When to stop: Goodbye Preacher

Bugger off, you bore me

When it first appeared, last summer, I thought the TV version of Preacher had got it right. It captured the insanity, brutality and sheer cockamie absurd and black humour of the original comic. And in Joe Gilgun as Cassidy, it had an insanely good star.

The first series lasted ten episodes. It started in a blaze of fire and glory and gradually lost steam. By about episode six, the pace had dropped to a crawl and it just had less and less energy from that point on, lifting its head every now and then to bludgeon you into crazed laughter and then slumping once again.

Still, season 1 was, effectively, a Prelude. Things would get a lot more serious once our terrible trio of Jesse Custer, Tulip O’Hare and Cassidy got on the road. And for a little bit, in the first couple of episodes of season 2, it looked like it.

Then they turned the gas off. The third episode dragged and the fourth was even worse. My interest levels dropped between the opening scene and the closing credits. nothing was happening and it was happening painfully slowly.

Maybe it’s me being jaded. I’m finding quite a few things of late to be so slow-moving I wonder what anyone bothered. Unfortunately, Preacher is a TV series, not a movie. And I’ve now baled out.

If you’re just not enjoying something, it is actually ok to stop. When the Fall comes around, I’m baling on Supergirl and Arrow is on double-secret probation. You don’t have to stick with something just to find out what the end is. Endings only matter is you give the proverbial rat’s ass for them. Sorry, Preacher, you don’t interest me any more.

Uncollected Thoughts: Preacher – s02 e01

This scene happens

As American Gods bows out after an enormously successful first season (of a planned three), it’s place on the weekly roster is taken by the return of Preacher, back for a second season, this time of thirteen episodes. How many seasons this would run to if given its head is not yet known: the graphic novel series ran to nine volumes and season 1 barely got us through issue 1, so we’ve a potentially long way to go yet.

And, if the opening episode is anything to go to, we’re going to take a bloody long time to do so.

The word bloody is, on this occasion, not merely operating as a somewhat crude intensifier but also as a pure adjective. Our trio of travelers, the Reverend Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), Tulip O’Hare (Ruth Negga) and Cassidy, the 119 year old Irish vampire (Joe Galgin) are on the road, speeding away from the now defunct Anneville, in Search of God.

Speeding is the operative word, as in 97 miles per hour, with not enough gas to outrun three sheriff’s cars. Our threesome are getting harrassed (and Cassidy toasted every time he leaves the shelter of Tulip’s umbrella) so Custer starts to piss around with the Sheriff and the deputies by using Genesis, the irresistible voice of power.

Until, from a very long way away, the Saint of Killers starts blowing chunks out of the lawboys, and I mean chunks.

It’s gory, it’s grisly, it’s funny and it’s frantic. But just like season 1, which was fine for its first half and then lost all momentum over the back five, as if it didn’t have enough story for ten episodes, maybe eight, or even seven-and-a-half, the pace fell off a cliff, until by the end, episode 1 was barely moving.

We got a visit to a Convenience Store whose owner was ordered to forget our trio were there so that when the Saint catches up and asks for the Preacher, his honest but lying denial that Jesse’s been there gets his tongue torn out of his mouth.

We got a star turn from guest star Glenn Morshower (who I’ve never seen be less than excellent) as fellow Preacher Mike, bible scholar, addiction-counsellor extraordinaire and a man prepared to stab himself in the heart to prevent the Saint of Killers getting Jesse’s whereabouts out of him.

We get a visit to a strip club that God’s been attending recently, not for the girls but because he’s into the jazz, where Cassidy gets their lead accidentally killed.

And we wind up at a motel where Jesse and Tulip finally shag each other’s brains out with Miss Negga taking her bra off, which is just so fucking staid and network TV that it set me off wondering for the millionth time why the Americans are so comfortable with violence and hinky about sex?

