Preacher: Pilot

"Things'll escalate, that's what these things do, they escalate. And violence makes violence, makes nothin' much at all... Is that what you want, kid?"

Preacher is the AMC adaptation of one of Vertigo's most infamous graphic novel series and one of the most wildly effective stories I've ever come across. Though it is, so far, sadly missing the comic's wicked, profanity-laden dialogue and fiendishly excessive raunchiness, the pilot proves to be made with a love of the characters and the spirit of the unforgettable source material. Strap in, folks.

We open in OUTER SPACE, where we observe a heavenly comet with the warped sound of a baby crying as it soars around the cosmos. It eventually hits earth. More specifically, it hits preachers. Throughout the episode we watch as various men of god are suddenly possessed with this supernatural force... before spontaneously exploding; preachers from all across the world start popping like meaty balloons, as two mysterious figures silently investigate. Until this force finds Jesse Custer.

Jesse is a man of the cloth in a seedy redneck town in Texas called Annville. He is clearly undergoing a crisis of faith (or lack thereof), drinking heavily, messing up his sermons, and struggling to take his job seriously. Which is understandable since, as we observe, the people of Annville are all slightly deranged weirdos. The lone preacher deals with a man named Ted who is controlled by his mother who lives in Florida, or the dysfunctional, sadomasochistic couple of Donnie and Betsy, or the punks who vandalize his property every Sunday before church. Then, of course, there's the belligerent Sheriff Hugo Root and his prodigal son, Eugene -- who you will inevitably come to know as "Arseface".

Jesse does what he can to instill hope and make a meaningful impact on their lives, but he has a hard enough time helping himself. He is plagued by his own dark and violent past, most notably the distant memory of his father, who was shot right in front of him when Jesse was a boy. Now in his present, his personal issues are finally boiling over. And at the worst possible time. The manifestation of his new power (The Word of God, literally) is just one major development on top of an ever-growing list.

Prior to this phenomenon, Jesse finds himself in a bittersweet conflict with Emily, a hardworking single mother and organist who does more for the church than Jesse himself; though, I'm betting she's also secretly in love with the troubled but cute preacher. This crush might pale in comparison to Tulip O'Hare, Jesse's scorned ex-lover who has come to raise hell and get her man back, even if she must "eat him alive". In the meantime, the Irish vampire Cassidy has dropped into Annville and locks onto Jesse as a kindred spirit.

And here we have our main trio: Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy.

This episode is punctuated by three bloody, energetic fight scenes. Cassidy's secret mission/in-flight party of inherent vice is interrupted when he discovers he's walked into an ambush set by vampire hunters, proceeding to crash the plane after he kills everyone on-board. Tulip is able to best a man twice her size while in a car that's racing through a cornfield with no driver. Then she crafts a home-made bazooka and nonchalantly takes out a helicopter. And Jesse Custer soundly defeats Donnie and his weekend Confederate friends in a vicious bar-room brawl, where we finally see the preacher's true self.

How will they fare now that they are all together, and after Jesse has resolved to use his equally great and terrible power to "save" the people of his town? We'll have to wait and see. The stage is set for a show that's not quite, but just about as outrageous as the graphic novels it is based on. Time will tell if it can work up to the timely themes and mind-boggling plot-points that made Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's masterpiece shine so bright... and dark.

Bits & Pieces:

* Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg did a great job directing this episode; their style in the past, on films such as Superbad and Pineapple Express, might actually favor the story of Preacher which contains similar themes of crazy love and odd bromances, as well as shit that's generally pretty sick.

* The fact that Sam Catlin, who was on the creative team behind Breaking Bad, is also part of the show is a definite sign of potential.

* The actress playing Betsy reminded me of a young Jessica Lange.

* "You're So Vain" is a perfect song for Tulip O'Hare's introduction.

* Tom Cruise was caught exploding on live TV. He apparently died while laughing hysterically.

