Everywhere you go on the internet Monday mornings, people are talking about Sunday night’s television. Mainly HBO’s Game of Thrones. Lest we forget another major geek adaptation also airs Sunday nights, and has been for the past month: AMC’s Preacher. So why are so few people are talking about it?
Sure there are a few recaps here and there, but where’s the water cooler talk? Where are the thinkpieces (besides this one)? The long, detailed discussions of similarities and differences with the source material? It almost feels like the show is airing in a vacuum, and that’s a disconcerting thought for a series with such a great pedigree, based on some immensely beloved source material.
The problems are hard to pin down, although premiering against arguably the best season of a mega-popular show like Thrones is certainly a factor. More importantly, though, this first season of Preacher has been struggling to find its voice. For comics fans, it’s strange that the show’s first season isn’t chronicling the comic as much as serving as a prequel to it. And if you haven’t read the comics, like most people, do you even really understand what’s going on? Or is it just a vampire, a criminal, and a preacher in a very strange town, all prone to fits of graphic violence?
Before Preacher started, showrunner Sam Catlin said the following:
“We want to [escalate things] step by step,” Catlin said. “Because I think if we just showed in the first episode, [angels] Deblanc and Fiore and Heaven and their floating space station with a hole in it... you sort of have to ratchet these things up. The idea of the show is like ‘Oh, you’re okay with vampires now? Oh what about this? What about this? What about this? So it’s sort of like putting a frog in bowl of boiling water or something. So by the time you look upon Satan, you’re like, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’”
That slow escalation has certainly been the case as we approach the halfway point of the first season. There have been teases to the major characters of the comic book (the Saint of Killers, Genesis, Arseface, etc) but, for the most part, it’s simply been about Jesse’s struggles to be a good guy—to be the Preacher of the title.
“You never see him being a preacher in the comics,” said executive producer Seth Rogen. “We were like, ‘It’s called Preacher, he’s dressed as a preacher the whole time, maybe you should see him being a preacher.’ When the comic starts he’s kind of done with it, basically. So we thought it would be good to show that that part of his life was like as well.”
In theory, that’s a great idea. But the good people aren’t particularly interesting on Preacher. The best characters so far are the lovable assassin Tulip, the crazy vampire Cassidy, and the cold Odin Quincannon, who ended the most recent episode with a jaw-dropping act of villainy. Jesse, in the meantime, spends his time and his new powers trying to save a town that is already abundantly not deserving of it. Mostly cause so few of the characters are standouts. His repeated attempts to do good feel repetitive at best, and meaningless at worst.
We know that the show will, eventually, see Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy hit the road to find God, because that’s where the comics start. But these first five episodes almost feel like they’re specifically delaying that inevitability. In reality they’re trying to give more context for what’s to come. Digging deeper with the characters so we’ll be more attached. But when the comic is essentially a road trip story, having the show stuck in this single town has brought Preacher, both literally and figuratively, to a standstill.
It also doesn’t help that whenever there’s a hint of something weird, the show treats it like a mistake. In the last episode alone there was the phone ringing from Heaven and the angels explaining Jesse’s power to him. Each scene was cut short just before it was about to get good. Other episodes have started, and ended, in the same ways with only ripples in the middle. That strategy will keep some viewers coming back for answers, but others will surely find it far more frustrating than intriguing.
There have been hints of the show we, the audience, think we want from Preacher. The plane flight in the pilot. The church fight in episode two. We know Preacher is possible but, the glacial pacing, the odd tone, the bizarre premise—it all adds up to a high-end, geek comic TV adaptation that almost no one is talking about. And despite the fact that Preacher was one of 2016's most anticipated new shows, as of right now, AMC has not renewed it for season two.
What makes this even more frustrating is that Rogen and Catlin, the people making the show, clearly get Preacher. If they can make it to season two, where Jesse’s journey and the comic begin in earnest, then it’s entirely possible the show will become the Game of Thrones, Walking Dead hit that everyone expected (and hoped for). Even now, as the show takes its sweet time, there are signs of the craziness, the grossness, and the wonderfulness that may be in store. Here’s hoping Preacher gets that chance to show us.