Oh my God, this might just work.
Like Lucifer, the Vertigo Comics series, Preacher, by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon looks, sounds and feels impossible to translate to television. There are things in there you just can’t say and do on the Goggle-Box. Good comics stories tend to be like that. Lucifer the tv series was a perfect example of an abject waste of a subject.
Preacher the tv series is, on the evidence of the pilot episode, tons better than that. Of course, when Lucifer is your bar, any three-month old baby who can crawl over that is already tons better, so the praise that entails is so faint as to be non-existent.
But it worked. And it worked for one simple reason. It took its subject seriously, seriously enough to introduce its three primary characters as clear, recognisable, mainly intact versions of the ones in the comics, to create a setting that sticks closely to the initial set-up in the series, and to only mildly dial back on those aspects of Preacher that will offend the unwashed masses.
So, we have the Reverend Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper playing downbeat, tired, drained and depressed, a complete contrast to his Howard Stark in Agent Carter), preacher in the West Texas town (?) of Annville. Custer’s following in his Daddy’s footsteps, fulfilling a promise to be one of the Good Guys, extracted by Custer Senior in the final seconds before being shot through the head. But he’s no damned good at it, and his heart’s not there.
And we have Cassidy (Joe Gilgun playing a gloriously OTT role to the hilt, with a genial Irish accent you could grind knives upon), arriving by plane, out of which he jumps, from 3,000 feet, holding only an umbrella. Cassidy’s a vampire, you see, with an uncomplicated outlook on life, except when it comes to the folks hunting him down and trying to kill him.
And we have Tulip O’Hare (Ruth Negga, balancing tough girl slinkiness, independence and a clear need forher ex-Bad Boy boyfriend Jesse), introduced fighting two guys in a car driving heedlessly through a Kansas cornfield, and impressing a 12 year old girl for life by making a bazooka out of half and dozen coffee cans and a shitload of toy soldiers. Someone’s chasing Tulip too.
We also have Arseface (incredible make-up on Ian Colletti: you simply cannot take your eyes off his mouth), introduced out of place from the comics series, and treated with a greater degree of human sympathy here.
It’s a pilot episode, it’s set-up time, so things move slow, but confidently slow. No-one’s spinning wheels and sacrificing coherency for atmosphere. We are allowed the full hour to get ourselves into Jesse’s mind, to understand where he starts from, what Annville consists of.
Whilst we’re doing that, in fact before we even meet Jesse or get to Texas, something roars out of space, a comet, swinging in through the solar system. It penetrates an African church, a primitive place full of enthusiastic believes, Christianity at its most purposeful and joyful, invades the preacher, infuses him with the power of the Word of God. Until he explodes all over the congregation.
We see this recur a couple of times, with a brilliantly evil twist as the tv news brings reports of Tom Cruise exploding at a Church of Scientology meeting! Then it comes to Annville. And it merges with Jesse. And instead of him quitting, it fills him full of purpose and determination.
It also gives him the Word of God, which has an unexpected consequence which ends the episode with one great big black boom of humour. Throughout the pilot, Jesse is afflicted with Ted, constantly complaining of how his mother, in Florida, phones him up and denigrates him. Jesse patiently counsels him to speak to his mother, tell the truth, be brave, open his heart.
To no avail until the Reverend says it after merging with the comet/creature, Genesis. He has the Word of God. Ted does as he is told. He immediately sets off for Florida, incessantly repeating, “Tell the truth, be brave, open my heart.” He finds his mother in her retirement home. He tells her how he feels, with calm dignity. Then he opens his heart. With a butcher’s knife. And puts it on the table.
You know, I think this just might work.