Born to preach

PREACHERReview by GARTH JONES

TELEVISION | PREACHER | MA

Critic Adam Marshall, writing for Christianity Today, characterises AMC Television’s adaptation of cult graphic novel Preacher as being part of the presently popular vanguard of superhero entertainment.

Reflecting upon these stories as miracle narratives in which good reliably triumphs over cosmic evil, Marshall characterises Preacher protagonist Rev Jesse Custer as a type of super (natural) hero: “… only this time, he’s toting a Bible and sporting a clerical collar.”

Set in the fictional Texas town of Annville, the series opens with Rev Custer (Dominic Cooper) experiencing a crisis of faith. Custer, a ‘doubting man’s pastor’, as Marshall puts it, tends to his errant flock but finds himself riddled with uncertainty.

Annville is a petri dish in which many of humanity’s lesser angels have taken root – the small town is riven by violence, bigotry and economic despair. As the series progresses, Custer is imbued with a heavenly power known as the Genesis force, which grants him the power of “The Word”, ostensibly the ability to have people do his bidding.

Tormented by a mysterious past (his late father was also a preacher) Custer resolves to use The Word in an effort to redeem his congregation and the town at large. This is where many of Preacher’s fascinating meditations on theological matters are engaged over the course of the show’s initial 10 episodes.

Preacher’s debut season navigates the darker urges of Custer’s parishioners, and also illustrates the clergyman’s own very human hubris, leading him to a crucial juncture in his own faith struggle. With his congregants continually reminding him of their selfishness and nihilism, Custer is filled with questions about his own place in Creation and decides to seek answers from God himself.

With a revelation coming late in the premiere season’s finale, Custer’s spiritual journey is physically manifested in a road trip. The preacher is joined by his resourceful ex-girlfriend Tulip (Ruth Negga) and the raucous Irish vampire Cassidy (Joe Gilgun) as he embarks on this literal quest to find God.

Created by Northern Irish writer Garth Ennis and English illustrator Steve Dillon in the mid-1990s, Preacher wrestles with themes of faith, morality, gender, and myths of the American frontier. The spiritual successor to Bonnie & Clyde, Wild At Heart and True Romance, Ennis and Dillon’s Southern Gothic comic book oddity has been transplanted in spirit to the small screen by comedians Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (This Is The End), with assistance from Breaking Bad producer Sam Catlin.

An enthusiastic, extremely contemporary genre mashup, Preacher is a subversive black comedy equally at home with ribald humour and relationship drama as it is earnest contemplation of mankind’s role in the universe.

As Christian Comic Book Society writer Daniel N. Gullotta points out in online journal Sequart “in the end… Preacher takes these theological ideas to their extremes. They are not meant to be taken literally or seriously. [Preacher] presents a deeply captivating critique of some of the most commonly held and accepted religious doctrines and ideas.”

Preacher certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – if you’ve seen the work of Quentin Tarantino you might have a good idea of what to expect – but, if you’re in the mood for an energetic, unique television experience that wrestles with big theological issues, this show will fit the bill.

It’s vulgar, it’s rude and it’s crude, but, at its heart, Preacher is about the quest for spiritual understanding and evolution in a cynical world. With a second season scheduled for 2017, our heroes’ journeys are just beginning – it will be fascinating to see where their inner quests lead them.

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