Preacher: Season One (Review)

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By Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)
 
2016 was a year in television full of shows based on comic books. The list ranged anywhere from “The Flash” to “The Walking Dead” to “Gotham.” But AMC found a show in the Vertigo comic book series “Preacher.” The cable network aired the first of a 10 episode season of the show in May of last year, and in June 2016, before the season was over, it was renewed for a second season. While no premiere date for season 2 has been officially announced yet, we know that production has started and the show can likely be anticipated to air around the same time in 2017 as the previous year. Season 2 also comes with 13 episodes, expanding upon the previous season’s 10 episode run.
 
“Preacher,” produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, (“Superbad” and “Neighbors”) along with Sam Catlin (“Breaking Bad”), is based on the 1990s comic book series of the same name by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. The darkly funny story follows the journey of Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), a criminal-turned-preacher who takes over his deceased father’s church in West Texas. While dealing with issues of personal faith and purpose, Jesse becomes host to a powerful entity of heaven and hell. He must then deal with understanding and using the new power while trying to help his church and parishioners. Jesse is joined by Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun), a rowdy Irish vampire and Tulip (Ruth Negga), a feisty ex-girlfriend with her eyes on revenge.
 
Beginning to watch “Preacher,” I felt I had been led to believe the story was going to be about supernatural creatures and an anti-hero who probably didn’t really have faith in anything. While I did eventually find such creatures and an anti-hero, they did not believe and subsequently behave in a way I would have predicted. While I described the show to a friend as a mix of “Fargo” and “Kill Bill,” I continued watching and was surprised to find that the heart of the show actually deals with heavy themes. While “Preacher” may have its fair share of exploding religious leaders and bloody dismembered arms still holding onto chainsaws (like any good show worth watching), it also delves deep into the doubts and questions that many religious subscribers (of various faiths) have. The disturbingly humorous show may come across as irreverent, but it is genuine and honest in the telling of Jesse’s search for faith and God’s purpose in his life. This particular type of story-telling (existential crises interspersed with wise-cracks and violence) is guaranteed to have an audience, albeit likely a small one. But shows that manage to find a comfortable niche and can consistently deliver to the viewers of such a niche will often find themselves quite successful.
 
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The characters might be where “Preacher” really shines. Dominic Cooper throws out his English accent for a West Texas accent and makes us believe in the moral struggle to do the right thing as Jesse Custer. A character with an outlaw past and little innate ability to be a preacher could easily come across as jaded or overly gruff. Instead, the writers and Cooper sell Custer as a softer man who is deeply troubled by a faith he can’t hold onto and a God he can’t seem to find. With a past in which confidence and swagger are essential, Custer as a preacher turns to the bottle instead of prayer and seems barely able to keep himself afloat in his role as a spiritual leader. Dominic Cooper does an extraordinary job of making a potentially despicable character relatable, and with the new power his character is host to, Cooper also manages to show when the power is in control and when Custer is.
 
Eugene Root (Ian Coletti), called Arseface (yes, you read that correctly), ironically often serves as a voice for Jesse Custer. After a terrible incident and creative reconstructive surgery, Eugene was left with an oral cavity that appears unfit for a human face. While a character with such a visage could cross the line into poor taste, it instead it falls in line well with the dark humor of the story. Eugene’s character is written to elicit empathy (not sympathy) from the viewer. If he felt sorry for himself, he would become a figure for pity, but with a cheerful disposition, a deep understanding of himself and his situation, and an ability to accurately perceive the emotions of others, he inspires empathy and a desire to feel WITH him. Eugene is uniquely able to express thoughts and feelings that lead Jesse to epiphanies of his own. As a secondary character, Eugene proves to be an incredible tool in moving forward the character development of Jesse Custer.
 
Dominic Cooper is joined in “Preacher” by Ruth Negga as Tulip, Jesse’s ex-girlfriend from his criminal past. She is essentially a bad-ass, but with her focus on getting Jesse to join her in her quest for revenge, she can sometimes come across as a one-dimensional character. This is no fault of Ruth Negga’s portrayal, as she manages to play a cheerful and playful character with violence oozing just beneath the surface. Instead, the single-mindedness of the character in season 1 can lead to a lack of character depth. With the approach of season 2 and new goals for the cast, I believe that Tulip may fully come into her own, developing the raw materials that are already in place.
 
Lastly, the main cast is rounded out by Joseph Gilgun playing the role of Cassidy. Cassidy is an Irishman with a penchant for illicit drugs and alcohol and quite the allergy to sunlight. (Being a vampire will lead to that, I hear.) His character is introduced in a frenzy of fierce fighting, and by the end of the season we begin to see that while a fighter when forced, Cassidy tends toward being a lover. He enjoys a good brawl, but Cassidy plays the loyal friend and sounding board with finesse. Gilgun does a fantastic job embodying the essence of a rogue character, a lovable trouble-maker. Personally, Cassidy is the character I am more excited to learn about, as season 1 did very little in revealing his backstory beyond a mysterious phone call to someone advising him to be cautious and stay in hiding. Cassidy’s position as a friend to Jesse again aids in the growth and development of Jesse’s character.
 
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The rest of season 1 was full of supporting cast members, each with small journeys of their own. The end of the season lead to a large elimination of most of them. While this may cause the viewer to feel as if the development of characters was futile and ultimately pointless, we may also find that such an elimination of characters may allow “Preacher” to turn over a new leaf with freedom and flexibility in season 2, in order to resolve many of the issues faced in season 1.
 
The season as a whole was satisfying, but mediocre. Like many shows forced to deal with unique content that doesn’t always jive with everything else on television, it can take some time (even a season or two) to find its ideal footing and rhythm. Season 1 of “Preacher” also acts as a bit of a prequel to the material found in the comic book series itself. The glacial pacing of a long-winded origin story might have been better handled. Individual episodes were often punctuated with frenzied action, (like a bloody motel room fight you don’t want to miss!) but sometimes you couldn’t count on that either. This sporadic plot pacing could lead viewers to change the channel. Its redeeming quality is that the premise of the show itself is interesting and with time, you can believe that extraordinary things can come of it.
 
“Preacher” currently boasts an 89% certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an 8.2/10 on IMDB. Despite any flaws in season 1, the audience response remains mostly positive and hopeful with a coming second season. The unique and often bizarre story filled with an interesting amalgam of characters appears to be enough for viewers to tune in again and see what might come of the audacious endeavor.
 
Be on the lookout for the first episode of season 2 of “Preacher,” this year, titled On the Road.


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