Prepared to be overloaded with everything Preacher for the next two weeks, because the third season is coming out and I want to feel like I’ve accomplished something by releasing an episode-by-episode review series I wrote back in November. Welcome to the blog’s first episodic review series! (Don’t worry, I’ll pedantically dissect each episode of some of other series later.)
So this thing. I stumbled upon this show around the first season’s release having no idea what it was about or that it was even based on a comic series. I initially intended to put it on in the background while doing something more important (like video games), but I ended up liking it enough to watch it through again almost as soon as I finished. It got me to pick up the graphic novels. Now it’s earned itself a second and third season, for which I am delighted. This show is a bizarre beast, one of the riskier adaptations I’ve seen of anything in recent years and all the better for it. It has a clear love for the source material right down to the smallest details, but it’s also not afraid to rewrite anything it feels like it should. This is the sort of adaptation that makes the film and book versions of The Shining look like carbon copies of one another. It also happens to be a pretty fun series even if you have no familiarity with the comics.
Characters and Character Development: 9
Aesthetics and Style: 8
Overall Plot: 7
Audience Assumptions: Some familiarity with series (or my Preacher graphic novels reviews)
Episode One: Pilot – *****
Part One: In Which Tom Cruise Explodes
Those familiar with the graphic novels will quickly notice a few small changes in the show. For instance, instead of a diner, the series opens up in outer space. A glowing white whining thing is speeding through the solar system, ramming into planets and satellites and heading, naturally, to earth. There, it possesses a reverend in the middle of a sermon, bestowing upon him the ability to force people to do as he commands. This part is of course more familiar, aside from the part where it takes place in central Africa, and the part where the reverend explodes onto an understandably unhappy audience. That happens. The glowing orb then moves on to various religious leaders, including Tom Cruise (apparently Scientology and Satanism are on par with Christianity as far as the orb is concerned), and blows them up one at a time. The orb is pursued by a pair of menacing agents who, despite sounding very British, struggle with the nuances of tea. By the end of the episode, the orb possesses one Jesse Custer, who doesn’t explode on account of being the series’ primary protagonist.
I won’t harp much on the differences between the show and the books (we’d be here for fucking ever if I did that), but it’s worth noting a few significant changes that drive the show’s intent. Crucially among these is that Jesse’s church does not blow up when he’s possessed by the magic orb, which is of course Genesis from the original series. Because his church remains intact, he is actually a preacher for most of the first season, and the show takes on a much more actively religious tone than its predecessor. The bulk of the episodes that follow this one are concerned with figuring out the mystery of this powerful magic orb, developing the relationships between the main characters, and sussing out Jesse’s moral compass through his own notions of what his religion should be.
As with so much of the show, the characters, the premise, the tone, themes, and a lot of little details like character appearances, are taken directly from the books. The show is concerned with delivering these things to an audience made of book and non-book fans alike, but it’s more concerned with finding a way to present its story in a television format than it is with confining itself to the same story structure the books use.
Part Two: GUYS, GUYS THEY DID A THING! PAY ATTENTION, THEY DID AN IMPORTANT THING!
Because the show goes off on its own, it’s at liberty to play around with the characters in new ways. For instance, in the character introductions.
Jesse starts out as an ineffective pastor at a small rural church in Annville (read: Bumfuck Nowhere), Texas. The church belonged to his late father, also a pastor, but Jesse has only recently shown interest in taking up the family business. His return to his hometown after some years of absence is an effort to move away from a life of crime that continues to dog him externally and internally. The character’s first appearance is of him waking up from flashbacks about his father, getting dressed, dropping his sermon notes on the floor, walking down the road to the church sign, changing the words on the sign from “open your ass and holes to Jesus” to something more spiritual, walking back to the church, and trying to flub his way through a sermon in which his fourth or fifth page of notes is missing. The character doesn’t strike you as a particularly religious person.
Over the course of the episode, he meets the two major characters and runs into a host of minor ones, including church assistant Emily, the not-as-batshit-crazy-racist-as-in-the-books Sheriff Root, and Eugene, who is – OH MY GOD, THEY MADE ARSEFACE RELEVANT TO THE PLOT! I don’t think you appreciate how big of a deal this is. The character known in the original series only as Arseface, and who notably has little to no connection to the main characters or rest of the story, is introduced here as a troubled member of Jesse’s congregation. Jesse visits him to convince him to chat about Jesus and convince him to go to church.