And the cliffhanger is the Saint moseying on down that road in his unhurried gait, and Jesse discovering that his magic weapon, his superpower, the unignorable voice just plain don’t work on a Saint who’s lifting his gun and pointing it…

I so want to like Preacher and it has so much going for it, so why does it have to be so slow and bloody empty so much of the time? Thirteen episodes, and on this evidence we’re going to be lucky to get enough story to fill out nine.

Please be faster next week. Please be better.

Preacher: season 1

What’s a nice girl like you doing in a show like this?

Practically everyone I know who’s watched this first season of Preacher (the show has been renewed for a thirteen episode second season) loves every minute of it, and every review I’ve read has been high in its praise. Very few of these people seem to be familiar with the Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon original series, so they have the freedom to approach it  without expectations and enjoy it solely in terms of what they see, without the shadow of the comic hovering behind them.

But I don’t think that’s necessarily why I have mixed feelings against the series. It hasn’t been faithful to the comic, not so much in what changes have been made to put it on screen, but rather in the sense that this entire season has been effectively a prequel. Season 1 ends in issue 1 of the comic, physically, though Jesse Custer’s determination to find God is essentially the outcome of the first Graphic Novel collection (of nine).

Preacher started very effectively, high action, pace, a roaring headlong leap into the world of Jesse Custer, with bravura performances from his future partners-in-crime, Tulip O’Hare (Ruth Negga) and Cassidy (Joe Gilgun). Gilgun in particular made a spectacular debut. It felt hot, it felt good, and it carried on in exactly that fashion through episode 2, which was also directed by the Executive Producers, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.

Episode 3 was slower, less kinetic. This seemed a wise decision at the time, can’t have everything at fever pitch all the time, the audience has to breathe some time. But, for me at least, the pace never picked up again. Everything moved so slowly, especially Dominic Cooper as Jesse, who became less believable as each week went by.

Sure, there was good stuff in every week, outrageously funny or bloody or, as was more often the case, both at once. But it was surrounded by long, slow, dull stretches in which nothing really happened and it took it’s time about it.

Given that the setting was a hot, flat, empty, sun-broiled section of Texas, the pace was appropriate to what life must be like, in the Deep South, especially for people who have so little to begin with. But it didn’t enthuse me, and slowly, as the episodes accumulated, my enthusiasm drained away. That Cassidy had progressively so little to do robbed the show of the imperturbable energy that Joe Gilgun brought to the part.

Having read the comic, I wasn’t surprised that the season ended by wiping Annville off the map, and with it poor Lucy Griffiths, who was given far too little to do in the part of Emily, which basically involved standing around, looking modestly pretty, with her mouth half-open in unspoken surprise at what was going on around her.

She had her moment last week, feeding Mayor Miles to Cassidy, and she provided the best moment in the final episode when, after sitting near-mute at the organ, all through God’s appearance to his creation, once the spell was broken and things began to descend into chaos, she started to smile and began playing something that resolved itself into Question Mark and The Mysterians’ “96 Tears”…

Oh yes, God. Jesse promised to call him down and using the Angelphone, he did just that. And what a fine, cliche-Christian God he was, white robes, long flowing white hair, Santa Claus beard, thundering voice, bethroned above us all. But a fake. God’s missing, run away, panic in Heaven. Oh shit.

So that piece locked into place to set up season 2, thanks for that. And Annville gets destroyed by a shit-explosion, a methane gas build-up that leveled the town, and poor Emily, Sheriff Hugo Root (a world away from the character in the comics) and evil ol’ Odin Quincannon, called forward from the seventh Graphic Novel in order to swell out the prequel, same as Arseface.

Look, I didn’t dislike the series. It was not, in any way, the travesty that calls itself Lucifer, and I will happily watch season 2 next summer, but please, please, speed it up a bit! Or, if you’re going to do thirteen episodes, please try to have thirteen episodes of great stuff to fill them with because the ultimate disappointment of season 1 was that it ran ten episodes but probably only had enough genuinely brilliant stuff for about six, and it showed far too clearly.

Uncollected Thoughts: Preacher s1e01

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.