Today, AMC released the first few minutes of its brand-new comic book show, Preacher, and it looks absolutely incredible. The opening scenes are strange and bloody but captivating - just like the comic that inspired it all.
They are also action-packed - the show manages to pack more into a few minutes than others do in a full episode, and I'm here to break it all down for you!
Spoiler Alert: I was lucky enough to see the full pilot episode at SXSW (and it's amazing). I'll be avoiding spoilers from the rest of the episode as much as I can, but will be referencing the comics, so if you know nothing about Preacher (and want to keep it that way), turn back now!
The Thing From Outer Space...
We open with a shot that looks like it would be more at home as the opening scene of a B-movie about some kind of (presumably green) thing terrorizing a small town in the '50s. It's an interesting choice, and one that reveals the show's willingness to have a little fun. Preacher is a violent and complicated story, but it's also a lot of fun and it's reassuring to see that the team at AMC aren't going to take it too seriously for this adaptation.
In amongst the sci-fi shots of our solar system, we see a comet. Or, what looks like a comet. But it sounds like there are sirens going off, and there's a baby crying in the background as well. Fans of the comics are sure to know exactly what this is (hint: that's no comet!), but we won't spoil it for the rest of you. As it speeds towards Earth, we hear a voice... "Something is coming".
The Unfortunate Preacher
That voice belongs to this man: an African preacher in a small church, who is clearly very passionate about his message. The timing, of course, is absolutely impeccable. Something is coming - but not exactly what he thinks. He's mid-sermon with an involved congregation when the church doors fly open, and he's hit by... the "comet". Which is now obviously not a comet because it's not solid. It's more of a fast-moving invisible ball that knocks our preacher out cold - for a moment.
In a few seconds, he is back on his feet - to the joy of the congregation, who believe that they have witnessed a miracle. And in a way, they have. He bellows out a command for quiet, and every person in the room immediately falls silent - you might think that this is just a mark of respect, but comic fans know better. For non-comic fans, there's a carefully placed dog who suddenly quits its barking - humans might choose to stop talking, but the dog gives it away: this is a command that no-one can ignore.
For a second there, it looks like our preacher is about to become a Prophet of the Lord - but only for a second, before he explodes, covering the congregation in blood. Unsurprisingly, they flee, screaming... and the "comet" bursts back out of the church, knocking the cross off in the process.
It's a scene with nothing wasted, and it sets up several key elements of the series, all within only a few minutes:
- We get an idea of the kind of religious themes that are present throughout the comics, but at the same time, we see that these are not going to be handled with overmuch delicacy. Including an inverted cross in the opening scene just hammers that point home.
- Including this scene before we even meet our main characters is an important decision - Preacher is setting up the idea that although the body of the action will be taking place in Annville, there is something bigger happening as well.
- Exploding-preacher sets the bar for gore - just in case any viewers with delicate sensibilities happen across the show with no idea what it's about, having a man of the cloth literally explode into a shower of blood and guts gives us a good idea of what else to expect.
- Finally, it's a callout to the comics. In the books, when the "comet" (still trying not to spoil it!) hits Jesse Custer, it's his congregation that is brutally destroyed in a single day. Here, it's a nameless preacher in a different country. What this means is that Preacher isn't going to be a shot-for-shot remake, but that it is going to draw heavily from the books and bring some of the most memorable moments to screen - just in a new way.
We're Not Done Yet
You would be forgiven for thinking that this is enough of a sneak peek all on its own, but AMC isn't finished with us yet.
Next up, we get a flashback scene (we know it's a flashback because it's shot in black and white) of a very different man in a dog collar - Jesse's father. This is another change from the source material, as comic book Jesse's dad was not a preacher, but a military man. It seems that some of Jesse's backstory is going to get an overhaul in this new show - but not all of it. His Dad is still forced to his knees in front of him, and comic book fans can assume that he never gets back up again.
Our last scene (finally) introduces us to Jesse Custer himself. The tone changes, the lighting changes, the speed changes. A drawling country song starts to play. Jesse slowly hauls himself out of bed, giving us a good look at his heavily scarred back, slow movements, and collection of empty liquor and beer bottles. Clearly, this is not a man who is particularly happy with his lot in life.
It's also immediately apparent that he's not the most respected man in town, either, as he wanders to the church billboard. Cigarette in hand, he quietly replaces the letters that have been rearranged by some prankster. He doesn't even seem concerned about it. Just... a little tired. (And again, if you weren't sure about the level of obscenity we can expect from the show, "open your ass and holes to Jesus" should provide you with an idea.)
And with that, Jesse Custer starts the long slow walk back to his church, and our sneak peek is over.
It's an incredible first few moments, covering some of the original comic book moments (or a variation of them), an introduction to both our main character and a supernatural force, a hint at the gore and obscenity we can expect, and a quirky combination of colors and visuals. It's visually stunning, and there is an obvious attention to detail when it comes to color and framing that makes it clear Preacher is paying homage to its comic book origins.
As a sneak peek, it's incredible. As someone who has seen what happens next, I can tell you - it just keeps getting better.
Preacher premiers on AMC May 22nd