Much of the first episode concerns Jesse going about the town trying to rationalize his own philosophies about people and morality with the increasing awareness of the futility of existence. For instance, early in the episode, a kid comes up to him and asks him to beat up his father, because his father hurts his mother and he’s heard that Jesse used to be a criminal. Jesse doesn’t like men who hit women, but he explains to the kid that his past isn’t something worth bringing up. He tries to resolve the issue by-the-book, talking to the sheriff and later the kid’s mother, but things become complicated when Jesse realizes that the “hurting” the kid mentioned is actually consensual and part of the parents’ sex lives. Despite what he told the kid earlier, he still beats the crap out of the father (in a barfight, of course), breaking his arm when he threatens to beat his son for talking to Jesse.
It’s a roundabout scenario that essentially shows Jesse as a character who tries to be understanding and passive, but would much rather just punish people he doesn’t like for being assholes. He wants life to be simple and for morality to come down to an easy dichotomy, but he’s gone through enough to suspect that nothing is that simple. After all, if there isn’t a god dictating right and wrong, how could those words have meaning? His mind gets set by his encounter with Genesis in the church late at night, something he takes to be a sign from God. Renewed by the idea that there is a set, strict definition for morality, Jesse decides to stay in town as a preacher to do what he learned as a child was unquestionably good.
Part Three: THE BEST DAMN INTRODUCTIONS
Jesse is portrayed as more of a singular protagonist, with Cassidy and Tulip playing major, but not main, characters initially. However, that doesn’t stop the show from giving both of them quite possibly the best character introductions in the history of television.
The show establishes a way for the audience to place themselves, by offering giant blaring title sequences that take up most of the screen, are usually vague or provide unnecessary information, and never repeat themselves. OUTER SPACE. TEXAS. HOUSTON. 1881. Cassidy’s introduction is at “30,000 FEET IN THE AIR” – more specifically, on a luxury plane as a bartender(?) who seems to be participating in the drug and alcohol consumption more than providing it for the party-goers on board. I like that he has a name tag on so you can tell which one he is, as though that were somehow difficult. He finds a bible in the bathroom marked up with ominous scribbles, pieces together that the people on the plane are actually vampire hunters trying to kill him, and, true to character, starts a bar fight. The plane-goers apparently have crossbows and spears lying around, so the whole sequence is as ridiculous and violent as one might expect, and ends of course with him killing, well, all of them, revealing that he is indeed a vampire, the plane catching fire, Cassidy pouring himself a bottle of blood from a person he stabbed with a campaign bottle earlier, stealing the guy’s glasses, grabbing an umbrella, and jumping out of the airplane without a parachute.
Shortly afterward, we get Tulip’s introduction. Hers starts at her uncle’s house, which is also in Annville. Jesse walks in, sees her gun, realizes she’s taking a shower, and runs away. Flashback to Kansas and we see a car, hear a gunshot, and see the car veer off into a corn field as Tulip fights with two other men in her car. Tulip is pulled into the back seat, the rear window goes out, Tulip bites one man’s ear off, climbs back into the front seat, kills the man lying on the pedals whom she shot earlier, pulls the car to a stop, and kills the remaining man with a corn cob. All this, over a map, apparently. The car of course stops in front of the corn field owner’s house and the two kids who are home, ten and younger than ten, respectively. A phone from one of the guys in the car alerts Tulip that something is incoming in twenty-three minutes. After looking around at the yard, she decides to build a homemade bazooka with the help of the small children. While building the bazooka, she gives the children life lessons about feminism and relationships, and then has them wait in the storm cellar. The audience and the children hear gunshots, a helicopter crashing, and some people yelling for mercy. When the children emerge, there is a crashed, flaming helicopter in their yard, and some dead people strewn about, one of whom has the younger child’s little toy soldiers sticking out of his face. The Tulip fucks off to Texas. Like Cassidy’s introduction, it’s ridiculous, hilarious, and often kind of clever.
These are our fucking protagonists, people.