Graphic novels have always operated in a space somewhere between the literary and the cinematic. But now that television has "broken bad," so to speak, it has become a safe space for the graphic novel and, indeed an inviting one. The serialized nature of comic books lends itself to episodic TV structure (albeit hardly ever in 1:1 fashion), back in the days of The Adventures of Superman, Batman, and the like, and now, in these darker days, with shows like The Walking Dead (as of this date, 162 comic-book properties have gone to series, with 21 currently active and plenty more in the pipeline). The new AMC series Preacher—adapted from the graphic novels by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon—plays like a hybrid of The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, and Twin Peaks. The series' developers—Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, and Breaking Bad's Sam Catlin—cleverly lay long-haul groundwork by treating the first season as an "issue 0" or, perhaps, a season-long "Pilot." As per a recurring Season One line, "We're just getting started."
In sun-hammered Annville, Texas, lackluster preacherman Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) hopes to do some good to even out his history of being bad. He thinks his prayers have been answered—and maybe they have—when a powerful force rushes into him, giving him a mesmeric power over others. As we learned from Rod Serling (and that old saw about the road to hell), irony often intrudes on the best intentions, and Custer's recklessness is nearly as likely to victimize the congregants of All Saints Congregational as to improve their lives. Jesse has two particularly vivid characters in his orbit: his ex Tulip (Ruth Negga), who persists in demanding that Jesse join her in some unfinished business, and a dissolute but charismatic Irish vampire named Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun).
That trio forms the core of Ennis and Dillon's comics series, and Season One spends its time setting the stage for what looks to be a more faithful adaptation in coming seasons, but with room to expand. Goldberg, Rogen, and Catlin populate Annville with a colorful cast of characters that's partly new and partly familiar to readers of the comics. Regulars include sweet-natured church lady Emily Woodrow (Lucy Griffiths), Sheriff Hugo Root (W. Earl Brown), Root's disfigured son Eugene (Ian Colletti), the double-act of angelic agents Fiore (Tom Brooke) and DeBlanc (Anatol Yusef), and the enigmatic Saint of Killers (Graham McTavish). Among the key recurring guest stars are Nathan Darrow as Jesse's preacher father and Jackie Earle Haley as Odin Quincannon, the fearsome magnate of Quincannon Meat & Power.
What most distinguishes Preacher is its delight in weirdness and supernatural mystery, qualities briefly mainstreamed through network television by David Lynch and Mark Frost's Twin Peaks in the 1990s and picked up by Chris Carter's The X-Files shortly thereafter. In the interim, few shows have as successfully blended arcane mythology with humor and dread, but Preacher earns the mantle. The gonzo storytelling approach jolts the audience with brisk regularity, and with the freedom afforded by cable TV, the series doesn't shy from getting as gory as all get out when the story leads to action and horror.
Obviously, none of this would work without committed performances, and Preacher's got 'em, with special kudos reserved for the magnetic Negga, who may well be on the road to an Oscar nom for her sterling work in Jeff Nichols' Loving. The show's game and got-game directors include Catlin, as well as film veterans Rogen & Goldberg and Oscar-winning cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (Pan's Labyrinth). Though it would be unthinkable in years past, AMC has invested wisely in this challenging genre material (its various blasphemies will divide viewers), as borne out by strong ratings for the network. That means you can feel safe making an investment as well: saddle up, folks...it's gonna be a fun ride.
Sony does TV fans right again with the Blu-ray + Digital release of Preacher: Season One. On the whole, picture quality excels. It's endemic to the source image to have not much in the way of shadow detail and blacks that sometimes run a bit light, but the overall visual impression is tight, colorful, and detailed, with accurate hues and contrast (I did notice a odd but replicable digital twitch at time index 37:58 of the episode "Monster Swamp," but perhaps that's localized to my own disc). Proving TV's competitiveness with film, Preacher boasts fantastic sound to go along with its impressive cinematography: each episode gets a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix that greatly enhances the storytelling with menacing ambience and effects, with plenty of LFE oomph when warranted, and carefully placed in the sound field to heighten unease without ever pulling from the dialogue, which remains front, center, loud and clear.
Extensive bonus features supplement the season of ten episodes. Disc One offers Deleted & Extended Scenes for "Pilot" (4:49, HD), "See" (1:40, HD), "The Possibilities" (3:59, HD), and "Monster Swamp" (:43, HD). The featurette "The Unfilmable Pilot" (7:36, HD) features behind-the-scenes footage, clips, and interviews with creator/co-executive producer Garth Ennis, executive producer/director Evan Goldberg, executive producer/director Seth Rogen, Ricky Mabe, Tom Brooke, executive producer/writer Sam Catlin, Dominic Cooper, Ruth Negga, Joseph Gilgun, and "Pilot" production designer Julie Berghoff. Similarly, "Chainsaw Fight Breakdown" (6:31, HD) does what it promises in its title, with Rogen, Goldberg, Gilgun, Cooper, Anatol Yusef, Brooke, Catlin, stunt coordinator John Koyama, propmaster James Rosenthal, special effects makeup artist Howard Berger and key special effects makeup artist Michael Smithson, and special effects coordinator Daniel Holt.
Disc Two gathers Deleted & Extended Scenes for "South Will Rise Again" (:26, HD), "He Gone" (4:13, HD), "El Valero" (:43, HD)
Disc Three includes a Deleted Scene for "Call and Response" (:32, HD), as well as two more featurettes: "Behind the Killing Machine: Saint of Killers" (6:55, HD) with Goldberg, Rogen, Catlin, Graham McTavish, executive producer/director Michael Slovis, production designer Dave Blass, Smithson, special makeup effects artist James Rohland, crow wrangler Mark Schwaiger, Ennis, Rosenthal, costume designer Karyn Wagner, Koyama, and Holt discussing the iconic character; and "The Stunts of Preacher" (7:58, HD) with Catlin; Goldberg; Rogen; Koyama; stunt doubles Solomon Brende, Ryan Staats, and Bryant Burnett; Gilgun, Cooper; director Scott Winant; Negga; Yusef; Juliana Potter; and director Guillermo Navarro. Last up is an always-welcome "Gag Reel" (5:12, HD).
As with previous Sony hits Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, Preacher on Blu-ray promises to be a collector's bounty.
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer