I read Preacher when it first came out in the late 90’s and revisit the trades again every few years, and it was with equal parts anticipation and apprehension that I sat down to watch the first episode. I expected massive changes to the original story since there is so much material and so many things that I can’t imagine ever being put on screen, but had no idea how they could do what would be required to air it on basic cable and still have it be Preacher. So I started out rooting for a success, dreading a failure, and extremely curious to see what they can get away with.
The comics begin with a catastrophic event in a small Texas town that sets the main characters in motion, encountering a variety of memorable characters as they travel. The show seems like it will be centered in the same town, at least at first, but with many of the minor characters already present and some of them having known the Preacher for some time. The situation reminds me a little bit of the recent Star Trek reboot, keep the characters but change the initial conditions and tell a different story about how they all get together. The show is not trying to imitate the comic visually and it’s hard to say how exactly the plot will match up. In fact, I can’t think of a single scene from the pilot that happened the same way in the comic. But for me, the strongest element of the comics and what I think will ultimately determine the success of the adaptation is not the story but the main characters, what motivates them, how they react to what happens and how our understanding of them grows as we learn about their past. Basically, as a fan of the books, I am fine (to a point) with changes in the story as long as I feel that am watching the same people.
The show handles Jesse Custer the most differently. The first time we see him he is dragging himself out of bed, in what seems to be a morning ritual, to take a hungover walk to fix the letters on the church’s sign. Sisyphus by way of Basil Fawlty. We see him doubtful, disillusioned, and haunted by his past. We see his sense that something is wrong and his reaction to Eugene voicing the same concern, that there is an new emptiness on the other side when they pray. Jesse’s father was not a preacher in the books, had no connection to Annville, and the notion that Jesse might continue his father’s work is all new. This works to give us more of connection with Jesse than I remember from the books, and I expect his motivation might be different as well. The episode ends with him changed, but not understanding how, and delivering a speech that starts hesitantly, becomes inspiring, and then ends on a disturbing note due to the unexpected bit of horror we are shown before the close. My wife, who has never looked at the comics, asked me afterwards, “Is the preacher good or bad?”
Tulip and Cassidy’s introductions were safer but really well done. This Tulip is a more hardcore version than we saw early in the book but I can easily see this being the same person if circumstances were a bit different. (The scenes with her and the children were my favorite so far, and showing her big battle through the reactions and experience of the kids in the cellar was a cleverly done bit of budget-saving.) Cassidy’s opening scene was great as well. I find it interesting that the show took extra time to establish Jesse, but accelerated things for Tulip and Cassidy.
We learn what Cassidy is in a few minutes, and there’s an element of irony since the audience knows before the other characters. The comic dragged this out a bit, and we figure it out when Jesse and Tulip do. For both actors I expect the harder work is in the future but so far they’ve been perfect and the casting brilliant. Some other characters have been toned down, like Sherriff Root, and some are completely new, like Emily and possibly whoever Cassidy was talking to on the phone.
The retro sci-fi sequence that opens the show came out of left field, but I actually liked it a lot. I’m also enjoying all the small touches, the way the mysterious duo dresses for each locale as they track down the entity, the medieval weapons on the plane. I also had to laugh at the notion that a dog would be susceptible to the word of god, it being somewhat established in the comic that cats are immune. And despite all the differences, there are many small nods to things in the comics for the fans to smile at, here’s a few:
- The African preacher’s white pants
- subtitles, mainly unneeded, for Eugene
- Cassidy’s penchant for leaving behind a nasty odor after a “nip to the bog”
- Cassidy putting on the pilot’s sunglasses
- Tulip reciting her full name (though the name is new for the show I believe)
- The name of the whiskey and the portrait on the bottle
- Tulip referring to Jesse’s haircut
- Cassidy being referred to as “abomination”
Altogether, I have the impression that the creators are saying, “We know it’s different, we get why you may be concerned. But we love the original story too, we’re going to have fun and we won’t let you down.” Me, I’m more hopeful now based on what I’ve seen so far, still worried since the trickiest parts are still to come, even more curious to see what they’ll be able to put in, but now with a sizeable chunk of cautious optimism added to the mix.
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