Preacher – Pilot Review


By James Hancock May 23rd, 2016

***Mild spoilers ahead for people unfamiliar with the source material***

When comic book fans have conversations about the greatest comics of all time, Preacher (1995-2000) is always in the mix. Written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by Steve Dillon, Preacher is one of the most wildly imaginative odyssies I’ve ever had the privilege of reading. So when I heard that Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen were at work on adapting the series into a show (they also co-wrote and co-directed the pilot), I was skeptical only because I knew what an incredible storytelling challenge they had in front of them. Most traditional superhero comics lend themselves far more easily to the serialized storytelling of television shows and movie franchises. This is not a criticism but these types of comics tend to be stuck permanently in their second act with no intention of ever stopping giving different generations of writers and artists opportunities to put their individual stamps on iconic characters like Batman or Spider-Man. Preacher is something quite different. It is not an open ended story. Instead it is a surreal hard hitting epic where an unlikely trio goes to war with every perverse, violent and supernatural threat imaginable all in an effort to hold God accountable for fleeing from Heaven out of fear of a new being that was conceived from an angel and demon having sex. If that sounds too wild for you, neither the comic nor the show is going to be your thing. The question for me was whether or not the show would simply try to adapt the comic as written or would they dilute it, decompress it, etc. into something more accessible for mainstream television audiences. The good news is that AMC likely has another hit on their hands at least in the short term. The bad news is that fans of the comic will likely spend the majority of their time watching the pilot yanking their hair out in frustration over the numerous departures from Garth Ennis’s source material.

***Mild spoilers ahead for people unfamiliar with the source material***

It is really difficult for me to review this show objectively and with an open mind. I’ve read the entire series of Preacher twice and think it has the potential to be one of the greatest television series ever made, but the pilot did not inspire much confidence. Discussed in broad strokes, the show and the comic have some common ground. The main characters remain Jesse Custer, Tulip and Cassidy and by the end of the first episode, Jesse has been possessed by the supernatural spirit that gives him the power to command anyone to do literally anything Jesse says. The similarities end there. In introducing these characters, not only did the show take some major liberties with their origin stories to the point of distorting what I know and love about them in the first place, the entire approach to the show in general feels very broad, very obvious. It feels as if the show runners only appreciated the shock value of Garth Ennis’s original material but none of the heart and nuance of what is essentially a blasphemous modern day western on acid about having a code and doing the right thing. But what really alarmed me was the abundance of new material written for the show. With so much brilliant material to draw from in the original series, I have no idea why the show runners would choose to try and reinvent what makes Preacher amazing in the first place. Admittedly, the show shares some DNA and a few familiar details from the comic but otherwise this is an entirely original production and essentially a new story that only partially tips its hat to the original story.

I think I am going to wrap this up. Only as I was writing the review did I start to realize just how disappointed I am by the show. My theory is that the majority of the people watching it tonight probably have no idea Preacher was ever a comic in the first place and I hope they had a good time watching it. If Preacher is a success, that opens the door to more cool comic book creators getting their material picked up to be made into shows and I have no problem with seeing comic book writers and artists being liberally compensated for their original creations. I’m just not sure I am going to be following this show. I’m going to give it a few more episodes and if I get more of what I saw tonight, I will quietly sneak out the back and not look back. I have no interest in fighting and arguing with people who love it and from the early reviews it seems as if plenty of people are instant fans. I’ll let them enjoy their show in peace and I’ll simply watch something else. I disliked pretty much everything original in the show not pulled from the comic and in that the pilot is about 90% new material, it makes it very difficult for me to look forward to any future episodes unless I see a major course correction in the very near future. But things could be worse. If I end up disliking the show and bailing on it, I will have simply been given the perfect excuse to revisit the comic for a third time and savor this now legendary tale, one filled with vampires, psychotic Christian fundamentalists, John Wayne, the indestructible Saint of Killers, a mentally disabled inbred descendant of Jesus, every sexual perversion imaginable, lots of bar fights, countless homages to the best westerns ever made and best of all, the friendship of Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy. There really has never been another story quite like it.

I am one of the Co-Hosts of Wrong Reel.

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