring straight ahead with a bloody lip. Then the camera pulls back to reveal that her quarry is the one who’s bound & she’s the one with the hammer. This woman needs a man to to torture somebody like a fish needs a bicycle!

The finale of season one was the perfect one-two punch of existential anticlimax & explosive climax. The phone to Heaven (operated with a severed Angel hand) had an old-fashioned dial-up modem! Meeting “God” restores the town’s faith until the spoilsport Preachers denounces him as a a Monty Pyhtonesue impostor. The depressed town learns that God & Heaven do indeed exist, just not necessarily as they expected. Sadly most of congregation fails to take this as a glass half-full scenario. Annville’s feuding mascots kick the literal bucket together. Town go boom!

I’m excited to see things unfold in season two! Now that much of the set-up is in place, the show should get even weirder. The Saint of Killers, who slaughtered everyone in the Ratwater saloon down to the live action version of Ralph Wiggum, should prove a much-needed worthy opponent for the trio that was nigh-untouchable. Herr Starr got a swanky introduction, so he should be an even more dynamic nemesis.

Season one of Preacher was monstrously entertaining! Now that it’s wrapped up I have nothing to watch on TV until all the network shows happen simultaneously. (Why can’t you space yourselves out throughout the year?) So the question now is should I spoil myself by reading the comics?

Next week is my Suicide Squad review!

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