Jul 8, 2016 Film & TV
A cult comic-book adaption delivers a nutty blend of black comedy, religious satire, horror and Southern Gothic style.
Even if you haven’t seen Preacher, you’ve almost certainly heard of it. The week it debuted, Lightbox claimed it was the “second most popular TV show” in the country, a bit of rhetorical jujitsu based on something called “demand expressions”, which measure online and social media chatter alongside actual episode views.
So while its numbers are unlikely to be causing producers of The Block any lost sleep, this is still one of the most highly anticipated new shows to hit screens all year. Much of that excitement is being stirred by fans of the 90s comic-book series on which it’s based, a wilfully — gleefully — offensive cavalcade of anti-religious mockery, sexual depravity and blood-soaked violence. Its heroes were a Texan preacher with supernatural powers and a grudge against a feckless, narcissistic God; his ex-girlfriend, a professional hitwoman with anger issues; and his best friend, a 100-year-old, heroin-addicted vampire.
One of the strangest things about Preacher is that this bonkers story became a TV series at all.
One of the strangest things about Preacher is that this bonkers story became a TV series at all. While there’s little doubt that The Walking Dead’s blockbuster ratings helped to persuade network execs to roll the dice on another cult comic-book adaption, Preacher’s ultimate success is largely down to its creative dream team: unlikely comedic Renaissance man Seth Rogen, his long-time producing partner Evan Goldberg, and showrunner Sam Catlin, a Breaking Bad veteran.
Together, they’re attempting the near impossible: an adaption that captures the source material’s eye-popping craziness without turning off newcomers like me.
So far, I’m giving Preacher a passing grade, with reservations. It looks fantastic, with lots of the majestic wide shots and sneakily inventive POVs that made Breaking Bad so seductive (Michael Slovis, that show’s cinematographer, is a co-executive producer). Rogen and Goldberg are clearly working hard to accentuate the comedy, dropping in a throwaway gag about Tom Cruise here and a debate about Coen Brothers movies there. The superb soundtrack of classic and obscure country is my new favourite Spotify playlist. And whenever the three main characters — Jesse Custer (a magnetic but wobbly accented Dominic Cooper), Tulip O’Hare (the fantastically charismatic Ruth Negga) and Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun, the show’s hilarious standout) — are on screen, the show takes off.
The problem, right now, is all the rest. Perhaps in future I’ll care about dowdy church assistant Lucy or creepy businessman Odin Quincannon; maybe soon I’ll stop rolling my eyes at the happy hookers and the shock-value freakiness (that little boy’s mother likes being physically abused, you see).
I hope I do, just like I hope that Preacher succeeds. Even in this golden age of risk-taking, niche-filling television, it feels utterly unique. Regardless of whether its blend of black comedy, religious satire, splatter horror and Southern Gothic style is your particular cup of tea, you have to admire the ambition.