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.

Steve Dillon R.I.P.

There are currently two months and nine days left of this lousy year that has taken so many good people from us, whilst leaving Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage untouched, to name but three bastards who deserve never to have drawn breath on this Earth at all.

That impossibly long list now has added to it the name of Steve Dillon, English comic book artist, aged 54.

He’s not likely to mean much to anyone outside of those interested in comics, but those who enjoyed this summer’s TV adaptation of Preacher should have seen his name in the credits, because he co-created the comic with Garth Ennis, and drew every regular issue of the series.

I’m not going to pretend Steve Dillon was a favourite of mine. He didn’t draw in any kind of ornate manner, nor did he fill panels with detail, or create innovative layouts. Instead, he drew with a crisp, clean line, creating clear, concise imagery that conveyed the story without fuss, bother, or anything that spoke of ‘hey, isn’t Steve Dillon so fucking clever then?’ Compared to a lot of artists, that is fucking clever indeed.

I first learned of Steve Dillon when he was still a teenager, drawing the Steve Moore-written ‘Laser Eraser and Pressbutton’ series in the seminal magazine, Warrior. I have all copies of that run, with Dillon’s signature in red ink against his opening page in one issue. I met him at one of the Eighties’ UKCAC’s I attended, a quiet man with dark curly hair, cut short on his neck, wearing a long, dark grey coat. He was seven years younger than me, born the same year as my sister.

It is terribly wrong for someone like him to have died before me. He should have had far longer, should have been free to draw many more pages. Preacher will be his monument, and there is a new onus on its makers to make it even better, so as to stand as a memorial deserving of standing beside the comic he drew.

It should not have to be what we will remember of him. He should have had more time to produce more things that would force to think long and hard before we chose one above the others.


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.