Season 1 of AMC's Preacher has come to an end and it was the explosive finale everyone watching the show expected. Sparks flew, God made an appearance (or did he?) and we got the long-awaited setup for the real meat of Jesse Custer's comic book exploits, a road trip through Heaven, Hell and everywhere in between.
This time last year, it was John Constantine who was coming to the end of his first season and the realization that the show was now over (unless Netflix, Amazon or the like stepped in to save it).
Both shows were very similar in reality, yet one is a runaway success (or as much as a "niche" comic book show can be) while the other was considered a ratings failure, despite having loyal fans and being critically acclaimed in many ways and its lead becoming the defacto choice for the character in the animated and DC TV Universe. Why did one go to TV heaven and the other to TV Hell?
Some spoilers for both shows may be ahead, so LEAVE NOW (Genesis doesn't work in text) or in the words of John Constantine "Do one mate..." if you want to stay spoiler free for either or both!
Saints & Sinners
John Constantine and Jesse Custer are similar type characters in many ways. Both are antiheroes who have done morally questionable things that would easily see them "go to hell" when they finally die. Both are seeking redemption for their sins and have a love/hate relationship with God, religion, the supernatural and their larger-than-intended role in those worlds.
John Constantine is a pure cynic, almost disdainful of the power he has learned and disrespectful of the powers that be. Demons and angels alike meet his utter contempt as he wields his gifts to try to save his fate. The Keanu Reeves movie, while not terrible, was not John Constantine of the Hellblazer comic and Matt Ryan wasn't either to many. Sure he looked right, but people didn't buy it. Once the show began however, it quickly became clear that Ryan IS John Constantine going forward.
It's almost hard to imagine anyone else playing him, even in a movie version. The actor himself hails from within 50 miles of where John would be from, making his accent and mannerisms totally authentic, Ryan has that air of "F*** you" when he speaks and even in his face, just as the comic character did.
Over on Preacher, the casting of the lead was always going to be tougher. While Jesse has a definitive look from the comics it's not quite as iconic or inflexible as Constantine's. There was scope for a range of actors to potentially play him and early fan castings saw such names as Timothy Olyphant, Walton Goggins, Richard Madden, Norman Reedus and James Franco (due to his connection with the producer) as potential Jesses. It was surprising to some that it was Dominic Cooper, at the time best known for his role as the younger version of Howard Stark in the MCU. While no doubt a fine actor, he wasn't quite Jesse Custer — or was he?
While Ryan did little wrong in his portrayal, the constraints of the character made it often seem a little one-dimensional. Cooper, on the other hand, has been given material that has allowed him to become the Jesse Custer of the page. Funny at time, flawed at other times, a badass trying to be a good man and both scary and scared of the situation he is in. The material and direction of the show itself plays a big part in this. Constantine was all about the darkness where evil hides, even in men's souls, whereas Preacher is very much the opposite. There is brightness and light everywhere (except it often turns out to be false).
Constantine's biggest issue was its supporting cast and before we come to Cassidy, Tulip and the like we have to address the (mighty pretty) elephant in the room.
Lucy Griffiths was originally selected to be the female lead of Constantine and was in the poorly received pilot. She was dropped from the show and replaced by the character Zed. Griffiths of course, plays Emily in Preacher, arguably the second most important female part and is one of the best things in the show as the downtrodden single mom trying to catch the eye of Jesse. She clearly isn't a bad actress, as Constantine wasn't much more successful for her removal, making you wonder if the writing needed adjusting rather than than her performance not being good enough. It's certainly not happened in recent memory that someone fired from one show so early into it becomes part of a more successful one so close to it in terms of material so quickly (and her "96 Tears" moment in the finale is brilliant).
Constantine's letdown was it's supporting cast in the main. Few were memorable with Lost's Harold Perrineau being the target for particular criticism. Zed was an engaging sidekick, but not quite right. The best episodes featured Emmett J. Scanlon as Det. Jim Corrigan, who would become The Spectre and Jonjo O'Neill's one episode turn as Gaz, the ill-fated best friend, damaged by the Newcastle Event.
Preacher, on the other hand, had an advantage straight away — they were able to cast Ruth Negga as Tulip. While on paper this would appear to be a color-swap situation, there was good reason behind it. She and Cooper have worked together many times including the big budget WarCraft movie. How many of you realized they'd been an item off-screen for years? Try six years!
Their chemistry onscreen is clear and their real-life romance gives Jesse and Tulip the "fizz" as a couple needed. While there was clearly tension between Zed and John, it was never the same. The finale moment where Tulip belts Jesse in the mouth is a perfect example, you can imagine that moment being ad-libbed on-set and it working because of their relationship off screen, making one of the more memorable moments of the season happen.
Where Constantine turned to Scanlon for it's "cool" sidekick, Preacher turned to another British soap alumnus, Joseph Gilgun. Gilgun has been a fixture on British TV since childhood and over the years has built up an excellent body of work, despite being somewhat typecast as "funny Northern English" guy. Cassidy allowed him "out of that box" and while his trademark comic timing is there, so is an edge and air of violence, but also mixed with a likable side as was shown in his interrogation by Sheriff Root and Emily's sacrificing her would be boyfriend to save him..."He's not a bad guy....for a vampire..." Chaz was the equivalent for John, a guy with a not quite endless supply of lives — he was likable, one of the best things in the show, but not as good as Cassidy.
