Sunday, February 25, 2018

"Preacher," Year Two

Mild spoilers ahead

This season of "Preacher" started off so well, with two fantastic, violent, hilarious episodes following the trio of Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy on their road trip to find God.  Then they decide to stop in New Orleans to crash with Cassidy's "friend" Denis (Ronald Guttman) for the other eleven episodes of the season, and the momentum quickly goes to hell.  There is also a significant chunk of time that we spend in the literal Hell with Eugene, who befriends a surprisingly sympathetic Adolf Hitler (Noah Taylor).  We also get a new villain in Herr Starr (Pip Torrens), one of the top brass of a secret organization called The Grail, which has taken an interest in Jesse.  His operatives Featherstone (Julie Ann Emery) and Hoover (Malcolm Barrett) do most of the heavy lifting, keeping an eye on our heroic trio in New Orleans.

"Preacher" likely would have had a much better year if they could have cut the episode order down to ten, or even eight episodes.  At thirteen, what started out as a roller-coaster ride ends up a slog.  There's plenty of fun stuff for Jesse to do, tangling with The Grail and the Saint of Killers.  However, by the second half of the show, both Tulip and Cassidy are stuck churning through very dull subplots that were entirely invented for the series.  Clearly, the creators of "Preacher" discovered that it was unfeasible to have the entire season be a road trip, which is how the story originally played out in the comics.  So, as with the first season, the main characters wind up planted in a single location for most of their screen time, and given invented reasons to have them stick around for much longer than they should.

And it's aggravating, because it's such a waste of the talent involved.  Joe Gilgun manages to salvage what he can of Cassidy's arc with Denis, but Ruth Negga is left adrift with Tulip fighting an  unfortunate bout of PTSD.  And though their stories this year have fewer of these issues, Jesse and Eugene's arcs still feel undeniably stretched out.  All of this goes against what makes the best of "Preacher" so much fun - the anarchic, wildly off-the-wall, frequently shocking tone and content.  There are certain episodes and sequences that absolutely nail this, and are an absolute joy to watch.  However, every time the show slows down, it turns into a bore.

There's still lots for "Preacher" fans to enjoy here.  Herr Starr is a vast improvement on Odin Quincannon and the small town folk of Annville in every way.  Pip Torrens does a fantastic job of keeping a straight face as the extent of Starr's perversions and the insanity of the Grail are revealed bit by bit.  He may be the best comic villain currently on television.  I was also impressed that the series went ahead and brought some of the more outrageous parts of the comic to the screen, including a very troubling Messiah figure.  They even invented a sacrilegious new chapter of Jesus Christ's love life, and made Adolf Hitler pretty close to likeable.  

The series is actually very good at coming up with additional material in the same twisted vein as the comics, from Fiore the angel participating in a gleefully gory magic act, to the search for God leading Jesse to a furry fetishist.  The local business of buying and selling souls having been taken over by a Japanese outfit is a highlight.  However, as quickly as all these fun new ideas are deployed, they're also abandoned.  Tulip's newly revealed backstory, for instance, would have been a lot more interesting to see her deal with in an ongoing fashion.  Instead, several big developments are hastily dealt with in a single episode, and a promising character disappears from the story.  
So all in all, the series is another wildly inconsistent mixed bag.  I would count the first two episodes among the best things I've seen on television this year, with the rest about on par with the previous season.  I'm looking forward to the next run of episodes, because the show is going to be tackling one of my favorite storylines from the comics.  However, this time I'm tempering expectations.  


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