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This past November, it was announced that AMC ordered a pilot for a television series based on Preacher, the masterful comic book series written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by Steven Dillon and Glenn Fabry. It’s a tall order for a television network still within the realm of regulation. In 2008, HBO scrapped a similar attempt, deeming the series “too controversial.” How, exactly, can HBO, a channel with infinite freedom, drop a show for being too subversive only to have that show picked up by AMC, a channel with much less wiggle-room?
HBO’s initial plans for the show were to have each issue turned into an episode; it would have been as close to a direct page-to-screen adaptation as you can get, which left them to either take it all or leave it completely. We know what the final decision ended up being. In AMC’s case, I’m going to go ahead and assume that they will have to cut out more than they keep. The question is, how much can they cut while still retaining that humorously macabre tone that has made Preacher such a beloved classic?
Of course, they’ll have to tone down the violence. Preacher is an exceptionally graphic comic book, and Steven Dillon’s phenomenal artwork punctuates this fact. This one is pretty much a no-brainer. It won’t necessarily be a challenge, nor will it take all that much away from the series itself—that is, in a general sense. We as an audience can quite easily surmise the sort of damage that a bullet does without having to show us hollowed out skulls and gore in multitudes, as the comic book so frequently does.
What will be lost in removing much of the violence? Well I guess the natural next question is exactly how much is “much of?” Between Breaking Bad and the Walking Dead, from Gus Fring losing half his face to Hershel being decapitated on screen, it’s readily apparent that AMC does indeed have its fair share of creative freedom. I think that where violence is concerned, the Preacher T.V. series will be just fine. Instead, the challenge becomes balancing this high level of violence with everything else—and I assure you, there’s plenty to consider.
Take, for example, the sexual content. Yeah, yeah there’s sex in everything—big deal, right? If you’re thinking this, odds are you haven’t read Preacher. I’m not talking about your standard sexual encounters, here. I’m talking about—well—take for example a moment very early on the series. Jesse Custer, the preacher himself and our hero, merges with a demon angel and so has the power to command a person to do whatever he tells them. He tells a man, “you’re gonna go fuck yourself.” It’s later discovered that paramedics had to remove his severed penis from his anus.
In a nutshell, that example is a very good representation of what Preacher is chock-full of. Odin Quincannon, an evil racist who owns a meat factory, regularly ventures into the warehouse to have sex with a doll he constructed out of raw meat. He emerges in his underpants covered head to toe in animal blood. Herr Starr, another villain, gets his penis eaten off by a Rottweiler after a whole slew of horrible sex-related abuse is inflicted upon him over the course of the series. T.C., yet another major scoundrel that Preacher cannot make do without, is constantly having sex with farm animals, and he isn’t the only character that does this.
These aren’t rare occurrences, they’re regular ones. As twisted as they may sound, they’re part of what makes Preacher the shocking yet riveting and guiltily hilarious book that it is. It’s the sort of humor that’s near impossible to articulate to someone who hasn’t read it. I’ve tried, smiles and all, and got back nothing but blank stares. You just have to read it within the context of the story to really get it, and even then you might not enjoy it.
Although I can’t imagine any of this being bookended by ads for shampoo and Ford trucks, the twisted jokes that follow might be the most difficult to convey. Yes, the humor isn’t just limited to strange sexual acts. In Preacher, the most powerful organization on the planet is known as the Grail, and they have every world leader in their pocket. It’s revealed that 2000 years ago, they staged the crucifixion of Christ, as well as the resurrection, and then protected his bloodline for two millenniums. In protecting the bloodline, they only allowed its members to reproduce with each other to keep it “pure.” The result is obvious.
Jesus’s descendent is a severely intellectually disabled boy who wears a t-shirt with a giant yellow smiley face on it. It isn’t the religious aspect that’s a concern, it’s the fact that this boy is a joke and is designed to be mocked. In a similar fashion, there’s a character named Arseface, who attempted to shoot himself in the head. Instead of killing himself, he was left very badly maimed—hence the name “Arseface.” Even Jesse Custer can’t help but laugh at Arseface’s disfigurement and speech impediment. And Arseface is a recurring character from beginning to end. Will AMC be on board completely and influence its audience to laugh at these characters’ misfortunes?
I’m not the political-correctness police, nor do I desire to be. In fact, I’m not all that ashamed to admit that I enjoyed Preacher from beginning to end—exceptionally so. The dilemma here lies in the challenge that AMC has before them. I fear that to include even an inkling of the violence along with the twisted humor and perverse characters, this show will be airing at midnight on Sundays. The alternative: a horribly watered down, stunted version of the comic that will have had to remove, in many ways, Garth Ennis from the equation completely. If that’s the course they choose to take, there could be a lot of Preacher fans out there who want nothing to do with this show.
But it is indeed happening. Seth Rogen and his ‘Superbad’ sidekick, Evan Goldberg, are spearheading the project. The two are currently tasked with developing the pilot and, presumably, the ensuing series if all goes well. In November, Rogen tweeted, “I may get to bring one of favourite stories ever to life…Arseface. John Wayne, The Saint of Killers.” I think we’re all rooting for him. After all, wouldn’t we rather see it brought to life than sent to the grave? And the grave is most certainly a possibility. Good luck, Seth. Good luck, AMC. Good luck, Preacher.