Will this comic-to-screen adaptation succeed as well as ‘The Walking Dead’?
I spent a good chunk of time in high school reading the comic book “Preacher.” Since the story about a ne’er-do-well preacher suddenly possessed by a mysterious supernatural entity finished its run in 2000, there have been numerous attempts to translate it into another medium, none of them successful?—?until this year, when the “Preacher” TV show finally arrived on AMC. With the first season in the books, I’m left with two questions: For comic fans, was “Preacher” worth the wait? And for non-nerds who didn’t tune in, is “Preacher” the best show they’re not watching?
Let’s start with the comic fans.
Was “Preacher” worth the wait? The answer, once you get past the first four episodes and settle into the season, is yes. The show gives fans everything they’ve been waiting for and does so with a certain charm and quality that might not have existed before “The Walking Dead” became a smash hit. There are also some really nice tweaks made to the characters that make them pop a bit better than they did in the books. Tulip interacting with children, for example, is comedy gold.
Within the first four episodes, we’re introduced to The Grail, Odin Quincannon, Genesis, the Saint of Killers, the angels, Arseface and Cassidy. We also get allusions to Jesse’s murderous extended family. The show is drowning in comic-book references, and this is before we get to newer characters like Emily. (Don’t get me started on Emily. I was less than enthused with what happens to her and her family in the season finale.)
After episode four, “Preacher” settles down to reveal a pretty high-quality show grappling with the burden of a 16-year wait for its appearance. The acting is great and the writing is on par with what you’d see on “The Walking Dead.” Aside from a few things, like the ghost of John Wayne, everything that’s in the comic is on the screen. Everything.
That may sound like a minor point to non-comics readers, but there’s a rule when it comes to TV and film adaptations of comic books. If the adaptation steers too hard away from the comic, then the adaptation sucks. If the adaptation is faithful to the source material, then the adaptation has the potential to be pretty great. Here’s an example of what I mean: “Batman Returns,” “Batman Forever,” and “Batman & Robin” veer wildly from the source material, and the three are considered the worst of the Batman films. “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight,” and “The Dark Knight Rises” are considered the best of the Batman movies because, in some parts, they are literal shot-for-shot remakes of some of the best Batman comics ever printed. (“The Long Halloween,” “The Dark Knight Returns,” and “Batman: Year One,” in case you were wondering.)
But is “Preacher” the best show non-comic fans aren’t watching?
That question is a lot harder to answer. “Preacher” makes no bones about what it is: An insane and, in some cases, offensive spoof of organized religion and the American South. If viewers unfamiliar with the source material didn’t make it past the first four episodes, it’s easy to understand why. The show spent much of its first season bending over backward to please my fellow geeks, doing a disservice to those unfamiliar with the source material.
“Preacher” doesn’t take the time to onboard new, non-comics viewers in the same way that, say, the first episode of “The Walking Dead” did. (By the way, that first episode is also an almost shot-for-shot remake of the first issue of the comic.)
“Preacher” starts at 150 mph and only slows down for a commercial break. So if you’re a television viewer with little patience who needs some time to get to know the characters and the story before you invest in it, then the show is not worth your time. There appears to be zero interest at all in onboarding new viewers to the show. I thought the character of Emily would be an entry point. She’s the average, church-going resident of Annville, TX who gets sucked into Jesse, Cassidy and Tulip’s crazy world. But as the season goes on, she’s around less and less, until finally, she’s not around at all.
But. If you are patient, and you’re willing to fight your way through the first four episodes (into which the writers and producers crammed seven years of comics) there is something worth watching here.
The bottom line
The best way I’ve been able to describe the “Preacher” show to my non-comics friends is this: It’s crazy. Don’t think too much about it. If you’re not turned off by violence and sacrilegious content, it’s a completely fine summer show to watch when there’s nothing else on. Seriously. What else are you going to watch this summer? An awful season of “Ray Donovan” or the sixth season of “Suits,” which should have ended a long time ago? Your choices are limited.
Would I recommend watching “Preacher,” as opposed to other comic-book shows on TV? Truthfully, it does not hold up well to any of the CW’s DC Comics shows (“Supergirl,” “Legends of Tomorrow,” “Flash” and “Arrow”). Intentionally cheesy dialogue aside, those shows are fun and accessible to everyone. I will say, however, that “Preacher” is substantially better than “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”?—?but then again, most things are.
The bottom line: “Preacher” was worth the wait, and I’m optimistic for its future. Especially if its producers/writers can get some of the pacing issues under control and settle down a bit, as they seem to have done as the first season went on. But is it something non-comics fans should go out of their way to watch? Maybe?—?but only if there’s nothing else on.