Even those of us who’ve never read a Preacher comic have probably all been hearing the name lately. After some weeks of AMC pushing their new series without respite, the TV adaptation’s pilot episode aired last Sunday; we can expect the season’s second episode shortly. I review the first episode, with some thoughts on the show’s future, for those of you wondering whether Preacher‘s worth your time (and to be clear, since I’m not a reader of the Preacher comics, I here discuss the series on its own merits alone). Fairly spoiler-free.
In Preacher‘s premiere we’re handed a troubled hero, a maverick priest who possesses some sort of dark history – the specifics of which will doubtless be dragged out for a while, though at least in outline it’s all roughly apparent already. And meanwhile, some kind of a hell-force from space is entering, then exploding, various religious speakers worldwide (including Tom Cruise as a proponent of Scientology, a clever little touch that had me chuckling for a fair time). There’s a most enjoyable vampire, who’s an admittedly well-written/well-acted example of a shameless drunken-Irishman stereotype, and there’s a rather adorable mass-murdering female, with a mysterious (OK, let’s be honest, a plainly romantic) involvement with the hero in his aforementioned criminal history. The hell-force comes round to our titular preacher eventually, but leaves him both unexploded and with supernatural powers; we’ll have to wait for future episodes to show us the exact extent of these. The supporting characters are one of the strengths of this story, most of them having some level of interest or complexity, from the local sheriff who’s the father of a disfigured boy – a boy who I’ve been informed is Arseface, which might mean more to others than to me – to the abusive relationship that’s more complex than it seems initially. And another strength is the overall high quality: smart well-crafted scenes/dialogue, lots of fast-paced action, some skilled performances, a slick visual style.
Thing is, though I found Preacher‘s pilot intriguing to some degree and entertaining to a great degree, it’s also a blatant effort by the network AMC to repeat the success of its shows Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, and perhaps to rival HBO’s Game of Thrones, with something aimed at a similar audience, something that’s graphic and far-out and gritty. It owes a lot to The Walking Dead particularly, being a comics-based character-driven visually-similar horror-fantasy. So is Preacher a mere imitator of these phenomena that exist already, or does it have the potential to become a phenomenon in its own right in the future? In this it seems to me that it has one disadvantage: whilst it has the surface elements of the shows it emulates, it might struggle with what in fact makes these shows distinctive: character change. If you think about it, each series I’ve listed develops its main players significantly (from lighter to darker, specifically). Preacher seems centred around the character of Jesse Custer, and our self-doubting hard-drinking priest can’t fall a whole lot further; nor in view of the show’s tone is he too likely to rise, meaning he’ll have to stay about the same. Of course there are a lot of shows which aren’t Breaking Bad or The Walking Dead, which aren’t based around character transformation – but Preacher seems to set out to be the next Breaking Bad or TWD, while not being strong in the same places as these. That said we’ve only seen one episode, so hopefully the series will either include more than the superficial elements of its influences, or better still become its own thing by finding an equally compelling way to evolve its tale; it’s reassuring that the comics seem to be well-thought-of for their story.
So if you’re a fan of shows like The Walking Dead, of shows that are smartish and stylish and not shy about violence, I’d totally suggest giving Preacher a try. But though it lives up to most of the hype, it maybe leans too much on its influences; and maybe not in those respects that have most importance. If you’re after more of the same, so far Preacher seems to be attempting to be more of the same. Though there’s hope that it will progress from being that merely.