Rebecca Barry Hill: Praise Preacher

There's quite a story behind Preacher (Mondays, 5pm, Lightbox). But even if you aren't familiar with Garth Ennis' cult 90s comic book, or the failed attempts by several film-makers to translate it to the screen, you'll still appreciate that executive producers Seth Rogan, Evan Goldberg and Sam Catlin have got something right.

Like a mad, bad mash-up of The Walking Dead and Monty Python, Preacher runs the gamut from southern gothic to splatter horror to black comedy to martial arts series to supernatural sci-fi fantasy thriller to religious satire, to well, just about any genre you can think of.

It's shockingly violent in places, gratuitous but for its ridiculousness, and the fight scenes are too energetic to suggest it's yet another Rogen stoner outing. But if it wasn't cut from a graphic novel's cloth, (emphasis on the graphic), you'd wonder if they conceived it with a little help from that rascal puff.

Shot with the bright and shadowy contrast of a comic, perhaps also to denote the forces of good and evil, Preacher starts as it means to continue: on the edges of sanity.

A mysterious force hurtles through outer space, landing somewhere in Africa. That somewhere just happens to be where a Christian preacher is giving a fervent sermon. Possessed by the force, he explodes into a bloody mess, all over his congregation. It's foul and funny, and it's just the start. (Tom Cruise is reported to have met the same end amid Scientology worshippers.)

Back in the southern US town of Annville we meet the preacher himself, Jesse Custer, the least evangelical evangelist on the planet, whose own congregation is more interested in making a mockery of the church signs out the front than they are in listening to his half-hearted sermons, save the church-goer who hounds him with mummy issues.

Dominic Cooper plays the drinking and smoking man of the cloth with cool ennui. We soon learn he has a murky past, one put to use in a bar brawl that sees him take out multiple men. We're also introduced to his ex, the cheerfully kick-ass Tulip, who appears to be running away from someone equally dangerous. Then there's the hard-drinking, tattooed Irish vampire Cassidy, an entity summonsed by the increasingly disheartened preacher that may or may not be God, and an amusingly prosthetics-enhanced character whose puckered face gives new meaning to the term, "kiss my arse". So there's quite the character-driven story running through Preacher as well, saving it from teetering over the brink of style over substance.

Although it's unlike anything else as a whole, between its creative action scenes - the pilot saw one in a moving car, another on a plane - it burns with the slow, backwater dread of True Detective and unfolds with the deadpan absurdity of Breaking Bad (Catlin worked on; Preacher was shot in Albuquerque, too). Perhaps it also owes its dark comic sensibilities to the likes of Jessica Jones, the anti-superhero who walks a fine line between good and bad. (Future episodes will no doubt reveal Jesse's possession by the angel-demon of the source material, giving him the power to make anyone do anything).

What does it say about us that, according to Parrot Analytics, Preacher is the second-most-streamed show in New Zealand behind Game of Thrones? That we're evil blasphemers with no respect for faith? No. So far anyway the show doesn't mock religion; the satire is a tool to explore spirituality or lack thereof, not to mention hypocrisy and sin. What it does say is that its weird brand of Tarantino-esque black humour has caught on beyond cult infamy. That we're bored with the usual fare. And that what viewers crave is something surprising, gritty and fun.

- NZ Herald

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