Reviews: time to hit the road – Preacher Season Two
Preacher Season Two,
Starring Dominic Cooper, Joseph Gilgun, Ruth Negga
I loved Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher comics, I still have a pile of the original issues in my stash at home. So like many I was quite excited to see what it would be like on television, especially in this current golden age we seem to be in for high-quality, high production values shows. But I must say I was rather ambivelant about the first season – in fact I was more than a little disappointed. It started strong (loved Tulip’s car chase) but then it seemed to bog down in its small town setting, and worst of all, the characters, with the exception of Cassidy, felt very wrong to me (Tulip became this emotionally needy person hanging around, Jesse was, let’s face it, a dick). I expected the TV version to be different, it has to be really – not just so readers of the original won’t know what’s coming, but also because some stuff that worked fine in comics (like the ghost of John Wayne advising Jesse) could look plain silly in live action. But, please, don’t mess with the characters otherwise why make it at all?
However there were some good moments in the first season which I did enjoy – the angel fight was a lovely combination of Looney Tunes cartoon slapstick violence crossed with the irreverent attitude of the original comics, for example. And the producers hinted that season two would leave the small town location and go on the road – which I was glad about, because Preacher has always been a road movie with Western influences. So despite my misgivings about season one I was actually looking forward to season two, I had a much better vibe about it, and that vibe turned out to be spot on: this is a huge improvement. While it again differs quite often from the comics (as it should, and indeed has to), it felt much more in tune with the feeling of the comics and their style, from the chemistry between the three leads of Ruth Negga, Dominic Cooper and Joseph Gilgun, to the being on the road (and search for God), and the mix of humour and violence (often in the same scene). I’d imagine with the actors being more used to one another and to their characters now, that helped the on-screen chemistry hugely, as well as upping the tempo and changing locations.
That tempo is pretty much set right from the very start of episode one: “SEARCH FOR GOD, DAY ONE” appears in big, block text across the screen. Our trio are in Tulip’s car, and like any long road trip they get bored, they talk nonsense, bicker, and then Come On Eileen starts to play on the radio. This is such a bad song one remarks, the others mutter an assent. And a moment later they are all singing along to it anyway as they zoom along the highway. Until a passing cop car spots them speeding, chases them and they decide to have fun, the music playing, singing along and basically having a whale of a time as some good ‘ole boy sheriff’s officers chase them. Until they run out of gas.
And this is where the mood of the second season is also further emphasised – moments of fun and humour, but moments which can suddenly spin into horror and violence. As the police surround them one is shot. Looking around the gunmen is far, far off down the road, but still deadly accurate. Of course it can only be the Saint of Killers, and the previously vibrant fun atmosphere suddenly turns into a violent bloodbath, including some gruesome wounds that are clearly styled after some of those depicted in the comics by the late Steve Dillon. In fact this is just the start – season two comes with a pretty damned big body count. And I think it’s fair to say that a lot of those deaths are at least partly on Jesse Custer – the cops in this opening scene, a number of gun-totin’ residents of a motel they just happen to stay at on their trip, a lot of people end up brutally killed just by being around Jesse and his quest.
(some familiar faces play a major part in season two of Preacher)
This season is longer, weighing in at thirteen episode (plus some extras on the discs like a featurette and gag reel), and there isn’t space here to go into each episode – besides which that way lies far too much of a trek through Spoiler Country for those of you who haven’t had a chance to watch it yet. But while there are some elements I could have done without (a lengthy flashback to Jesse and Tulip before he became a Preacher could have done with being much shorter), there’s a lot in here to please fans of the comics. The Saint of Killers looms larger here, implaccable and all but usntoppable, and while our heroes have to find a different way to deal with him, it feels very much in the style of the comics (in a nice nod to the comics, when researching his legend the art in library books comes from the comics and their covers). The Grail makes a proper appearance, including Herr Starr (whose initiation into the Grail gets a whole episode much to itself, and is brilliantly, sickly funny, again in a way that felt very like the comics).
Other elements from the comics are used but in different way – like the comics they go to New Orleans, and that city’s magical underside is used, albeit in a different way from the comics, we even get a glimpse of the Enfants du Sang (again familiar from the comics, but this time approached differently but with echoes of the original, which I found quite pleasing, obviously thought had been put into it by someone who admires the original). Tulip’s reason for being on the run is also explained, again similar but differently from the comics story, but again also quite satisfying to me. And we get glimpses of Angelville, “grandma”, Jodie and that horrible underwater casket scene from Jessie’s youth, which look as if they will loom more in the next season, and we see what happens to poor Arseface, condemned to accidentally to Hell in season one. Add in car chases, shoot-outs, moral dilemmas, gross-out humour, romance, sexual deviance (I’ll say no more for now than “woof!”), over-the-top violence and a bonkers angel and vampire drug and booze scene that would have left Hunter S Thompson shaking his head and saying “too much for me”, and you have a very enjoyable brew.
After some stumblings with the first season it really feels like season two has grown into itself; although it ploughs its own furrow and takes its own direction, those changes are usually very much in the flavour and style of the original comic, and I say that as someone who loves those comics. The actors feel much more at home on the set an in their character’s skins now they’ve had time to get used to one another, and that chemistry comes across far more in this season, which is pretty essential given the weird friendship between these three has always been (to me anyway) at least as important as the main narrative of the search for god.
Preacher Season Two is out from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on November 13th