Kate McCabe watched episode one of Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen and Sam Catlin’s small screen adaptation of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s ‘unadaptable’ comics series Preacher. Should they have left it be?
Adaptations will always look different when told in a new medium. That’s a truth that we fangirls and boys have to be ready to accept. No matter how much a comic book LOOKS exactly like a ready-made storyboard, the properties of films and television shows are unique. There are time constraints, ratings/box office, and the egos of studio/network execs to consider.
None of us have a choice in this matter. Despite the protestations of Alan Moore and the comic book purists of the world, it’s happening. Comic book properties are hot and they will continue to be mined by production companies for the foreseeable future.
For those of you unfamiliar with the source material, Preacher, the comic, written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by Steve Dillon, is one of those that’s often cited in top 10 lists, along with Sandman, The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen as having shifted the public perception of comics away from ‘kids’ stuff’ and into a more respectable artform which adults could read in public.
Preacher is the story of Jesse Custer, a small town Texas reverend trying to leave a violent past behind. He is endowed with a spectacular power and vows to hunt down God – who appears to have abandoned his creation. Along the way, Custer joins up with his ass-kicking ex-girlfriend Tulip O’Hare, Irish vampire Cassidy, and a kid called Arseface. Pretty epic. Think Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials as told by Quentin Tarantino.
Sometimes, adaptations are very good (Jessica Jones), sometimes they’re awful (Halle Berry’s Catwoman. Never forget), but by necessity they must deviate from the source. Game of Thrones, for instance, sort of HAD to start doing its own thing having run out of original source material. The series creators seem to be doing a spectacular job of vamping while George RR Martin, I don’t know, tries on new floppy hats?
Having considered all of this, I was prepared to view Preacher (available on Amazon Prime) on its own merits. The important question I was looking to answer: does this unique version hold up as its own thing? Is it good TV?
The answer after one episode? Too soon to tell. It’s no huge surprise that the pilot already deviates from the comics. We meet most of the biggest players in this first episode, whereas in the comics, some of these characters don’t materialise until much later.
That’s not the only difference. There’s the race-swapping of Tulip O’Hare (the aforementioned ex). Ruth Negga, though not blonde-haired and blue-eyed (who cares?) like her pen and ink original, embodies a charming assurance and bad-ass swagger. If anything, she delivers more oomph than the comic version. As the Irish vampire Cassidy, Joseph Gilgun is equally delightful.
Where I’m left slightly uneasy is with Dominic Cooper in the lead role. With his big warm eyes, he often comes across as a sweetly curious pug rather than a man who’s seen some shit and done some things. Colour me unsure.
Admittedly, I felt the same about Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead. I’ve grown past that now and fully embrace and accept Lincoln as our post-apocalyptic leader. So Cooper might grow on me. I reserve the right to change my mind.
The tone of the show may also, eventually, grow a bit closer to that of its source material. Though it does nail the red-blooded Western element of the books (killer soundtrack, btw), I found this pilot just ever so slightly more serious than I anticipated, and that’s despite the homemade bazooka scene. Perhaps we’ll see the sheer absurdity of the source material more comfortably integrated into the show as varying individuals direct different episodes.
I also felt that, at just over 60 minutes, the pilot ran a bit long. Considering that Preacher airs on commercial television in America, it was definitely super-sized. We probably could have waited to meet some of the players until later episodes and that may have kept it tighter.
Despite the misgivings mentioned above, I finished watching with the promise of potential intact. After all, the pilot is seldom the best episode of any show. Plus, I have fond memories of the comic and remember feeling like I was pretty darn cool for reading it. Then again, I felt the same way about feathering my hair at one point.
Would I even feel the same way if I read Preacher for the first time now? I don’t know. But, then again, it shouldn’t matter. This is the show, not the comic. It’s its own beast. I’ll give it a chance.
Kate is one half of the excellent podcast Strong Female Leads. Check it out.
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Kate McCabe is an American comic living in Manchester. When not gigging as a standup, she improvises with ComedySportz Manchester, and contributes to local TV and radio including The Gay Agenda on Fab Radio.