PREACHER, Season 1 Review – My Prayers Left Unanswered, Yet Still I Pray…

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Well, here we are. After years and years of false starts and various creative entities trying to get a version of this story on the screen, big or small. The show was finally brought to life by an unlikely duo, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg, who are best known for their work in surreal-stoner comedies. Some people thought it was an odd choice and even I have to admit that I wasn’t completely sold on it when I first heard the news, but the more I thought about it, the more it kind of made sense. Preacher, the comic book series, is a genre mash-up type of story. It’s equal parts black comedy, fantasy adventure, road movie and deconstruction of the American machismo myth. So, when I started to think about their involvement, my mind immediately went to their first co-directorial effort, This Is The End, which contains a lot of the elements that I mentioned before. Yeah, it’s certainly a much more straightforward comedy, but I thought it was a good indicator of where their creative heads were at. Honestly, when I first saw This Is The End, I remarked to myself that it reminded me of Preacher.

During the build up to the show, I was constantly going back and forth on how I felt about it. I really liked the casting, for the most part, and some of the production art looked cool. When they showed off Arseface I was kind of excited. It let me know that they were at least going to try to adapt some of the weirder stuff from the comics, because even though he’s a fan favorite, you could excise him from the story pretty easily. He’s kind of like Tom Bombadil in that way. There wasn’t much else to look at until a really short teaser came out, and that was only a few months ago if memory serves me correct. The most shocking thing about the teaser was how subdued it was. Normally that wouldn’t mean much, but

The most shocking thing about the teaser was how subdued it was. Normally that wouldn’t mean much, but Preacher is bat-shit crazy from the get-go. There’s no slow build-up. Before we know who the characters even are crazy shit is already going down. So, I thought it was an odd choice to showcase a scene wherein Jesse Custer kind of menaces some random kid. It kind of fell flat for me, personally, and I was left wondering who that was supposed to entice. Was it directed at fans of the comic or newcomers, or both? I couldn’t see it. As a fan of the comic, I needed to see the spirit of the books showcased and I didn’t really get that. I mean, I could have used some quick cutaways to other characters, some hint at what the show was going to be like, some indication of tone. It came off more like Breaking Bad than what I would have expected from a Preacher adaptation. To be fair, that could have worked. I’m all for taking familiar things in unexpected directions. I don’t know, maybe it was just me. It just left me kind of cold and made me worried about the budget of the show.

AMC is pretty famous for trying to push their content out for as cheap as possible. From critical darlings like Mad Men to a ratings juggernaut like The Walking Dead, they have always been penny pinchers, for lack of a better term. I get it from a business perspective, but it does make it seem like they only care in as much you are watching. If droves of people will watch a cheaply made show, why spend more? It’s a fair position, but that doesn’t mean the scope of these shows tends to suffer. Preacher‘s a crazy, over the top,  violent story, that deals with angels, demons, God and a ton of other expensive sounding things. Also, most of this stuff happens while the characters are on the road. The story doesn’t lend itself to being able to build sets and allow the events to take place around them. So, with all that in mind, I was super curious about how they would handle the more “expensive” sounding stuff. The answer is: They didn’t. They just didn’t deal with it. Almost any of it.

Season 1 of Preacher has been one of the most wildly inconsistent and poorly paced seasons of television that I’ve peeped in a while. That may sound hyperbolic, it probably is, if only a little but, man, it was a frustrating experience. It’s a shame, too, because some of the characterizations and dialogue work really well, you know, the moment to moment stuff, but when one considers the breadth of the piece, it doesn’t really work. Well, that’s not entirely true, but it felt that way while watching, as you could feel the writers struggling to make a point; to bring it home; to gel all of the disparate elements of the story together. This feeling was exacerbated by entire episodes that felt entirely superfluous. Like, they could have told this story and this arc in about half the episode count.

Being a fan of the comics, I quickly realized that most of the first season was only going to cover the first few issues of the book, covering Jesse’s time as a reformed criminal turned preacher. They did some interesting adaptation gymnastics and took elements from later in the story and moved it up, most of which was welcome, but the location of Annville comes with too much uninteresting baggage that stops the story from ever finding a rhythm. We’re constantly being shown characters and subplots that don’t help inform our main characters and their story. Once you find out how the Annville arc is resolved, you’ll feel like your time has been wasted even more so. Yes, it’s a very “Preacher-esque” twist. The difference being that the comics would never have spent an entire 10 issues to posture what is essentially a joke. I laughed, sure. I’m not sure if it was with or at, though.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to be harping on and on about how “It’s not like the comics!” I really do appreciate a good adaptation, I just sincerely feel like this past season didn’t do a great job communicating its basic message or, more aptly, getting it’s characters to where they need to be.

I think one of the biggest missteps the show has made is trying to give Jesse Custer too much of a character at this point in the story. It spends so much time in the weeds with him emotionally, that the story ultimately suffers for it. He is basically going through the same set of ups and downs for most of the season. At some point, it all just felt redundant, and at times I felt myself getting bored. I mean, I was never actively “hating” the show. It would just kind of wash over me, every once in awhile earning my attention, just to return to the same emotional beats that it had rolled with an episode, or sometimes even just a few moments, before. It never felt like anything was ever learned by any of the characters. I guess you could say that goes back to the pacing issues, as whenever the show threatens to become interesting, it’ll just stop and then reiterate the thing it just told you. Like I said before, frustrating.

It’s not all bad, though. Across the board, I thought the cast was really great. Dominic Cooper may be a little more on the dour side, but he always feels “real,” I guess. It’s a pretty different character than in the comics, which was a weird choice, but it’s just the first season. They could get him to where he is in the comics. It’s not that he’s different that bothers me. It’s that what they’ve done instead isn’t as effective. I don’t know, maybe they’re going to take “the long way.” Given this past season, I wouldn’t be shocked.

Ruth Negga’s take on Tulip O’Hare is pretty decent. She feels a little closer to her comic book counterpart but, again, it feels like her journey this season could have been summed up in about half the time. Because of all the other townsfolk, she kind of gets the short end of the stick sometimes. Like, you get what they mean, but we don’t get enough meaningful time with her and it makes her dramatic turns jarring.

The one character that they absolutely nailed is Cassidy. Holy shit, it’s like he leaped right of the page. Not enough credit can be given to Joseph Gilgun. In him, the show feels the most like the source material. He brash, cantankerous, witty and amoral. Whenever he’s heavily featured in an episode it was always a welcome presence. Hell, sometimes it even got a little fun when he was around. If I’m looking forward to anything in the future, as far as Preacher is concerned, it’s to spend more time with Cassidy. He’s got great chemistry with Negga and Cooper, as well, and given where the show leaves off at the end, it seems like we’ll be spending a considerable amount of time with the main characters.

So, yeah, I was pretty let down by the first season, but I’m still hopeful for the future. My main problems were the pacing and narrative wheel-spinning. It felt like the whole season could have been covered in half the time and that we spent too much time getting to know characters that didn’t ultimately matter all that much. I get that they were trying to get us to invest in Jesse and gain our sympathy for his plight, but I feel like it all could have been way more streamlined and exciting. Preacher is a really fun comic book series, I hope a little of that makes it way to the screen. It seemed like it was starting to towards the end there, so, who know!? I’m curious how AMC is going to handle the “traveling band” style of storytelling that they’ve seemingly set up. I’m also really curious about how much they’re going to be able to get away with on TV. I know that the limits get stretched pretty far these days, but they haven’t even gotten to the weird shit yet! We shall see, party people.

 

 

 

 

 

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