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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

My Struggle Getting To Like Preacher

I really want to like AMC’s newest show Preacher. It’s from the minds of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and executive produced by Breaking Bad’s Sam Catlin. Hearing Seth Rogen discuss the comic book the show is based upon along with the litany of smart people behind the scenes, Preacher should be a masterpiece. Two episodes in, the show might be, but I just can’t tell yet. I have no idea if I like this show or not. After an hour-and-a-half premiere and an hour long second episode, I have a good idea of who these characters are and what their intentions are. The problem I am having is that I don’t have an emotional investment in any of them. Preacher so far has gone for style over substance, which it turns has made for a frustrating television watching experience.

The show is extremely confident and knows exactly the story it wants to tell and how to tell it. Rogen and Goldberg have been around television and movie making long enough that it would have been a disappointment if the show didn’t come out guns blazing. Set in rural, Friday Night Lights – esque Texas, the show feels like a science fiction Western. It has the looks and feel of a Western that just so happens to have aliens and vampires. The cinematography is gorgeous and perfectly lit and feels like a visual representation of a gritty and dark comic book.

Further, it’s characters are fully formed. It helps that Rogen and crew have pages of source material to determine what these characters should be and how they should act (and act with each other). Preacher throws you directly into its world like it’s the alien force jumping into Father Jesse Custer.

My issue is that I don’t have the slightest sympathy for any of these characters. By vaulting us into this world with little to no exposition, we’re seeing action without any emotional investments. This strategy works for people, most recently with the success of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, but it doesn’t work for me. Without emotional investment, there are no stakes. I could be told that Jesse is the good guy and that Cassidy is the bad guy, but without any actions from these characters tapping into my fragile psyche, being told these tropes and ideas means nothing.

I appreciate Preacher not holding the audience hands and spoon-feeding us information. There’s no John Williams score telling me how to feel. But at the same time, the opposite approach that Preacher is taking isn’t working either. Standing across the room shouting at us what’s going on also isn’t effective. There’s a fine line between assuming the audience is smart enough to handle complex information and detail, and just straight up ignoring the audience. Preacher seems to be doing the latter. Let me rephrase that, it seems to be ignoring the audience of those who haven’t read the comic books. Those who know where this story is going seem to be enjoying it far more than a non-comic book reader like myself. That’s because they can both appreciate the visual aspect of the show while also being able to shade in the characterizations and seemingly random scenes in for themselves. However, as I lack the information to shade, I just find things confusing more than anything.

That’s not to say that Preacher won’t begin shading and won’t begin doing it soon. I might be singing a different tune by this time next week, and I hope to be singing a different one by season’s end. A lot of Preacher and its take on characters reminds me of the second season of The Leftovers. Outside of a jarring flashback to cavemen times, the second season thrust you into a brand new location (Miracle, Texas versus upstate New York) following an entirely new set of characters (the Murphys) with only a cameo from our lead Kevin Garvey. As someone who was a fan of the first season of The Leftovers, everything that was new was associated with being bad and frustrating and thus I didn’t like it. However, by season’s end, I grew to love everything that was the show’s second season. I am confident the same will happen to me by the season’s end of Preacher.

Therefore, I am going to continue to give Preacher a chance. In the age of Peak TV where my investment is limited (especially for a show that airs at the same time as Game of Thrones), I am taking a risk that Preacher will work out. I do enjoy the visual aesthetic and those who know where the story is going seem giddy. I am also confident the characters and plot points will soon catch up to the story. But for right now, I’m not jumping up and down demanding people watch this show either.



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