AMC’s upcoming adaptation of the comic book Preacher is an enormous risk, even in the wake of The Walking Dead. The zombie show’s an unequivocal success, which is surprising. This is, after all, a basic cable show that found an enormous audience by staging scenes of excruciatingly detailed gore populated by characters struggling with nihilism, despair, and rage. Preacher makes The Walking Dead look like a Dora the Explorer spin-off by comparison. Violent, perverse, and enormous in scale with a story that dips back to the beginning of Biblical time, Preacher is as likely to stir controversy as it is to find a Walking Dead-sized audience.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a preacher in Texas goes to work hungover one day and right when he’s about to lay into his flock with a fiery sermon, he’s forcibly possessed by the infant offspring of an angel and a demon. This ball of screaming fire and pure id with a baby’s face is called Genesis and it’s given the preacher Jesse Custer the word of God. When he speaks using Genesis’ power, all of existence has to obey. Jesse says eat a bowl of Cocoa Puffs covered with mayonnaise, that meal will still be nauseating but irresistible. Rather than establish a successful life coaching business, Jesse decides to aim his ambitions a little higher. Using Genesis, he decides that he’s going to hunt down God, creator of all things, and force him to explain to all humanity why the world is full of cruelty and pain.
After teaming up with his expert shootist ex-girlfriend Tulip and a mad Irish vampire named Cassidy, Jesse sets off on his quest. His journey pits him against a global conspiracy preserving the bloodline of Jesus of Nazareth, serial killers, sex detectives, the KKK, a horrifying evil version of the Dukes of Hazard, murderous goth kids, the forces of Heaven itself, and the Saint of Killers, an unstoppable cowboy death machine who killed the devil before crawling back out of Hell. It's like John Milton Got in a drunken fist fight with Quentin Tarantino.
Writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon are the creators of the original comic book which ran from 1995 to 2000 on DC’s Vertigo imprint, but as with The Walking Dead’s comic writer Robert Kirkman, they’re only acting as executive producers on the show. This adaptation was actually developed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg--the duo behind Superbad, This is the End, and many more of the last decade’s raunch comedies--as well as Sam Catlin, who worked as one of the writers and producers on AMC’s beloved Breaking Bad.
Given the confines of a television show’s budget, the Preacher television show is going to be wildly different than the comic by necessity. Unlike The Walking Dead or Breaking Bad, the story takes place all over the world and in many different time periods. While changes have been made, Ennis said after watching the pilot, “I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results.” How much the show departs from the comic is unclear, but given how many new characters there are cast for just the initial 10-episode season, fans of the source material should certainly brace themselves for change.
Dominic Cooper, most famous recently for stealing scenes in Captain America and Agent Carter as the smarmy but lovable Howard Stark, is playing the titular role as Jesse Custer. Brief appearances in an early trailer for the show demonstrate how Cooper’s Jesse is going to be a little quieter and more stoic compared to the sarcastic but deeply passionate cowboy in the comic.
Ruth Negga, another Marvel television alum who played Raina on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., is playing Jesse’s ex Tulip O’Hare. Her knowing-but-psychotic performance of Raina on that show actually makes her an excellent fit for Tulip, a character whose dislike of guns is as deep and potent as her skill in using them.
The third principal protagonist, the punk rock vampire Cassidy, is played by Joseph Gilgun. He played Rudy Wade on the BBC’s superhero dramedy Misfits and a supporting character in the charming B-fantasy The Last Witch Hunter. Cassidy is a character who’s both deeply charming and utterly terrifying, so Gilgun has a difficult role in front of him.
Other characters from early in the comic’s series cast for the first season include the awful racist Sheriff Hugo Root and his naive son Arseface (best not to spoil why he’s called that), and they’ll be played by W. Earl Brown and Ian Colletti respectively. Strangely, the Ku Klux Klan leader and deranged slaughterhouse owner, Odin Quincannon, played by Jackie Earl Hayley (Watchmen/Nightmare on Elm Street), will show up in the first season. This is odd considering he and his brother J.J. Quincannon, played by Lucas Neff (Raising Hope) don’t appear until the final third of the comic series.
There are also entirely new characters like Emily, played by Lucy Griffiths who was Nora on True Blood. Described in her casting announcement as “Jesse’s loyal right hand,” Emily doesn’t appear anywhere in the comic’s 60 main issues or any of its side series.
The release date
AMC has yet to confirm a release date for the debut episode other than mid-2016. With Fear the Walking Dead Season 2 starting on April 10, 2016 to fill the gap after The Walking Dead Season 6 wraps up, Preacher would easily fit into the summer weeks before The Walking Dead Season 7 starts up.
Images © 2016 Vertigo/DC Comics/AMC