It’s hard to imagine making psychic room for yet another comic book TV adaptation, after “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Supergirl,” “The Walking Dead,” “Gotham,” “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” and more.
Hey, tough luck, friends.
If you’re a fan of “Preacher,” the 1990s cult comic series by writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon, or if you’ve never even heard of it, you might want to try AMC’s energetic new TV adaptation. It’s an unusual piece of work that has real promise, not least of all because it is so unusual. “Preacher” is a western, but it’s not. It’s violent, but the violence is suffused with humor. It’s supernatural, but grounded in character. It’s dramatic and filled with questions of faith and sin, but it’s never morally simplistic like so many of other comic adaptations.
The show, which premieres Sunday at 10 p.m., is unique, but it’s hard to imagine it existing in such a visually and aurally striking form without the stylistic influence of Quentin Tarantino.
The story focuses primarily on Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), a preacher in the West Texas town of Annville who isn’t especially committed to the religious life. He has a checkered past, but he’s straining to live up to his father’s dying wishes. He’s a downbeat guy who is frustrated that peacefully tending to his flock isn’t helping anyone, in particular the family of an abusive husband and father. The town is depressed, and depressing; the show goes out of its way to show that to us, including the presence of a guy called Arseface (Ian Colletti), who shot himself, survived, and now looks like his name. He’s sweet and sensitive but lonely; people veer away from him because of his disfigurement. Arseface’s pathos is matched by that of another Annville man who’s obsessed by his domineering mother.
Wait, what’s this? An intergalactic being called Genesis is looking for a body to inhabit (Tom Cruise, alas, couldn’t handle it and spontaneously exploded). It lands in Jesse, who now has a magical power over others. How will he proceed, given his experience as an ineffective mortal preacher?
Meanwhile, two characters show up in Jesse’s life, both as extroverted and colorful as Jesse, with his deep internal conflict, is not. They form the show’s comic relief. Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) is an Irish drifter and drinker who, in the premiere, slashes and burns everyone on a private jet, jumps to earth, and lands safely. He is, as you can guess, a supernatural being, a vampire to be specific. Tulip (Ruth Negga) is Jesse’s spirited ex-girlfriend and a lover of bazookas — the guns, not the gum. These two put the exclamation points on the action, as they ride the chaos like seasoned experts.
Over the years, a number of efforts to adapt “Preacher” have failed, but Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Sam Catlin finally pulled it off. Certainly, “Preacher” is a risky niche product and not for everyone — but that’s what many said about “The Walking Dead,” AMC’s blockbuster hit. It’s the kind of in-your-face, blackly comic, and gruesome show that will either make you laugh out loud as it wildly cycles through its many genres, or make you dismiss it as over-baked supernatural bombast.
Starring Dominic Cooper, Ruth Negga, Joseph Gilgun, Lucy Griffiths, Jackie Earle Haley, W. Earl Brown, Ian Colletti. On AMC, Sunday at 10 p.m.