Let's Say A Prayer That AMC's New Preacher Will Find Its Way

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's comic adaptation has potential, but it doesn't quite deliver in its early episodes

The Preacher universe is as wide as heaven and as deep as hell. The AMC drama opens in space, where a comet streaks through our solar system to lodge in the chest of a reverend mid-sermon in a tin-shack church in Africa. (The clergyman doesn’t do so well in the collision between fleshy ribs and flying rock, though better than you might expect.) The comet -- or whatever it is -- then visits Russia and Tom Cruise before finally landing in a dusty Texan town where the people vie with the plains for the title of Most Lonesome. A little ways away, a man lies in a crater, his pale, exposed guts scattered like an upturned bowl of spaghetti. He is bored out of his gourd.

Also strewn indifferently are Preacher’s intersecting story lines, which span three centuries and include vampires, mind control, and assassins armed with holy water. Adapted by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Breaking Bad writer Sam Catlin from the cult comic-book series, the supernatural Western, debuting Sunday, recalls the theological irreverence and the gleeful, goopy violence of Rogen and Goldberg’s This Is the End. And, like the ax/crossbow/machete/bong fight aboard a private plane that ends with a demonstration of the primacy of teeth as a weapon, Preacher is silly and dark and crude and ambitious.

But it isn’t as fun as it should be. The 1.5-hour pilot (a little over an hour without commercials) drags, and the following three episodes are weighed down by shallow and familiar characters, none-too-compelling mysteries, and slow-moving and disjointed plot developments. Given the project’s pedigree, the writers seem to expect that viewers will stick around -- without providing very many reasons to do so.

Take the antiheroic title character, Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), the minister to a tiny, apathetic flock. As Preacher often is, it’s dryly funny when his no-nonsense organist Emily (Lucy Griffiths) puts Jesse out of his misery one Sunday morning by playing him off the podium. And there’s something queasily intriguing about the smile he wears while punching one of his congregants, an abusive husband, at a bar. Jesse’s far more dangerous than he realizes, as a man of God with a taste for blood — and that’s before he’s gifted with the Kilgrave-like power to make people carry out his will. “Open your heart,” he tells one callow parishioner. The latter follows his instructions in the most literal way.

And yet we’re largely stuck with Jesse moping about, proclaiming his desire to serve his community, nattering on about the nature of sin, and flashing back to the events that gave him daddy issues. Tempting him back to his previous life of crime is his ex-girlfriend Tulip (a scene-stealing Ruth Negga), a bomb-making, crotch-kicking, would-be firecracker who’d be a lot more interesting if she had anything else to do but wait around for Jesse to change his mind. Instead, he mostly hangs out with his Irish vampire friend Cassidy (an unintelligible Joseph Gilgun), who’s being hunted by a shadowy group of very serious, very inept men hard to take seriously.

Individual scenes may boast humor or unease or badassery, but dramatically, Preacher feels more like someone kicking up some dirt rather than getting caught up in a tornado of mayhem. The show makes many a promise about its potential. Let us pray that it delivers on them.