“Preacher” Pilot Review

Directed by: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

Written by: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Sam Catlin

Starring: Dominic Cooper as Jesse Custer, Joe Gilgun as Cassidy, and Ruth Negga as Tulip O’Hare

 

In film media, “Preacher” has had a long and difficult birth. The celebrated series was first pitched as a film in 1998, after Garth Ennis sold the film rights to Electric Entertainment. A director was chosen, a script was written, and was eventually greenlit for pre-production sometime in 2001. By the following year, James Marsden has been cast in the lead role of Jesse Custer and the film was set to begin shooting sometime in August of ’05. However, before production could begin, the project was abandoned due to budgetary concerns. It was in 2006, when HBO optioned the property for a television series, that the idea of a film translation of “Preacher” first popped on to my radar. Needless to say, being a comic book fan and having started reading comic books during the 90s, I was pretty excited at the prospect. Granted, being on television, it wouldn’t have the budget of a full blown movie adaptation, but it was on HBO, so it would at least be uncensored. However, HBO eventually abandoned the project in 2008 when new executives felt the script was too dark and religiously controversial. Quite funny coming from the heads of a network that was just coming off of the successful runs of “The Sopranos” and “The Wire.” Enter AMC. When it was announced in 2013 that AMC would begin developing a “Preacher” pilot with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg attached to write and direct, I took an attitude of optimistic trepidation toward the project. Yes, I was still interested in seeing a screen adaptation of one of the best comics series of the 1990s, but it was AMC. It’s no secret to my friends that I don’t particularly care for AMC’s other comic book based series, “The Walking Dead.” I find it to be an insufferable bore. A poorly written, badly staged, and poorly acted insufferable bore. That being said, we are at the moment of truth. I bit my lip and watched “Preacher.” How was it?

As I’ve said before, I’m not the type that really cares about spoilers, but I know that some of you out there in internet land do, so I’ll try to avoid them. I’m happy to say that, for the most part, I found it enjoyable. It is not a completely faithful adaptation of the comics, but comics are rarely translated to film in an unaltered state. We begin with a shot of Genesis careening through space and then falling to earth in an unidentified nation in Africa. It possesses a local Christian preacher who then proceeds to use the “word of god” (for those of you unfamiliar with the source material: basically very powerful mind control… similar to The Purple Man for those of you who watched “Jessica Jones,” but much more potent) to quiet his panicked parishioners¬† before declaring himself a prophet and then spontaneously exploding. The effects and style of the scene (and much of this pilot episode in general) invoke the feel of 70s trash cinema, or “grindhouse” if you prefer, which is not totally out of step with the comics. After this short jaunt to Africa, we are taken to the small town of Annville, Texas and introduced to series protagonist Jesse Custer. Jesse is a drunken, morally compromised, and borderline atheist man of the cloth who preaches to a group of amoral and mostly apathetic parishioners. While the events that transpire are not quite in line with the comics, the overall characterization of Jesse Custer is mostly spot on. While I would have liked to have seen someone who looked the part more, Cooper’s performance more than makes up for his lack of physical resemblance (in the comics, Custer is a long and gaunt sort of fellow and Dominic Cooper is.. well.. not). Next was the issue of Cassidy. Cassidy has long been my favourite vampire character in comics. This was the character whose portrayal worried me the most going into this. Given the success on the screen of pretty, metrosexual vampires, I was dreading that this character would be given the same treatment. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Cassidy is still depicted as a scrawny, spiky haired lowlife who is not in danger of sparkling in front of Kristen Stewart any time soon. Joe Gilgun pulls off the role fantastically. Few of the principle characters outside of the three main protagonists have been given enough screen time in this pilot for me to offer an accurate assessment, but what I’ve seen so far I’ve liked. The makeup effects on the Eugene “Arseface” Root character were pretty good, and the slurred and muffled voice isn’t too over the top. I actually found his speech intelligible for the most part, but the on screen subtitles during his parts are a nice throwback to the translation boxes in the comics. That being said, I have to address one glaring negative: Tulip. During her big introduction scene, which involves a car chase and some over the top (and frankly stupid) MacGyvering, it seems like the writers were trying to shoot for making her a pastiche of a Foxy Brown or Coffy type character and it just doesn’t work. The whole sequence is completely out of step with the rest of the episode, and seems like it should have been left on the cutting room floor. In the end, though, one scene isn’t enough for me to write off the show completely. On the whole, barring the one offending scene, “Preacher” is a well written and well acted show that manages (in the mind of this comics reader) to capture the essence of the books. The final scene, which depicts the consequences of Jesse’s first unintentional use of “the word” on an obsessive parishioner was an excellent cap to the pilot. So, here’s hoping AMC doesn’t ruin it going forward.

Score: 8/10

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