There’s never been much quite like Preacher on TV, and in many ways, that’s much of what makes the show so wonderfully entertaining. For all of its flaws – and it definitely has some – there’s an unpredictability to Preacher, a willingness to go where other shows wouldn’t, to move in unexpected directions, and to deliver material in ways that no one else is doing. And while not everything works, there’s something refreshing and exciting about a show that feels so inventive and weird. Does it all work? Oh, God, no. But at least it’s trying. And when it works, it works like gangbusters.
Now, it’s worth nothing that I’ve never read the comic series on which Preacher is based. I’m well aware of it, and indeed, I have the first volume waiting at home to read when I get to it. So I can’t tell you how Preacher does or doesn’t measure up to its source material (apart from the general online feeling that it’s loyal to the spirit of the comics while telling its own story). All I can do is try to convey the gloriously bonkers world that Preacher creates, and the ideas that it’s playing with.
Set in a small Texas town, Preacher revolves around Jesse Custer, who’s struggling to keep his father’s church alive. Mind you, this is Jesse’s second career, something we learn about as we meet Tulip (played spectacularly by Ruth Negga), who knew Jesse in his, shall we say, wilder days. But Jesse is doing his best to walk the straight and narrow, and turn his back on his violent ways. And that works…until two events shake that up: the arrival of Irish vampire Cassidy, and the night when Jesse suddenly gains powers that allow him to control other people.
That’s about as much as you should know about Preacher going in – indeed, it’s about all you may ever get a sense of, other than the fact that the show explodes outward from there, dealing with explorations of guilt over past sins, questions of faith and religion in the face of an awful world, issues of evil, examinations of cruelty, and so much more. How that ends up involving a meat magnate (Jackie Earle Haley) who seems to worship “the God of Meat”, a stern local sheriff, a church secretary having an affair with the mayor, two traveling representatives of Heaven, and more…well, you’ll see. More or less.
The thing is, Preacher flies by the seat of its pants, with an eagerness to deliver insane moments…and sometimes, they don’t work. But more often than not, the show is gleefully, infectiously entertaining, delivering some of the greatest, funniest moments I’ve seen on TV this year, and using its low budget as an asset – I’m thinking here of the off-screen battle witnessed by two children, or a glorious battle in a hotel that’s between only a few actors, and only glimpsed in brief bursts. Add to that a few times when the show is allowed to go all out – a chainsaw fight! – and it’s hard not to have a blast watching the show when it’s allowed to go all out. And if you doubt that, look no further than the finale, which delivers one of the most gutsy, jaw-dropping storylines I’ve seen a TV series attempt, and does it remarkably well.
In the smaller points, though, sometimes the show doesn’t work as well as it needs to. There’s a bit of a heel turn by one character late in the series that comes out of nowhere, making you really question whether that character would be capable of such cruelty. And Jesse himself is an odd beast, sometimes seeming like a compassionate preacher who cares about his flock, and other times being so callous as to be jarring (this is a big issue in the finale, in which Jesse unleashes something massive, and then just walks away in such a jarring way that it’s almost distracting). And, ultimately, there’s the fact that, without spoiling anything, much of the first season feels like a setup for the show to come – like we’ve been watching a long prologue, and that for many of the episodes so far, we’ve been wasting our time.
And yet, I’m more excited about the second season of Preacher, mainly because I watched the show find a bit of a stride as it’s gone along, and because it seems to be discarding the weakest elements of the show. I’m excited because it’s a show that seems to be finding itself, and correcting as it goes. And I’m excited because, even with its flaws, there’s nothing quite like it out there, and I enjoyed what I saw a ton. Preacher is an odd beast, and an uneven one, but it’s also a ton of fun, and surprisingly heartfelt with its feelings about religion and faith in a horrific world. And I’m eager to see where those feelings lead us.