A little more than halfway into the pilot for Preacher, AMC’s new show based on the DC/Vertigo comics about the cursed, rough-neck minister Jesse Custer (played by Marvel’s Agent Carter alum Dominic Cooper), there’s a moment of suspense typical of most horror movies. What’s behind the door? the viewer asks as Jesse slowly approaches an attic door, a low cue indicating something ominous. What could be behind the door that might scare viewers? In 2016, pretty much nothing, so Preacher has a teenager with a butthole for a face. When he opens the door, this bro hugs our hero with ‘90s rap booming in his room.
The moment is just one of many pranks Preacher pulls to great effect, The juxtaposition of the absurd and the macabre is the recipe for black comedies, but so few TV shows and movies have done that well. Preacher succeeds at it almost naturally: Drunk hometown boys beat up a politically correct mascot, a guy rips his heart out for his mother, and religious figures — including Tom Cruise, in an off-screen report — explode like bloody balloons. Preacher is dark, and darkly funny — in the boundless landscape of the so-called Golden Age of TV, black comedies have been rare, which makes Preacher something like a revelation.
Loosely based on Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s ‘90s comic book cult hit Preacher from DC Comics’ adult imprint Vertigo (which published Watchmen and V for Vendetta) and produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, Preacher follows Jesse Custer, a minister with a shady past failing to engage with his small Texas parish. A mysterious, worldwide supernatural phenomenon finds itself in Annville and (quite literally) in Jesse, with two mysterious agents hot on its trail. The pilot doesn’t get that far, but eventually Jesse embarks on a far-reaching journey to find God, so to speak.
As summer begins to warm up in real life and on television, Preacher premieres and immediately sets itself apart as among the most subversive, and refreshing, entries within “genre TV.” Though it makes plenty of missteps and there will be those who find its tonal inconsistencies off-putting, Preacher has the potential to be a real breakthrough success, only the likes of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones have achieved.
One major misstep is the “Pilot”. It’s all set-up with little pay-off. The notion that the Christian God is a real character is not quite solidified even though it’s the log line for the show. The episode takes its time to introduce its auxiliary characters, like the Irish punk vampire Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) and the resourceful, intuitive Tulip (Ruth Negga, also a Marvel alum), who happens to be Jesse’s ex. Though there’s character development throughout the episode, it’s tough to tell where these paths are leading.
Between Cassidy’s drastic introduction and the worldwide phenomenon (minor spoilers: It’s called Genesis) indicating a wider scope than the Texas town Jesse inhabits, Preacher hits the ground running with a tone many may not consider appealing. I do, but in one hour you get: Teenagers with messed up faces like a horror movie, vampires who know cinematic martial arts, cool boss ladies with mob entanglements and builds a bazooka out of soup cans, and a supernatural phenomenon terrorizing the world. It’s a lot to take in, and Preacher balances these disparate elements well. But there will be many who won’t find these polarizing elements working in tandem a good time.
But, boy, is it funny. Rogen and Goldberg’s stoner-comedy sensibilities sneak their way into Preacher in a way that isn’t overt, and the winning tone is one TV is so desperately hungry for. There are many wild genres to find in 2016’s offerings, but there is nothing like Preacher’s stone-faced punchlines and gruesome jokes. None of it is mean-spirited either (aside from maybe the Tom Cruise jab), as Jesse’s genuinely good heart and noble intentions anchor the show’s moral compass.
So while there is a teen with a butthole for a mouth, he’s a good kid and Jesse’s grounded center solidifies him as a reputable guide. He’s not perfect, certainly — at one point Jesse breaks an abusive husband’s forearm bone making it protrude out of his skin — but his journey of change will be one worth taking.