AMC's 'Preacher' delivers an unexpectedly stylish and gleefully violent pilot episode

preacher

Photo via AMC (Licensed)

AMC's 'Preacher' is fun as hell, and essential viewing for fans of the comic.

With Supernatural renewed for a 12th season, Constantine canceled after one, and American Gods on its way, Preacher needs to stand out from the crowd of religious horror shows. Luckily, it really, really does.

Adapted for AMC by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg from the cult DC/Vertigo comic, Dominic Cooper stars as small town preacher Jesse Custer, a Johnny Cash lookalike with fantastic hair, an aura of lazily tamped-down violence, and a reasonably convincing Texas accent.

Preacher's trailers frame it as a modern-day Western with a gritty, hard-drinking antihero, but that's only half accurate. The show itself is a great deal funnier and more original than expected, avoiding the "explain everything in the pilot" clichés of, say, Constantine

While we know from the comics that Preacher is all about Custer gaining the powers of a supernatural entity known as Genesis, the first episode wisely takes its time and focuses on introducing the main characters. And oh boy, do they all get great introductions.

Along with a supporting cast of offbeat locals from Custer's congregation, Preacher also stars Ruth Negga (Misfits, Agents of SHIELD) as Custer's criminal ex-girlfriend Tulip, and Joe Gilgun (Misfits) as Irish vampire Cassidy. While Custer's role is more of a slow burn, Tulip and Cassidy each burst onto the scene in a shower of gleefully crass violent.

Instantly charming, they also benefit from feeling like they're the stars of their own stories: Cassidy as the irreverent protagonist of an ultraviolent Edgar Wright comedy, and Tulip as a Quentin Tarantino-esque badass, throwing roguish winks over her sunglasses in between biting off people's ears. (There are a lot of excellent sunglasses in this show, by the way.) Meanwhile, Custer is lodged firmly in the Southern Gothic genre, wavering between his sad-sack existence as an untalented preacher and his natural tendency toward kicking ass.

Preacher's premise could easily have been a douchefest, especially given the overabundance of TV shows about morally ambiguous antiheroes with daddy issues. Instead it's stylish as hell, buoyed up by an undercurrent of sly wit and gallows humor absurdity.

Steve Dillon's art is a little too grotesque to adapt directly from the comics, but the show still has a distinctive visual style—not necessarily something you'd expect from a duo of stoner comedy directors. Highlights from the pilot include a swift cut between a falling body and a splat of ketchup and a crisp aerial shot of a car plowing through a cornfield, but basically everything looks great, right down to the location choices and Tulip's costumes.

If the pilot is this good, we can't wait for the rest of the season. You can see the first episode on AMC on Sunday, May 22, at 10pm ET. 

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