SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers from tonight’s pilot episode of AMC’s “Preacher” (and the Vertigo comic series it’s adapted from) follow.
An adaptation that’s faithful in plot doesn’t necessarily make for a faithful adaptation. Just look at the film version of “Watchmen.” By trying to replicate every panel to a tee, director Zack Snyder created something that had visual fidelity but little soul — its comic-book trappings becoming restrictive to the humanity of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ masterpiece.
Originally, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg wanted to take a similar approach to their television adaption of “Preacher” on AMC. But it was one of the comics’ creators — writer Garth Ennis, of all people — who convinced them otherwise. There’s a reason a comic book’s a comic book and a TV show’s a TV show. They require different things to successfully tell their story.
So anyone wanting a note-for-note recreation of the series should resist the urge to change the channel, because Rogen and Goldberg’s changes not only replicate the spirit of “Preacher,” they deepen it. The biggest alteration comes in the pacing. By reducing the violent set-pieces in favor of more time with the characters, the writers allow us to sympathize with them in ways slightly more complex than on the page.
For instance, when we’re introduced to Sheriff Hugo Root (W. Earl Brown) through a conversation with protagonist Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), he expresses genuine concern — albeit with a heaping dose of resentment — over his disfigured son, Eugene (Ian Colletti). I’m sure we’ll be introduced to Hugo’s racism, self-hatred, and all-around ugliness as the series progress, but because he’s initially presented as a human being with some slightly admirable qualities, we’re more likely to be invested in his journey; both its positive and negative plot points.
The same goes for Eugene. Even though he eventually becomes well-rounded in the comic, he’s somewhat a repulsive joke when we first meet him under Ennis’ pen and Steve Dillon‘s warts-and-all-artwork — his eventual bond with Jesse played for laughs, genuine as their relationship becomes. But here, they already have a mentor/mentee dynamic. They already know each other as Eugene’s a part of Jesse’s congregation, meaning there will be much more at stake as their bond inevitably gets closer in the wake of that mysterious force entering the preacher’s body.
That’s not to say all of “Preacher’s” pilot episode consists of drawn-out character work. Both Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) and Tulip O’Hare (Ruth Negga) get elaborate, thoroughly badass introductions that serve as counterpoints to the supporting players. Since, along with Jesse, they form the holy triumvirate of the story, we’ll get plenty of grounded dialogue between them as the main arc picks up. The introductory violence we see from them — in addition to being two of the most riveting action scenes in AMC history — will inform who they are in their extended quieter moments later on. With the less prominent characters, it’s the inverse: their slow-burn scene work will end up informing the moments that hinge more on shock value. Better yet, it will allow them to transcend shock value.
In that way, “Preacher” is that rare comic-book adaptation with a heart that’s both literal and metaphorical (wink, wink in that final scene); there to gross people out, but also give lifeblood to the rest of the body.
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