Against All Odds, Preacher Turns a’ 90 s Relic Into a Genuinely Good Indicate

There have been stranger journeys to television than Preacher s, but not many. The series comes after years of failed attempts to adapt Garth Ennis and Steve Dillons original Preacher comic book series; previous imaginary adaptations involved people like Kevin Smith and Sam Mendes, and one ran in so far as to cast James Marsden as the titular evangelist, Jesse Custer. The narrative of a Texas man hunting down God to make him answer for being the ultimate deadbeat father, Preacher featured a vampire, incest subtext, more sacrilege than you can shake an inverted crucifix at, and a disconcerting number of gags about men being raped( and those are all before executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg got hold of it ).

In theory, a Preacher adaptation should be terrible. The Marvel and DC machines may still be moving forward on the strength of cape-and-boots sight and insane quantities of fund, but its been the rare non-superhero comic adaptation to deliver on the promise of its source material. More than that, though, itis maybe the most 90 s thing to ever 90 s. If you boiled down Pulp Fiction , Ken Starr, and the collected discography of Rage Against the Machine to their Nesquik powder essence, then rehydrated them with Capri-Sun and a healthy spritzing of Y2K paranoia, you would get Preacher .

Vertigo/ DC Comics

The comic often exists in a space where more is always better, an aesthetic that will be familiar to anyone who even glanced at the trailer for Batman v Superman . The characters anatomies are intensely and sharply delineated( Jesse has a rather mystical mullet) not quite as aggressively masculine and faux-photorealistic as most superhero comics of the decade, but still in the same ballpark. The characters themselves endure inhuman amounts of punishment, as if to prove, repeatedly, that they are worthy of being the protagonists of the book. Maybe most annoyingly, they quip all the time, like everyone is sitting around Jerry Seinfelds apartment trying to one-up one another with verbal brutality.( Cassidy, the Irish vampire with a cool haircut, has more than a few blood ties to Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer .)

More than that, though, Preacher exemplifies a hyper-violent comic vibe from the 90 s, one in whichmutilation is a punchline rather than a misfortune. The series features several set pieces of mass murder, including a massacre at a Hollywood orgy, an extended hunting sequence by sadistic hicks, and a literal nuclear bomb running off. One of the major supporting characters goes by the name Arseface, thanks to the failed suicide-by-shotgun that left him with a, well, you know. By the time the series objective, the primary antagonist–besides God, that is–has been carven into something that resembles a pre-hot dog more than a human being.

All of this pokes fun at the characters who get sliced up, and the archetypes they occupy. Gaucheness pervades Preacher , though any character who utilized the word gauche would almost certainly be gang-raped by mutant rednecks as a joke. Its tongue-in-cheek( and the joke is often on the ideology being espoused ), but like most successful parodies, Preachers success comes from the way it seduces people who find its ideasfunny along with people who genuinely buy into it. The noxious cloud produced by the oversaturation of this sort of satirical sadism has, unfortunately, failed to dissipate, creating a sense of malaise that induces it is difficult to revisit the original run, or to pull off new run that works within the aesthetic.( Sorry, Fight Club .)

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Where Preacher the comic is a generally fun readthats still chiefly a product of its period, Preacher the series is somehow very good as a prestige television show in 2016 — Rogen and Goldberg have readily adapted to the form. The comic sprawls across America and dollops out characterization in concentrated explodes, but the series sets the entire cast in a single location for an extended period of time, forcing them to interact and develop distinct relationships( particularly Cassidy, who was largely isolated in the book but now has to contend with a bunch of people he cant eat ). The pilot establishes quite a few denizens of Annville, Texas, each with their own investment in the varied conflicts that make up the town–a high school mascot change, a family in crisis, the very presence of the preacher.

Jesse himself has been tweaked too. In the comic, hes a broad-faced icon of American masculinity, simultaneously outdated and idealized. Dominic Coopers Jesse is an introverted wounded puppy who doesnt quite know who he is, and is bad at pretty much everything besides beating people up. In the tradition of Men on Television( especially Don Draper and Walter White, those other AMC antiheroes ), he fights with his desire to do the right thing instead of merely doing it, violently.

The devil on his shoulder is his ex-girlfriend Tulip, played by the depicts breakout superstar, Ruth Negga. Tulip arrives fully-formed, wounded, angry, capable of taking care of children or stabbing person with an ear of corn orgleefully constructing bazookas out of coffee cans.Her love for Jesse, she recognise, is an albatross stopping her from keep moving with their own lives. The bazooka sequence, in which Tulip constructs a weapon while teaching children about love, encapsulates why Preacher is, against all odds, good: the Tv reveal successfully maintains and updates a apparently analog aesthetic, while grounding it in characters who are broadly sympathetic.

Loud, winking title cards in the pilot tell the viewer theyre watching events in Africa, or Texas, Los Angeles, outer space. The abrupt transitions are a way of using interconnectivity as a punchline through fine editing( Seem! Now were over here! -style comic exhaustion) rather than a way of demonstrating an epic scope. ( Babel this ain’t .) The fighting scenes are effectively physical and punchy, glorying in the choreography of a fight itself without the attendant hyper-brutality of a Zack Snyder movie.( Cassidys most successful early kill involves stuffing a wine bottle into someones body and using it as a blood tap .)

Ruth Negga as Tulip O’Hare. Lewis Jacobs/ Sony Pictures Television

Pulling off a certain carefree absurdity of violence is hard, especially on a seemingly cosmic scale. Preacher the comic is a psychosexual carnival of gags, and though it pays lip service to the humanity of some its characters, its world is at bottom a misanthropic dystopia where nobody life is really worth much of anything.( Sinners, all of us .) This is part of the joke, but its being attained ham-fistedly–literally, in the case of some of the comics more sexually adventurous characters–and so it occasionally spoils when encountered 15 years later.

Treating human bodies as cloth dolls is a conscious creative decision that can have multiple rationales. For the best aspects of the 90 s aesthetic , Preacher is aping, and for the show itself, its because everything is a big gag. Explosions, airliner accidents, destruction by Swat team serving religion extremists—all of these are things just kinda happen arbitrarily, and sometimes they will be devastating, but its truly not that big of a bargain. Its not reflexively a good or bad orientation to have toward the depiction of human flesh; taking a hardline posture on the question is the realm of the moralistic censor or slobbering fanboy. But balancing violence with occasional kindness, as Preacher the series does, takes skill. You have to know just when and how to reach for the coffee-can bazooka.

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