I have read the Preacher comics. They're one of those lauded sets of comics that everyone always says you should read (like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns), but for once I can hand on heart say "yes," I have read Preacher—it's just I haven't read any of it in almost fifteen years.
Back in high school, my boyfriend at the time, or maybe his best friend or someone else in our little circle, had them and we'd sit around whoever's house where they were kept that week and read them, along with Transmetropolitan and selected Death of the Endless stuff. I'm not even sure we had everything; there was certainly a trade paperback or two—possibly three or four—and I read, and re-read them, and enjoyed them. I always liked Tulip: she was kick-ass and reminded me of Patricia Arquette's Alabama Worley from True Romance (1993)—still to this day my favourite Tarantino film. I can't say that in the preceding decade-and-a-half I've really given Preacher a lot of thought—unless someone brings it up and I can smugly say, "Oh yes, I read that back when I was younger."
I've been dimly aware they were going to make a live-action version, and I was happy when drips of cast information came through, but Preacher was never so dear to my heart that I had any great reservations about the TV Show—and Arseface aside not a lot had stuck in my mind from the teenage readings. I also thought the show was still in some development hell/pre-production stage, so I was a little surprised to see it being heavily promoted through my Amazon Prime account.
I'm also aware that, in this day and age of TV series built for the binge viewer, judging anything on one or two episodes alone is foolish; so I've held off writing this review until I was three or four episodes in, and it was only when I looked up from my day job's PC screen to check something that I realised I had a few episodes to catch up on . . . so I'm writing this post-episode five of season one. Not that it really matters: no one else has watched or talked about anything other than Game of Thrones for the last few weeks, so now that's had its inevitable blood-soaked season finale people will start casting around for other things to watch and this review will seem timely. Don't worry if you've not watched any Preacher or read the comics: this review is as spoiler-free as I can make it.
When people stumble onto Preacher, either on AMC in the states or Amazon Prime in the UK, they will be dumped into a world that's both confusing and familiar at the same time, irrespective of whether they have any familiarity with the source material. Much as it did in Breaking Bad, the desert location for Preacher seems like a character in itself. This isn't surprising—Preacher's show-runner Sam Caitlin was also a producer on Breaking Bad and it's shot in the same New Mexico locations, although for the purposes of Preacher they're doubling up for rural Texas. Flashbacks and backstory are steeped in an Instagram filter colour-wash, adding backstory to the locations. Inevitably, even with adaptations of familiar works, you need origin stories with character development, and Preacher has been working hard on this in the past five episodes—keeping Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy in one place helps immensely, and I've seen the Preacher TV show elsewhere described as acting as a prequel to the comics. (The choice to situate the characters in Annville as opposed to on a road trip adds to this sense of importance around the place, and Jesse's church itself, that doesn't come through so much in the comics as far as I can recall.)
The casting is pitch-perfect, if again familiar-feeling. If you watch a lot of television, as I do, and much of it is comic book adaptations, as my viewing is, then this feels a little like a Repertory Theater of actors playing new roles for a season. That's him from Channel 4's Misfits, and her from Marvel: Agents of Shield (and also Misfits before that); and that's Howard Stark dressed up like a vicar. They are all great, as are the supporting cast, but it's certainly nothing outside of their range, or anything testing, or casting against type (apart from Ruth Negga, who has kept her brunette locks and isn't a blonde).
Other elements feel a little overly familiar too—and this isn't really the show's fault. Showing something about mind control that hits screens after the twisted triumph that is Jessica Jones doesn't really feel that fair a fight, and it's hard not to draw comparisons. The final scene of the pilot is only missing the cold grin of David Tennant's Kilgrave and it could be right out of an episode of that other series. Angels and demons seemed ten a penny a few years back, as do heavily armed, mysterious pairings in low-rent motel rooms. Even I've had enough of vampires on our screens, even if it's nice to see that Cassidy isn't depicted here as brooding and Byronic. The strong, bold graphics scream "I'm a comic book adaptation" but the whole package lacks the subtlety of other adaptations from comics—though Preacher was never all that subtle, so maybe it's okay.
Above all, the show feels a little bit predictable—solid but lacking innovation or new ideas. Part of this must be due to the seminal nature of the graphic novels. Work that good, percolated through the upper echelons of nerd culture for twenty years, is bound already to have inspired writers and directors left, right, and centre. Another aspect to this is the singularity of the source material. When you've got a coherent set of graphic novels to work from, and the people who created those are working on the live-action TV show—which has in turn clearly been a long time in production— there isn't the relative space to refresh anything more than a few references to keep things current. I wonder how much discussion there was about when to set it: in the period of the comics or in the present day? I wonder if setting it in the late 1990s would have set it aside from so much else that's on right now and given the show a much-needed edge on the competition.
The show as it is, however, has worked hard to include fans of the comics, fans of the genre as a whole, and anyone who stumbles across it. It's just a shame that the series took so long to be turned into anything. Preacher gallops at a pace that suggests it doesn't know how long it has left in the cut-throat world of television shows, although now it's been picked up for a second thirteen-episode season maybe it can afford to slow down a little and build on the relationships it's started to form, and the world it has begun to flesh out. I hope it can find its audience and generate a little love in the crowded field in which it finds itself. A critical reception and high average score on Rotten Tomatoes won't be enough to keep it afloat on its own—the show will need social media chatter, cosplay contests on Tumblr, themed cocktails on Pinterest and the like—and above all a sense that it's unmissable television. It's a while off of that yet.
Nia has been a keen aficionado of science fiction since she can remember, particularly post-apocalyptic contagion narratives. She fits in reading books, playing all kinds of games, binge watching television, and devouring comics in the rare breaks from her actual job of teaching Games Design at a UK university.
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