Deep in the heart of Texas, three outlaws are on a road trip in a vintage muscle car. At the wheel, a gorgeous but deadly piece of work named Tulip O’Hare. Riding shotgun is the Reverend Jesse Custer, a preacher with a shady criminal past (and an even shadier sexual history with Tulip). And the one who never shuts up in the back seat? That’s an Irish vampire called Cassidy, who smokes too much weed and rants about topics like why he thinks The Big Lebowski sucks or where all the medical-industrial complex hides all the confiscated foreskins from the country’s circumcisions. These three speed down the dusty highways and backroads of the South on a mission to hunt down a bad hombre on the loose: specifically, God, who’s been reported missing. As Reverend Jesse vows, “If God needs our help, we’ll help Him. If He doesn’t, we’re gonna kick His ass.”
Preacher is one of the most deeply weird adventures on the air right now – fast, bloody, blasphemous, darkly funny as hell. The AMC series, which returns on June 25th, made a surprise splash in its first season, somehow turning this cosmic quest into a gore-splattered Wild West occult thriller. It’s based on the Nineties DC cult comic book created by writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon, with certified comics geek Seth Rogen as one of the executive producers. Like the network’s other massive adaptation, The Walking Dead, this show mixes up the otherworldly with buckets of blood and guts, yet it’s infinitely smarter and sharper, not to mention more over-the-top ridiculous. As Cassidy says at one point, after a showdown with the Man Upstairs, “You know, one time I took quite a bit of angel dust and then I drank an eight-pack of Red Bull and went to a Bieber concert. Honestly, this is crazier than that.”
Dominic Cooper is brooding and violent as the preacher-man Jesse Custer, who grew up watching his daddy preach the gospel in his sleepy Texas hometown of Annville, only to backslide into working the wrong side of the law. He tried to walk the line and do right as the pastor of All Saints Congregational, while hooking up with his criminal ex Tulip; he was forever haunted by the memory of seeing his daddy get shot in the head. Jesse was also touched by strange supernatural forces he can’t quite control or even understand – he gets the “Genesis Power,” giving him the ability to speak in the voice of God and distort people’s minds. As Tulip complains, it’s “something that gets in your head like some kind of smokey brain hand, that makes you do things.” But these powers unleashed dark cosmic forces that have to be battled. Reverend Jesse also made one dangerous enemy – he and his crew are getting stalked along the trail by a demonic cowboy assassin from hell (literally) known only as the Saint of Killers.
Preacher‘s first season was essentially a prequel, setting the stage for these three to hit the road, with their tires screeching on the asphalt while the radio blasts the Stones’ “Let It Bleed.” (The initial batch of episodes built up to the point in the story where the original comics begin.) So now’s the right time to jump in. The core trio is great: Cooper chafing in his Roman collar as the brooding and violent preacher; Joseph Gilgun as the loose-cannon vampire; and most of all Ruth Negga as the wisecracking Tulip. Like the comics, it’s a distinctly British twist on Wild West mythology – right down to the way the Anglo-Irish actors struggle to get their Southern accents right. It has the right mocking tone for the man of the cloth’s spiritual obsessions. He hears voices that tell him God’s out there somewhere – “missing is what they said, most likely wandering the earth” – and they’re out to track him down. (They hear He’s been hanging out in strip clubs.) They’re also out to get some answers about why the deity has ditched the human race in such a profoundly screwed-up condition.
But as with John Wayne (a recurring character in the comics) in The Searchers, it’s not quite clear what they plan to do with God if and when they catch Him. As the preacher says, “Maybe He has good reason. Maybe He’s in trouble. Maybe something went wrong. But if I don’t like His reason, if I find out He’s left us here all alone to pick up His mess, I’m gonna hold that son of a bitch to account.” Preacher doesn’t promise any answers – just a wildly exhilarating mix of pulp theology and noir violence, as the road goes on forever.