SXSW Review: PREACHER

AMC's adaptation of the Vertigo comic gets it very, very right.

Yesterday Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Breaking Bad's Sam Catlin brought the pilot of AMC's Preacher to SXSW, and the first episode is a complete success. The plot is in no way a strict retelling of the first book of the series, and while that may alienate purists, it's the right move. The show feels like a show, not a slavish adaptation of a comic book. But tonally, visually, thematically, and through the characters and dialogue, Preacher feels exactly right. 

Catlin also said that if there are set pieces or characters we were expecting in the first episode but didn't see, to be patient. The first season will have ten episodes, and the show is pacing itself wisely, rather than over-stuffing the first episode to massage fan expectations. The pilot goes to Russia, outer space and Africa, but we're going to spend a lot of time in the small Texas town of Annville. There we meet the Preacher Jesse Custer, his cheerfully violent ex-girlfriend Tulip O'Hare, a hard-drinking Irish vampire named Cassidy, a mean-spirited Sheriff Hugo Root, and his arse-faced son Eugene, disfigured after a suicide attempt. 

The casting is, to a person, perfect. Dominic Cooper is conflicted and soulful as Jesse, a mighty presence even before he's possessed by an as-yet unknown power. Ian Colletti is so sweetly believable as Eugene, bringing a welcome humanity to the bleakness of the series. Ruth Negga and Joe Gilgun are the clear crowd-pleasers as Tulip and Cassidy. They're both unhinged and happily batshit, and their respective fight scenes elicited cheers and whoops from the audience.

The fight scenes in this thing are incredible. Cassidy and Tulip are each introduced in the midst of shocking, beautifully choreographed violence, but we're asked to wait some time before Jesse's own bar fight. We watch him mete kindness in response to hatred, respond with patience to antagonism, so when he finally loses his cool and starts throwing punches, it's extremely satisfying. For us, for an impressed Cassidy, who decides to align his own fate with this chair-breaking preacher, and especially for Jesse, whose face breaks open into a vast smile mid-brawl, finally looking at ease with himself in a way he never did behind the pulpit.

Preacher looks gorgeous, with wide, expansive shots of dusty Texas horizon. Annville looks and feels like real small town Texas, an idea often manufactured but rarely sold in television or film. It's stylish, with clever edits and enormous location title cards that make a big impact. It's darkly but indisputably funny, though Catlin claims our audience's hearty laughter means we're all demented, and he's probably not wrong, at that.

It's thrilling and smart and utterly fearless. It's Preacher, exactly the adaptation all but the most OCD fans should celebrate. The pilot airs May 29, and there's no way I'm not going to follow it to the end.

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