I waited to publish a full review of AMC’s Preacher until the first season was finished, and I don’t regret it. After watching the series through three full times I can say, with confidence, that this show operated as a definitive guide on how to adapt a comic book.
It Makes Significant Changes to the Source Material
That being said, it was a adaptation that took a calculated risk of throwing the key elements of the Preacher comic in a blender and shook them up so that fans of the comics could hardly recognize it. The characters are there in all their glory, but it doesn’t begin to cross into the first pages of the comic until the very end of the season. This is the opposite approach of most adaptations these days, where say (like AMC’s other comic book adaptation, The Walking Dead) they almost do a shot for shot adaptation while mixing up some key scenes (like character deaths). In many ways those adaptations fail to capture the spirit of the comics by merely homaging them and then make silly story telling decision by mixing up key deaths and story points as a way to keep things interesting for fans of the comics. On both points it tends to make the intervening meat of the series boring for fans while upsetting purists (and sometimes good story form) by not staying true to the key moments.
This however, works in Preacher because they keep the core of the characters, and the fantastic art direction and style of the comics while providing a whole new prologue for the original comics. It provides us a real origin story for all the characters.
It’s a Tonal Masterpiece
In many regards, most series fail to establish a solid atmosphere. You can understand that Friends is a comedy and that Game of Thrones is a brooding, violent melodrama, but it’s incredibly hard to create the moody, dark, and irreverent tone of Preacher and not come off as amateurish, too Tim Burtony, or unserious. Just recently I can point to Suicide Squad as an example of a movie that tries, and fails, to create that tone. Preacher manages to maintain this through varying levels of hyper-realistic violence, absurdist dark comedy, taking fantastical elements at face value, and through very inventive camera work and color scheme. The series just carries this atmosphere like walking into a hot sauna. It permeates every level of the show and never relents. Even series that were inspired by the original comic shift violently in tone as their series progressed (Looking at you Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
The Series Stays Weird
If you’ve read any of Garth Ennis’s writings, you know that his comics get pretty weird and are very much comic book stories. They’re not grounded in reality, but a hyper reality. It seems real until you realized one of the characters is a irish vampire that really hates The Big Lebowski. It actually hard to undersell the influence of the source material in a ton of other works, like Supernatural, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So, in some regard the series doesn’t feel as original as it should because we’ve seen this schtick before, but the series amps up the weirdness — and is unapologetic about it — while at the same time proposing super hard hitting questions around faith, belief in God, the supernatural, and if there really is such a thing as morality. Its this combination of the fantastical with the darkness of life that makes the series such a dense thing to swallow. Now we will be delving into spoiler territory.
I’m Not Happy with the Finale
The series did a fantastic job developing the minor characters. The main three, Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy, are hard not to love, but making me invested in Sheriff Root, the church lady Emily, and Odin Quincannon was a masterful feat. That being said, to still leave them underdeveloped for me to want to see more of them, and then to kill the whole town really irritated me, and not in the good way. How can you take a great supporting cast (I mean, c’mon, you have Jackie Earle Haley acting the hell out of the material), and you just up and kill them all in the finale? I understand that the series can’t be anchored in Annville, but there’s no need to kill them all.
Addendum: Yes, I am aware that Buffy predated Preacher by a few years, but it’s obvious to me that this must have been a comic on Whedon’s pull list once it started coming out.