Spoiler Warning: This post will be loaded with spoilers from the Preacher comics and television show.
Gasp doesn’t have anything to do with the Preacher pilot, but they rule.
“This is why I’ve come home. To save you”.
Those are the last words uttered by Jesse Custer, the protagonist of AMC’s Preacher, during its first episode. I’m guessing many readers of this site are familiar with the graphic novel that inspired the show, which ran from 1995 – 2000, and has recently been collected in a complete series of trade paperbacks. The comics were known and beloved for their over-the-top shock factor, gruesomeness, satire, and sacrilege. In true fashion of doing everything ass-backwards, I read the entire series (66 comics, excluding the one offs and Saint of Killers spin off) for the first time in one week leading up to the premier of the pilot. Attempts have been made to bring the comics to life on the silver screen for nearly twenty years. AMC, a network that has become well known for high profile programs like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, recently experienced a great deal of success with another graphic novel adaptation in The Walking Dead. While many believed it would be difficult to adapt Preacher to television, AMC seemed like the perfect home for the bizarre and controversial story; so far showrunners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have succeeded in adapting the story and keeping the tone.
Preacher’s pilot wastes no time in introducing us to the plot and many of the primary characters. Those familiar with the graphic novel quickly identify the Outer Space comet as Genesis, the omnipotent being that grants Jesse Custer his powers. The “comet” comes into collision with several religious figures: an African minister, a Russian Satanic clergyman, and Tom Cruise (via newscast), before its fateful encounter with Jesse near the end of the episode.
After a poorly delivered sermon, a boy from Jesse’s congregation hopes to enlist his aid to stop his abusive father from harming his mother. Jesse suggests that the boy speak with the police. Having heard stories about Jesse’s past, however, the boy hopes that Jesse will “hurt” his father. We later learn that this case of domestic abuse isn’t quite what it seems; the boy’s request sets in motion a chain of events that lead to a climactic showdown between Jesse, Donny (the boy’s abusive father), and a group of Donny’s pals, fresh from a Civil War reenactment and still dressed for the part.
Cassidy and Tulip are both brought to Annville during separate violent incidents; Preacher shines during these thrilling and gory encounters. Each battle in this first episode is extremely well-choreographed. Deaths occur via a slew of medieval weapons, a homemade bazooka loaded with metal toy soldiers, an ear of corn (!), and bite-by-vampire; we learn more about Cassidy’s true nature as the episode progresses. He survives falling from an airplane from 30,000 feet with no parachute, and is mangled nearly beyond recognition. We’re given clues about his sensitivity to sunlight, until he places his hand into direct sunlight and it bursts into flame. Eventually, Cassidy and Tulip both cross paths with Jesse. Cassidy assists Jesse against Donny and his cronies, and they bond in a jail cell afterwards. Hints are given about Jesse and Tulip’s relationship during their first shared scene, in which Tulip tries to enlist Jesse for some kind of “job”.
Increasingly detailed flashbacks are used as a narrative device during the course of the first episode, as we begin to learn about the death of Jesse’s father. Jesse meets with another recognizable character from the comics as well, Eugene/Arseface, who readers should know attempted suicide in order to emulate his idol Kurt Cobain. At the end of the episode, after Jesse’s encounter with Genesis, he is yet unaware of the power he possesses, which leads to a tragic and bloody end for an annoying member of his church named Ted, “for the last time Ted, be brave, tell her the truth, and open your heart.” Lastly, we are introduced to two unnamed characters who are investigating the Genesis appearances; they appear in Annville shortly following Jesse’s encounter with it. I suspect they will turn out to be the Adelphi angels from the series. One of the men is played by Anatol Yusef, whom you might remember as Meyer Lansky from HBO’s Boardwalk Empire!
I read an AV Club review of Preacher’s pilot citing time as a reason not to dig into the differences between the comics and show. Lucky for you, and as I mentioned, I just powered through the entire series. Here are, best as I can tell, the main differences between the two:
- In the comics, Jesse merging with Genesis leads to a catastrophic explosion which killed 200 members of his congregation; in the show Jesse decides to continue his ministry in Annville (seemingly setting up Annville as the main location for the first season).
- In the comics, Cassidy and Tulip arrive to Annville together; in the show they arrive separately and don’t know anything about each other by the end of the first episode.
- In the comics, Sheriff Root only speaks to his son Eugene/Arseface once before committing suicide; in the show they seem to have a much better relationship (and Sheriff Root seems to be way less of a maniacal dick).
- In the comics, the Adelphi angels operate from a station in Heaven until they are cast out for their mistakes; in the show it appears like the angels are investigating Genesis on Earth.
- In the comics, Jesse’s father was a Vietnam vet; in the show he’s shown to be a minister himself.
- In the comics, Tulip became a hitwoman after her initial split from Jesse, and he learns about it when they reconnect; in the show the pair seems to have a vastly increased criminal connection.
- In the comics, we don’t meet Odin Quincannon until roughly the last third of the entire series, but in the show Jesse meets with Betsy who works at Quincannon Meat & Power. Could the show creators be setting up the first season’s Big Bad?
- No sign of John Wayne, just yet, or Jesse’s “Fuck Communism” Zippo lighter (which could be absent in an effort to modernize the program).
If there is anything I’ve missed, sound off below.
While it’s far too early to tell how Preacher’s first season will turn out (the second of ten episodes will likely air prior to this posting), the pilot for this series is more than promising. I’ve never been a stickler for page to page adaptations; the showrunners have delivered a faithful rendition to the tone of the story so far despite a few key differences. Preacher succeeds with gonzo violence, really funny dark humor, and the ability to change tones as seamlessly as its various elements (friendship and family relations, religion, science fiction and the supernatural, etc). As it stands, Preacher looks poised to save us from a dry season of great television. I award the Preacher pilot 5 / 5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell. I fucking loved it.
Please keep discussion of the television show within the first episode, and stay tuned.