I imagine one of the toughest tasks in Hollywood is adapting a story from print to screen. Especially if the source material is a cult favorite from decades ago. Especially if the material is ultra-violent, super dark, and likely to vex Christian zealots everywhere. Especially when the material comes from the twisted, brilliant mind of writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon. Especially when the source material is PREACHER.
Well, I’m here to say: I think AMC nailed it. At least, so far.
I think we as viewers sometimes obsess over the illusion of the “faithful adaptation.” This is bad business for many reasons, but mostly because it limits our ability to enjoy the story for what it is. This unfair expectation hinders our viewing experience and forces us to pick apart every single plot point, character nuance, and line of dialogue. Generally, adaptations make us draw comparisons to the source material, and we do so negatively. You’ve heard it before. Reviews that scream – “It would have been better if…” or “They did this differently” or—the ever popular—“They left this out completely!”
Yes, they probably did. And with good reason. Not everything you read or see on the page makes for good television or movie material. Sorry. It just doesn’t. That’s not to say there’s no such thing as a bad adaptation. There are many examples that come to mind, far too many to list here. I could write a whole novel on bad film adaptations, but that’s not what this post is about. This post is to celebrate an adaptation done right.
It’s to celebrate PREACHER.
As of this writing, the pilot episode just recently aired and we are relishing in the afterglow of a well-crafted hour and a half of television. And look, I know what you’re doing right now—leaning back in your seat, cracking open a crisp, refreshing Pabst Blue Ribbon, smiling, saying something like, “Tim, we’re only one episode in, man. Too early to get all warm and fuzzy about it,” and you wouldn’t be wrong to say such a thing. However, you also shouldn’t temper your optimism and I’ll explain why.
Here are a few tidbits from the pilot I think give us hope for a very engaging, fun, and loyal adaptation.
(BE WARNED, SPOILERS APLENTY FROM HERE ON OUT)
THE TONE – In my opinion, tone is the main ingredient for a successful adaptation, one that sometimes decides the difference between bad (DOOM, I AM LEGEND) and good (SIN CITY, V FOR VENDETTA). The comic series by Garth Ennis was dark, violent, and irreverent. It was hilarious and often serious. Bloody and beautiful. It contained romance and serial killers. It upped the comic book game. It didn’t just cross lines, it stampeded over them. Now, Ennis’s humor is probably too spicy for cable television and they won’t be able to include every single Ennis-ism, but there was enough in the pilot to suggest at least SOME of the original writer’s charm will be sprinkled throughout the show, and that they’re willing to push boundaries. Let’s not forget, producer/director Seth Rogen is no choir boy himself; the vulgar vandalism on the church’s welcoming sign hints we’ll get a dose of the crudeness we loved from the graphic novels.
One of my reservations about the show going into Sunday were the names Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Of course, I loved Superbad and enjoyed This is the End, but neither of those were in the same ballpark as Preacher and I wasn’t confident they could pull it off.
I was wrong, so very wrong.
The script was tight, the characterization stayed (for the most part) loyal, and the episode flew by, leaving me wanting more. It accomplished everything a pilot should, while keeping the dark, modern-western tone of the comic it was based on.
THE ACTING – Except for Joseph Gilgun as Cassidy, none of the characters visually resembled their illustrated counterparts, which is perfectly fine. Some racist Dark Tower fans might disagree, but the fact is, appearance doesn’t matter. What matters? Actors and their portrayal and their interpretation.
Of the main trio, I like Gilgun as Cassidy best. He was always my favorite character from the comics, perhaps the most complex protagonist in the bunch. I’m not sure where they’re going with the whole “Secret Vampire Hunting Club” plot set up in the pilot, but it offers a cool, different way to explore Cassidy’s character. And while some Preacher purists might call shenanigans because that wasn’t in the original comics, I say boo-hoo. It’s intriguing and I’m glad they are heading in that direction. As long as they stay true to the character, I’m all for new and exciting storylines.
I never watched Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, so I’m unfamiliar with Ruth Negga’s work (I hear she’s the goods), but she pulled off a pretty good version of Tulip O’Hare. The character is more badass in the show than the comics, making rocket launchers from empty bean cans, but it fits with the story being told here. They seemed to have altered her backstory significantly, as well as her past relationship with Jesse Custer, although very little is known after just one episode. Again, all forgiven in my book because it makes sense, serves the story, and leaves the audience (fans of the comic and newcomers alike) wanting to know more. Plus, her character still carries over the same feminist themes, something necessary for her arc.
Dominic Cooper is another actor I knew very little about heading in, other than his portrayal of Howard Stark in the Marvel universe. Again, the televised version of Jesse Custer is different; although there are major changes in the plot and they jumbled the order of when things happen, as a fan it never took me out of the character. Again, not sure what’s up with the backstory, but it seems like his past is a bit darker, which I like and makes more sense considering the flashbacks with Papa Custer and his relationship with Tulip. Also, I’m eager to see how they portray Genesis and just how much of the powerful entity they explain.
Cooper’s Custer is much like Ennis’s in that he’s not the aggressor, until pushed to a point where he has to revert back to his savage roots – and that’s when all hell breaks loose. Cooper brings Custer to life in a way I didn’t think was possible judging from the trailer and other early footage. Two Buddy Christ thumbs up for his performance.
THE STORY – I’ll say it again: we can’t have a panel-by-panel, shot-for-shot adaptation of the comic, we just can’t. It won’t work. What we can have is a version that stays loyal to the overall story and the characters Garth Ennis and Steve Dillion inked for us in the mid-90s. After watching the pilot, I must say, I believe AMC will deliver. I’m sure it will vary and occasionally stray from the source material, much like The Walking Dead, but unlike TWD, Preacher has an end, something to strive for. An overall goal for our characters to achieve. Like, an actual plot. They won’t spend seven seasons merely surviving, fighting the same villains over and over again, and not doing much of anything (sorry, TWD fans – it’s the truth and you know it).
Okay, <deep breaths> I’m almost done.
I hate getting this excited for a show, especially after a pilot that exceeded my expectations. I keep telling myself it’s only one episode and I’m setting myself up for a let down of epic proportions. However, it’s worth noting AMC’s record. They’re juggernauts in scripted programming. Almost every show is a hit. That said, I don’t think I’m alone in the hype. And yes, I’m aware of how ridiculously excited I am, and I don’t care.
In all, Preacher is here. Sundays are holy again.