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More comic book mayhem in AMC's bloody, soul-searching Preacher


Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) tries to curb his evil ways in Preacher. AMC photo

Premiering: Sunday, May 22nd at 9 p.m. (central) on AMC before resuming new episodes on Sunday, June 5th at 8 p.m.
Starring: Dominic Cooper, Ruth Negga, Joseph Gilgun, Lucy Griffiths, W. Earl Brown, Anatol Yusef, Tom Brooke, Derek Wilson, Ian Colletti
Produced by: Sam Catlin, Seth Rogen, Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, Evan Goldberg, Neal H. Moritz, James Weaver, Vivian Cannon, Ori Marmur, Jason Netter, Ken F. Levin

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Still indulging its post-Mad Men yen for blood-splattered serial storytelling, AMC ventures into the night Sunday with Preacher.

I’ve never read or seen any of the Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon comic books on which it’s based. But judging from the first four episode made available for review, substantial additions and subtractions are being made in terms of Preacher’s original “universe.” Thanks, Wikipedia. Otherwise, hard-core fans can sort it all out and react accordingly.

Sunday’s opener (with new episodes then resuming on the Sunday after Memorial Day weekend) literally begins in “OUTER SPACE,” which is spelled out in large block letters before Preacher starts veering sequentially to:

30,000 FEET UP

Something from on high is making various forms of preachers explode, including (according to a TV news report) Tom Cruise at the Church of Scientology. That alone forgives a lot of sins.

But Preacher’s main venue is the dusty little West Texas town of Annville, where Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) is trying to go straight as a minister who wears a clerical collar under a black shirt with silver-tipped collars. His All Saints Congregational Church has a constantly changing marquee. We’ll give away just the first one: “Open your ass and holes to Jesus.”

Jesse, now inhabited by a “mysterious entity” that makes him somewhat super-powered, was raised as the son of a rather crazed, but soft-spoken preacher man. Recurring black-and-white flashbacks fill in some of the blanks of little Jesse’s formative past. As a grown-up, he hooked up with bad girl Tulip O’Hare (spiffily played by Ruth Negga), with whom he’s tried to part ways. But she pursues him to West Texas and strives to convince Jesse that “we are who we are” -- and there’s no use in fighting it.

Preacher’s principal third character is a prototypically heavy-drinking Irishman known as Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun), who shows himself for what he really is during a furious fight sequence aboard a luxurious airliner. Cassidy then also makes his way to Annville, where he might easily be mistaken for the “Mayhem” man in those Allstate insurance commercials.

The violence in Preacher is no more graphic than that in AMC’s The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead or Into the Badlands. But an early demonstration is off-putting to say the least. Fully into her badass mode, Tulip kills and mutilates some unsavory looking guys in the presence of two little farm kids. “Awesome,” they twice exclaim, with the little girl gazing in full, enraptured admiration of her new heroine as Tulip drives off. Mind you, the kids were never threatened by her adversaries, so she wasn’t saving them from anything. Instead they’re innocent bystanders who in a sense learn at a very early age that real-life carnage is very cool, not frightening. Still not a good look for any TV series.

Besides Tulip and Cassidy, Annville’s encroachers include “government agents” DeBlanc and Fiore (Anatol Yusef, Tom Brooke). Sent from on high, they’re in hot but clumsy pursuit of Jesse, who possesses something within that they want him to do without. It’ll take a chainsaw to extricate whatever that is.

The incumbent Annville populace includes Sheriff Hugo Root (W. Earl Brown) and his badly deformed son, Eugene (Ian Colletti), also known as “Arseface.” The town bully, Donnie Schenk (Derek Wilson), also enjoys physically abusing his wife, who says she very much likes being on the receiving end and seems to really mean it. Again, many viewers might very justifiably take offense. This has nothing to do with political correctness, but everything to do with promoting violence as wholly pleasurable for both women and kids.

Trying to preside like a potentate is Odin Quinncannon (Jackie Earle Haley), rat-like owner of the town’s biggest employer, Quinncannon Meat & Power.

Annville does have one seemingly “normal” denizen, the widowed Emily Woodrow (Lucy Griffiths), who’s also the church’s organist and bookkeeper. She clearly has a strong liking for Jesse, but stays pretty much in the neutral zone during the first four episodes. Publicity materials, however, describe Emily as “harboring a whole lot of dark and debased desires.”

Episode 2, initially set in 1881, gets off to a fully original and novel start that serves as a very gruesome bridge back to present-day Annville. Hours 3 and 4 slow to a crawl at times, with Jesse still fighting off temptations while telling Cassidy, “I feels like there’s a big blender in my gut. And inside that blender there’s everything: love, hate, fire and ice . . . all God’s creation inside of me.”

Preacher’s first season will be 10 episodes. They can be thrillingly crazed at times, maddeningly off-putting at others. In other words, “a big blender” of a supernatural tale that sometimes is the equivalent of the godawful-looking drink Sheriff Root mixes for his son, whose portal only allows for sipping through a straw.

Verily, though, this also is a series that quotes the straight arrow wisdom of Tom Landry in the first sermon we get from Jesse. He can’t keep it on track, though. So his preaching falls apart while Preacher sometimes just barely manages to keep its overall story together. Even so, seeing how it all comes out in the bloody wash for now seems like a risk and an adventure worth taking.


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