Preacher was able to bring in lesser-known actors for many supporting roles, but who each brought a quirky personality. Constantine brought in good actors, but often they were there to serve the "monster of the week" nature of the show, rather than the whole narrative. Perhaps the best comparison is Euguene. He has been off-screen in the main for half the season, but he was still a major character, whereas important characters like Gaz were reduced to one episode on Constantine. This may have been "comic accurate," but it was also a waste of the good characters and actors they had found.
Of course Preacher did win in the villain stakes, even if not used strictly in the way the comic did, Jackie Earl Haley did a great job as the crazed Odin Quincannon, be it suckering in Jesse with false rapture, massacring would-be investors or most disturbingly, cradling a baby made of meat, he brought the ickyness to a show that happily showed limbs and even penises being removed for comedic effect.
Gods & Demons Of TV Land
Preacher had a BIG head start when it came to production. That it was an AMC show, home of The Walking Dead & Breaking Bad meant if the network committed to the show, it would get at least two seasons. On TWD they removed Frank Darabont for Season 2 rather than let the idea go, so immediately there was an element of safety there. Seth Rogen's name as producer, while alarming fans at the time it was announced, proved to be another masterstroke. His style is visible in the show, not the goofy humor (although it is there in some characters like Fiore & DeBlanc and the absurd, but brilliant, hotel room fight) but very much in the visual style and some elements of the plot. Most importantly, Rogen is a fan of the material and this shows, he wasn't going to let them make a turkey out of this nor risk tainting it by taking a cameo himself.
Constantine was co-produced by David S. Goyer and Dexter's Daniel Cerone, so on paper, it had just as good a pedigree. Plus a pilot directed by The Descent's Neil Marshall meant it couldn't fail. Yet something didn't gel in that first episode and changes were made. It's hard to say why they decided to make those changes, but the show being on NBC was perhaps a hindrance rather than a help. Rather than a supportive network like AMC, it certainly appeared that NBC was determined to undermine the show at every turn, by limiting things like chain smoking and not publicly committing to a second season, instead cutting the run in almost half, just when the show was hitting its stride and getting VERY good reviews.
This move alone cut the legs of the show and the writers and on screen we immediately saw a dip in quality after the endless interruptions and weeks off. What would have been an exciting mid season finale became an anti-climactic two-parter, with the story arc of the season feeling rushed as a result of the fewer episodes. It was inevitable the show would be cancelled from the moment that cut in episodes was announced, and the actual announcement took FOREVER... perhaps the kinder thing would have been to mothball it early rather than force out a weak "finale" that disappointed rather than excited fans who hoped against hope for that second season.
Despite everything said above about the casting and show runners, while AMC take the credit for backing Preacher and its team to the hilt, NBC must take the blame for not having faith in Constantine, either to portray the character as intended. Yes a chain smoking, bisexual character would be controversial, but so is neutering a comic book so much and then killing a show that was getting popular after just 4 episodes, only for the next one (starring the person you fired) to become a hit. The campaign to bring the show back was unsuccessful, but the fact Matt Ryan appeared on Arrow and now in DC's own Justice League Dark animated movie proves that the show itself wasn't the problem, and Ryan himself was perfectly cast. It was the people making the business decisions around it who failed rather than Constantine as a show.
The irony, had they begun Constantine today AFTER Preacher's success, NBC would have put more money, more faith and more balls behind the show and it would be as big a hit. As it turns out we have a fantastic TV version of Preacher BECAUSE NBC dropped that ball, it's bittersweet to say the least but there may still be hope.
Preacher Season 2 is a definite, could Constantine get another chance now?
It's entirely possible, especially with the Flashpoint situation developing on the CW shows. Constantine could have a short run as part of that, or with Preacher's success either NBC or Netflix may look again to see if they can make Constantine work as a show. It would lend itself to the "binge model" of Amazon/Netflix with the latter's Marvel deal likely the only sticking point. Many people who like Preacher will go and watch Constantine and most will feel it a shame they can't continue to watch both shows. It's perhaps more likely that Marvel and Netflix would put a Moon Knight show out rather than allow Hellblazer (gotta rename the show if they do it) but it might also help Marvel a bit to have a DC property tucked away on Netflix... if it's good it reduces expectation from fans on their other shows and lights a fire under their showrunners to make sure they're better.
I'd be leery of NBC having another go and I think those involved with the show would be. As a left-field pick, with Game Of Thrones now confirmed to end, HBO could be in the market for a dark, violent show to replace it. Hellblazer would fit that, and as a "soft reboot", keeping only Ryan in the title role, it would certainly appear Griffiths is free now so she could return as Liv, with some reflected glory from Preacher in tow... HBO could easily do the show and material justice - and certainly tide viewers over until their next big thing hits.