* Mayor Miles seems like he would make a good preacher. Maybe if he lived in a better town.

* Eugene "Arseface" Root was so well-done. He may not be quite as gross as his comic counterpart, but they've pretty much nailed the feelings one gets from this sad, yet blackly hilarious character.

* Cinematically, the show fires on all cylinders. I love the actors, the photography, the special effects, the fast, break-neck pace of the editing, the fight choreography, the writing, and the soundtrack. And since it lacks the book's prevalent naughty language and nudity, it is more than making up for it through the unique displays of horrific violence that remain -- which, as we all know, is not naughty or bad in any way.

* Cassidy's great escape from the plane sold the episode for me. Especially him pouring himself some blood in a glass from the wine bottle he just planted in a man's chest. Fans of True Blood may find themselves right at home with this sort of show.



Little boy: You're funny!
Tulip: I know. Anyway, this is how you make a bazooka. Now who wants to play hide and go seek?

Jesse: I can't hate you, Tulip. I wouldn't know how.
Tulip: ... Then don't make me teach you.

Tulip: We are who we are, Jesse Custer...! We are who we are.

Cassidy: Jaysis, what sorta preacher are you?

Jesse: Drinkin'. Fightin'. Swearin'. I can't even afford to fix the damn air conditionin'.
Cassidy: That sounds like the first verse to the worst country song ever written, man!

Jesse: (when god doesn't answer his final prayer) Yeah, well... Fuck you too.


While the story and characters seem a little different for the most part, I found that the pilot does a good job of standing on its own two feet and delivered a solid hour of impressive entertainment. I was a bit skeptical on my first viewing (when I missed the first 20 minutes), but I was locked in upon watching it a second time. If they can keep this sharp, highly-stylized edge going, I think Preacher has just as good a chance at being a hit as The Walking Dead or any other show on AMC. Three out of four obliterated preachers.


Billie Doux said...

Thanks for this terrific review, Logan. Honestly, while I laughed a lot and wasn't bored for a second (I particularly liked Cassidy the vampire as well as Tom Cruise exploding), I'm unfamiliar with the source material and found it hard to follow what was going on. Your review helped a lot.

Logan Cox said...

Thank you, Billie. I'm glad you liked it and that it helped you follow the story.

Think I'll stick with this season and see what it has to offer.

migmit said...

This episode could be a little better though, if I understood at least WTH IS GOING ON! I watched more than an hour of that show, and I still have no idea who is who, what is what and how to make even a little sense of it.

I rarely give up on the show after one episode (although there are those that I dropped before finishing an episode), but there is first time for anything.

Michal Dvorak said...

It was better than I expected but worse than I hoped it would be.

What worked for me:
- I think they got the characters mostly right. (They made Tulip more kick-ass than she was in the comics, which is fine by me. Also it seems Jesse's motivation for becoming a reverend might have been different than it was in the comics, which is less fine by me, but we'll see how it plays out.)
- While the TV version obviously can't match the wicked excesses of the comics, where literally nothing was sacred, it keeps enough of the attitude to make the show special.
- Joseph Gilgun as Cassidy was an inspired casting choice.

What didn't work for me:
- It looks like this show was only made with fans of the comics in mind. It expects you to know that Jesse and Tulip used to go out before Jesse left her and the life of crime behind to become a preacher. It also doesn't bother to explain what it was that Eugene did that was wrong. It only explains stuff that is different from the comics. While this isn't a problem for me, I expect this will drive away a lot of viewers.
- It seems we will be spending a lot of time in Annville (as opposed to the comics where they left the town behind in the first issue). While its citizens are weird and quirky enough, it's not something we haven't seen a thousand times before. Compared to the original material, "saving" the citizens of Annville seems a bit boring. I understand they need some filler material if they want to make it to the obligatory five seasons (the comics would fill maybe two seasons if they stretched it as much as possible), but I'm afraid it will drag the series down. I guess we'll see.