Adapting a comic like Preacher to film or television would have been a tough, possibly thankless job, assuming anyone actually did it at all. Planned adaptations came and went, DC Comics meandered over the rights with various planned versions falling by the wayside over the last two decades, but it eventually turned up on television thanks to the unlikely figure of Seth Rogan, who along with Evan Goldberg and show runner Sam Catlin (who’d previously worked on Breaking Bad), managed to finally bring Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s creation to the small screen. The first season has now ended, so how did it do?
Firstly, it did the smart thing for a TV adaptation on a limited budget by not being a literally faithful adaptation. That would have cost vastly more than whatever the budget was for this 10-part first series. By keeping the first year rooted in one location (the fictional Texas town of Annville) costs were kept down, plus it’d slowed down the adaptation which meant we’d get to know the main trio of the preacher himself, Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), his girlfriend Tulip (Ruth Negga) and Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun best known until now for his parts in Emmerdale and This is England) before throwing us all in at the deep end as the comic does. The comic does start at a ridiculous speed – because that’s what comics are good at – but doing that with television won’t always work and it wouldn’t have with a cult title like Preacher (which doesn’t have the recognition of the spandex clad heroes of Marvel or DC).
So in effect it became a prologue to the comic, while drawing on the various spin-offs and backstory Ennis and Dillon did to fill out ten episodes. So the Saint of Killers mini-series was faithfully adapted, as were several other specials – not to mention the Odin Quinncannon character was brought forward in chronology from the comics to this stage to help introduce a sort-of villain for Jesse to go up against. Plus the basic idea of a trio made up of a preacher imbued with the power of God, a hit-woman and an Irish vampire tracking down God in a road-trip across America isn’t the sort of thing audiences used to endless NCIS repeats are going to swallow easily.
Secondly it bled in the violence and black humour bitby bit. In the comic Ennis and Dillon punch you in the face with it from the first issue; here the decision to introduce more and more of it helped adjust viewers into the mindset of the series, which is still very firmly from the mind of Garth Ennis.
Part of the problem with this approach was much of this first season meanders, especially if you’re familiar with the comic. We know Jesse is going to end up in a certain place by the end of the first season otherwise there’s no second season, which meant too many incidents of Jesse being a wanker for no other reason that it’ll help spin out the episode by getting Jesse caught up in something entirely avoidable. Much of the middle of the season has whole chunks of episodes which feel like padding and that’s because they probably are.
However by the time it gets to the final three episodes, Preacher is getting somewhere. Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy feel like the comic characters come to life; the television version of the Saint of Killers are every bit as fearsome as the comic version., and the extreme, mentalist violence is there too. As is the comedy, which veers from slapstick, to black satire worthy of Chris Morris and some nice Pythonesque touches, especially in the last episode when Jesse calls God…
The last episode may well feel understated compared to the build up, but what this season has done is spread out the lunacy over ten episodes, and it’s essential to understand the basics before kicking on (hopefully) in future seasons. After all the first season of Breaking Bad is restrained and muted compared to its final season. By the end of this first season we know exactly what Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy are going to do, who is after them and that there’s something much, much bigger than small towns in Texas coming up. The groundwork has now been done, what would be a shame is if the second season decided to play it slow which I hope it doesn’t. People are ready, let the real fun begin.