Well, there was one big pop-culture announcement for me this week: AMC is adapting Garth Ennis’ Preacher comic book series into a TV series, and it’s being executive produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, along with former Breaking Bad producer Sam Catlin. I’m a huge fan of the title and often blame it for making me a comic book enthusiast, so it immediately gestated a massive brain storm for me that went a little something like this: Is this what I really want? While I’ve often found it an intriguing process to ponder as to what would need to be done to adapt Preacher properly, I also have usually come to the conclusion that the series works far better on the printed page than it would on the small or large screen. Still, it’s hard to pass up how awesome this series could be if it lives up to it’s full potential! Therefore, allow me to enlighten those both new and faithful to Garth Ennis’ magnum opus, as to what we may possibly see when Preacher comes to AMC in the not-to-distant future.
What is Preacher?
Preacher is a comic book series published by DC Comics imprint Vertigo, that ran for 75 issues from 1995-2000. Written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Steve Dillon, the series tells the story of a Texan priest, Jesse Custer, who becomes possessed by the unholy love child of a demon and angel, which gives him the power to make any mortal being follow his command when spoken too. Upon achieving this god-like ability, the man decides to head out on a journey to literally find God, as it turns out that the big guy in the sky is a real jerk, who has abandoned his post in Heaven, yet still wants humanity to worship him despite his negligence. Accompanied by his gun-toting girlfriend Tulip, a wise-cracking Irish vampire named Cassidy, Jesse goes on a wild and unpredictable pulp adventure, that includes gore, dick jokes, western-esque action sequences, gore, the occult, sex, biting satire, gore, hidden government conspiracies, profanity, Bill Hicks, and did I mention it’s fucking gory!
Preacher proved to be an instant success upon it’s release, both critically and through fan word-of-mouth. Since then the comic has proven to be very influential, as so many adult mainstream titles carry a similar tone and story structure to Preacher, which is saying a lot as it came out after a very fruitful period for comics. While the late 80s and early 90s debuted many adult comic book titles that brought up consideration on the medium’s artistic and story-telling capabilities, Preacher still received attention for how it was both accessible yet highly intelligent, and just a whole lot of unfiltered fun! To put it in Layman’s terms, Preacher was a comic book series that seemingly had everything in it, and it all worked too!
The Long Road to Adaptation:
There have been numerous attempts to turn Preacher into a movie or TV series. Kevin Smith (a regular cited fan of the series) at one point was going to have his View Askew Productions banner make a film adaptation starring James Marsden as Jesse. The project ultimately didn’t happen though, due to budget concerns. Around 2007, however, rumors started to circulate that there were plans to turn Preacher into a TV series for HBO, which were actually accurate, as Daredevil writer Mark Steven Johnson revealed that he was talking to HBO about adapting the series, and even intended to turn every issue of Preacher into an hour-long episode. Unfortunately, HBO’s new executives found the content of the comic books to be too violent and controversial for the new direction that they were heading in, and they scrapped the project. Most recently, Columbia Pictures bought film rights to the property, and were going to have Sam Mendes direct it, but he turned it down to direct Skyfall instead.
There’s a number of reasons that all these past attempts ultimately fizzled. They can be attributed to the series long running length, graphic content, ostensibly blasphemous and offensive nature, and not to mention budget concerns as the comics’ most fantastic scenarios would certainly prove rather expensive to shoot. Still, it looks like this attempt is actually a go, as AMC has green-lit the pilot, and Garth Ennis has already talked to the parties behind the series and says he’s firmly satisfied with the way it’s looking. Of course, anything could happen in the interim between now and whenever, but for right now it appears that Preacher shall be airing in American households sometime within the next year or so.
Why the Show Could be Great:
Preacher is very humorous in nature, and Goldberg and Rogen have already shown that they can succeed at combining humor with supernatural elements to good effect. Last summer they gave us This is the End, a clever and affable comedy about the apocalypse, and it was one of the better genre films of 2013. Therefore, the two of them probably know exactly what it is that makes Preacher work, as even though it’s a grimy, gritty and disgusting story, it also has a lot of heart to it, and a playful mentality. Also, they certainly have enough friends in Hollywood at this point to make intelligent casting (James Franco as Jesse Custer?), and they’re working alongside a producer for Breaking Bad, a show that certainly does have plenty of similarly shaped sensibilities with Preacher.
Furthermore, AMC is a powerhouse station at the moment, that is known for allowing show-runners to handle their work in the way they’d like to. While sure, the station had had it’s fare share of disappointing programs (Rubicon, The Killing, Low Winter Sun), this hardly dismisses the fact that Breaking Bad and Mad Men are two of the greatest dramas ever put on TV, and the comic-book-derived The Walking Dead is the highest rated drama series in basic cable history. With Breaking Bad gone, viewers are looking for a successor, and AMC may have found it’s answer in this.
Why the Show Might be a Massive Disappointment:
Well, the first thing that comes to mind is this: AMC isn’t a premium channel like HBO or Showtime. So that means this: all the boobies and F-bombs from the comics are going out the window! I hate to say that the lack of such things could effect the quality of a series, but it’s just Preacher revels in how filthy it is. Whether it be the disturbingly hilarious images that come up after Jesse finds himself at an upper-class orgy, or the increasingly grotesque forms of dismemberment that villain Herr Starr finds himself in, it’s hard to imagine a lot of this stuff making it past the FCC, even on a station that airs boundary pushing titles like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. I feel that Rogen and Goldberg are going to have to be a little creative about how they present Preacher’s ugly world on television, and they may even have to decide if the series should have an identity that is distinct from the comic books.
Also, it should be noted that Preacher is a series that is very much a product of it’s era: the 90s. Even though it’s two creators are European (Ennis being Irish, and Dillon being British), the comic worked as a great satire for America at the time, with it’s occasionally grunge-y aesthetic. Now, 20 years after the comic came out, it’s perplexing to think how they will handle the material for a modern audience. Will the series still be set in the 90s? Will it be updated for modern times, but carry a semi-retro aesthetic? Whatever the case, I feel this is a primary case that the show’s creators should solve, and solve fast!
Also, the past has shown us that long gestating attempts at bringing a comic book property adaptation to life don’t always work out so well (remember when we were all so excited that Watchmen was finally being turned into a movie after countless failed attempts to do so?), so we shouldn’t exactly start counting unhatched chickens yet. Preacher worked wonders as a comic-book as it gave Ennis and Dillion free-reign to tackle an epic story that contained all their interests and fascinations in it. Television is generally a more confining medium, and it may prove far more limiting for the creators than they initially intended it to be.
Ultimately, I’m very excited about this project though, as there seem to be so many valuable parties involved with it. I ultimately do think that Preacher the TV show should be fairly different from Preacher the comic book, whether that includes changing story lines or characters, or even modernizing things a bit. What should be kept in tact, however, is the series sense of tone and humor, as these are what ultimately define the series as what it is. Regardless of how the show turns out, I feel now is the perfect time to read the series in light of this news, whether for the first time or otherwise. I for one am happy to say I’ve been the proud owner of the entire trade paper back collection since freshman year of college…do I have any borrowers!