Lewis Jacobs/Sony Pictures Television
Despite thrilling moments from a multi-talented cast, AMC’s newest drama “Preacher” broods and occasionally even bores.
As Tulip, Ruth Negga’s screen presence is nearly supernatural and she’s as captivating to watch fighting to the death in a runaway car as she is sweet-talking a cop who pulls her over for speeding. So why is half her screen time the same “Join the dark side, Luke” scenes with Jesse? And, despite being the titular preacher, Jesse spends most of his time in a stern melancholy, his development has slowed to a snail’s pace since the pilot. We only see some life in his eyes when he’s opposite either Tulip or Cassidy. So why scene after scene where he ponders morality alone in various dark rooms?
Contrastingly, the source material, a series of graphic novels of the same name that ran from 1995 to 2001, is well known for its brutal humor, extreme violence, and its grotesque and bizarre representation of God, Heaven, and Hell.
So why is “Preacher” so slow?
Its problems may stem from Seth Rogen’s stance as a showrunner. He says he wants to add mystery to the AMC adaptation. At a press conference in May, he discussed his vision for bringing “Preacher” to life:
“I’m a huge fan of TV, so there were shows that we would reference a lot to say like, ‘It would be great if we could capture this type of energy.’ And that’s not in the comics, the comics are not very mysterious. There is mystery in the comics, but it’s not, not like we’ve done on the show,” Rogen told press.
The “type” of energy that Preacher’s mystery is partially drawn from is ABC’s “Lost,” the 2008 sci-fi drama whose controversial series finale is brought up in listicles every time a show ends. Rogen said he wanted “Preacher” to parallel its supernatural suspense elements.
Lewis Jacobs/Sony Pictures Television”I think we were really influenced by shows like ‘Lost.’ I love that show,” explained Rogen. “And there was nothing more fun than getting together with my friends every week and watching it and trying to guess what was happening and being like, ‘Who is that guy? How do they know each other? How are they connected?’ And that’s something that’s not really in the comics that we’ve made a bigger element in the show, [because] we like shows like that.”
But as of the fourth episode of “Preacher,” this slow-burn mystery route is just not working.
The creators of “Lost” had a masterful grasp of suspense, world-building, and posing questions to the audience. But that was also because they had the benefit of creating a world centered around a mystery. Rogen and the showrunners are adapting a world in which the existence of angels and demons are plainly stated for the audience. As a result, the gaps in context feel forced and even frustrating. It reads more like purposely keeping the audience in the dark to manufacture suspense.
One of the best examples is the opening scene of episode two. A one-off scene starring a grim cowboy in 1881, it’s confusingly dropped into the show with no context, not addressed once in the subsequent episode.
Lewis Jacobs/Sony Pictures TelevisionIt felt like an imitation of the infamous cold opens from “Breaking Bad.” Remember in the season three premiere when the episode opened with dozens of people crawling through the desert? It was our introduction to the cousins, two of the most lethal villains on the show. It didn’t make much sense on its own, but throughout that episode, we learned the characters were killers leaving Mexico to go after Walt.
Lewis Jacobs/Sony Pictures TelevisionLewis Jacobs/Sony Pictures Television
Keeping the audience in the dark can be thrilling television. But “Preacher” tends to drop things into the show without context or any indication it will return later. It makes it difficult to know what’s actually important to the overall story. As Rogen is one of the showrunners, adding mystery is his prerogative. But this is all done for the sake of constructing a central mystery which doesn’t really exist in the source material. Suspense is great, but what about giving the audience what they want?
“I want very different things out of my comic books and my TV shows,” Rogen said at the press conference. “That was really kind of the biggest conversation: there’s a comic that we love, but what types of TV shows do we love? And what have we never seen on TV?”
Rogen is certainly asking the right questions, but “Preacher” has yet to provide fans of the series with a show which parallels the non-stop excitement and energy for which the graphic novels are known.