The first few episodes of AMC’s Preacher (Sunday, 10/9C) – adapted from the comic by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon about a preacher who, with two unlikely friends, goes looking for God with the intent of bringing Him back – is a unique series that features that unlikely trio, but does not (yet) go galloping off in all directions.
Which is good, because it gives us time to get to not only know a bit about the characters but see them in a consistent environment – however strange and twisted it might be.
The premiere opens in outer space (besides seeing other planets in our solar system, there’s a huge chiron that says OUTER SPACE – I’m not sure if that obviousness is a twisted kind of subtle or just a really good sight gag) as what might be a comet (but probably isn’t) zips through the solar system (sending some dust flying from one of Saturn’s rings) and steaming past Jupiter and into a preacher in Africa. With explosive results. It even tries on a certain celebrity associated with a certain cultish church created by a certain science fiction writer – though it reduces his fate to a couple of soundbites…
From there we cut to a black and with sequence with a boy named Jesse being asked by his father, a priest, if he promises… what? And that cuts to Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) waking up on a threadbare bed. His back is scarred and has a tattoo. As Willie Nelson’s Time of the Preacher begins to play, he dresses, adjusts his white collar, grabs some papers and heads out to church (huge chiron: TEXAS) where we see that the pages are a sermon and has to improvise (poorly) when he comes to a missing page.
After the service he gets a disconcerting request from a young lad that will lead to his reliving a brief moment from his sordid, violent past (a past that we may or may not learn more about than his brief conversation with the boy). As Jesse puts it, ‘Violence makes violence makes nothin’ much at all.’
Jesse clearly has some issues and is trying to work them out by living up to his promise to his father.
Meanwhile, at 30, 000 feet up (another ginormous chiron), we meet happy-go-lucky Irish vampire Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) who is currently playing steward on a chartered jet – at least until he decides to rid himself of the passengers (who are, it becomes clear) are vampire hunters – or at least Cassidy hunters.
After a bit of a tussle (something less than the Battle of the Bulge; something more than a barroom brawl at 30,000 feet), Cassidy leaves the jet full of corpses by jumping without a parachute. His recovery is one of most darkly funny moments of the premiere.
Finally, we meet the other member of the aforementioned trio, Tulip O’Hare (Ruth Negga, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Loving) as she fights off a couple of well-armed goons in a muscle car plowing through a cornfield. Like they ever had a chance…
Along the way, we also meet the Sheriff Hugo Root of Annville (best pun of the spring), a stolid, stocky man with no sense of humor (True Detective’s W. Earl Brown underplaying it nicely); his son, Eugene (Ian Colletti, Rake) – who has an unsavory nickname as a result of a failed suicide attempt; waitress/church organist Emily (Lucy Griffiths, True Blood), the most overtly normal person in town, and Brian Huskey as Ted, the most annoying member of Jesse’s flock.
Remember that comet? Three guesses where it finally finds a hoist that won’t spontaneously explode. Which leads us to the Stan and Ollie of supernatural beings – cowboy hat and boots-wearing DeBlanc (Anatol Yusef) and Fiore (Tom Brooke) – whom Cassidy believes are trying to kill him, but have a slightly different agenda.
Sam Catlin (Breaking Bad) wrote the script and he’s adept at working up character and place – with a side order of philosophy cagily hidden between the lines except for one straightforward statement muttered by Jesse after that peculiar request I mentioned earlier.
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who developed Preacher for television, direct with an eye to creating an almost Coen-esque setting and set of characters – with a dash of Lynchean weirdness. As co-directors, they show an unexpected knack for subtlety, with some slow burn with and drama. Plus, they blow stuff up real good!
Negga brings a genuinely mischievous delight to Tulip. She’s tough as nails and enjoys arts and crafts (and that’s how you build a…!). Her Tulip may get serious, but she doesn’t take too much seriously – especially not the reformed Jesse.
Joseph Gilgun reminds me of John Hannah in the way he can simultaneously project complete innocence and devilish delight. His Cassidy is a slacker with a temper – and the ability to wreak havoc while seeming offended that he has to.
Cooper’s Jesse, though, is hard to get a handle on. Mostly, he’s quietly soulful and/or melancholy, but he comes alive in those brief moments when faced with a physical threat – like he’d rather be hell-raising than bible thumping. Even after his encounter with that comet thingy, and he begins to understand what’s happening to him, his heart seems elsewhere.
The first four episodes of Preacher are set in Annville, so if Jesse, Cassidy and Tulip are going to be going after God, it won’t be for a while. That gives us a chance to settle in with the characters and let them build in a (remarkably) real way.
Through its life as a comic and now as a television series, Preacher is rude, violent, blasphemous fun. If that’s what you’re looking for, this is where you’ll find it.
Final Grade: A-