Whiskey-swilling, dark-haired protagonists with deeply buried hearts of gold work best, apparently, when paired with vampires and vague exploration of the afterlife. AMC’s Preacher, developed from Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s comic series, isn’t an exception to that rule by any means, but it’s sure as hell doing a better job at presenting a gritty, supernatural television series than its contemporaries.
In comparison to Preacher, which just started its second season, is The CW’s long-running and comparatively tame Supernatural, a, uh, supernatural drama series that recently wrapped up Season 12. Supernatural has a cult following so massive, dedicated, and, often, antagonistic that it’s known amongst frequent internet dwellers as a war zone of sorts. But it used to be much more gritty, and a large part of the fandom has dropped the series in the past few years.
Those of you feeling frustrated should hop on the Preacher bandwagon.
To be fair, “gritty” is a horrible adjective used by writers as a catch-all, a way to talk about shows or movies with dark overtones featuring calloused characters who quip at each other and deflect instead of talking about their problems. And Supernatural, first created by Eric Kripke in 2005 and currently staring down the barrel of its 13th season, is an easy target. The misadventures of brothers Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles), trained from childhood by their revenge-driven father to hunt demons and other supernatural creatures, have strayed far from their original premise.
At one point, Supernatural’s story made sense, and the characters hadn’t become so formulaic that they delved into caricature territory. Parts of the long-suffering fandom hold on, hopelessly devoted to the Winchesters’ drawn-out cause and a complicated angel of the Lord named Castiel (Misha Collins), but it’s gotten so lost that the rest of its fans have given up clinging to their once-revered show (harsh, but true).
Just because Supernatural might be bunk, that doesn’t mean there’s not something else out there to satisfy fans’ craving for complicated, liquor-soaked heroes with dark pasts, agendas, and a concerningly casual reaction to supernatural beings.
Enter: the vaguely sexualized, blood-soaked, overtly masculine Americana culture of AMC’s Preacher, developed from Ennis and Dillon’s comic series of the same name by Sam Catlin, Evan Goldberg, and Seth Rogen. Preacher is a shameless romp through the dust-laden streets of a small town in Texas, where the local preacher, Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper; Captain America: The First Avenger, Agent Carter), is a known miscreant.
Ruggedly handsome men are apparently made all the more so when they’ve made their shitty fathers promises they can’t keep; eerily following in Supernatural’s footsteps, Jesse has some daddy issues. But rather than swearing to avenge his mother’s death like Sam and Dean, Jesse has promised his father (the town’s former preacher) that he would try his best to be a good person. That promise turns out to be harder to keep than expected when a screaming ball of light descends from the heavens and chooses Jesse to manifest in.
Season 1 of Preacher jumps into the narrative at the beginning of Jesse’s attempts to be a better person. He’s taken over his father’s former church in his hometown and assumed the preacher moniker. But shaking his past isn’t a simple thing, and that ball of light, known as Genesis, doesn’t help matters much. It gives him a strange power to manipulate others to his will, an ability that goes over just about as well as you would expect. He’s the Sam.
Tulip O’Hare (Ruth Negga; Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Warcraft: The Beginning) is Jesse’s ex and life-long friend. She drives a classic muscle car, wears a lot of leather jackets, and wants revenge on a former ally of hers and Jesse’s who screwed them over during a robbery. She’s the stereotypical tough girl, using her rough exterior to hide a lot of pain. She’s the Dean.
Rounding out the main trio is Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun; Misfits, Pride), a 119-year-old vampire from Dublin city with several drug addictions, an attachment to Jesse, and a torch for Tulip. He’s the Castiel — he just so happens to to be Irish and swears a lot. Oh, and there’s no trench coat.
Season 2 of Preacher premiered on Sunday, putting a real start to Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy’s mission to find God and figure out what’s going on in the world. One character is in hell, a lot of people are dead, and the fate of Genesis is up in the air, even as the angels and a hell-dwelling cowboy are coming after it. Yes, it’s a lot, but it’s also delightful. And, somehow, still less confusing than Supernatural’s recent stream-of-consciousness plots.