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With its exploding pastors, gun-toting angels, fantastic fight scenes and pop-culture zingers, it should be a hit. And yet Preacher remains unpreached. Why?

If you had to choose a year to release a TV adaptation of a violent and profane comic book, you would probably choose 2016.

The Walking Dead, despite being an interminable mirth-vacuum, still gets the kind of viewing figures usually reserved for moon landings and halftime-show wardrobe malfunctions. Marvels Daredevil proved comic book TV doesnt have to be a joyless chore, as did its twin sister, Jessica Jones. And lets not forget that the biggest show in the world the one discussed equally by academics, footballers, Michael Gove and your mum has dragons in it. Actual dragons.

The point is, were lapping up genre TV. Preacher could not have launched to a more receptive audience at a more receptive time. And yet no one is talking about it. Watercoolers remain uncrowded. Preacher remains unpreached. Have you ever rushed home because every second of not knowing what happens in the next episode of Preacher is like a fingernail down the chalkboard of your soul? No. And thats a shame, because, as brilliant as Preacher is (and lets get this out of the way now it really is), its an oddly difficult show to love.

Preacher's
Flawless start Preachers exploding pastor. Photograph: Lewis Jacobs/Sony Pictures/AMC

It started flawlessly. The celestial 50s sci-fi B-movie opening. The exploding pastor. Cassidys fight on the private jet a brilliant mess of breathless choreography, Guy Ritchie camerawork, guffaws and red stuff. From the block-capital title cards to the shows sandy, saturated palette, here was a new show that had stuck in a flag and claimed territory all of its own. It looked like a mongrel of Utopia and Fargo, it played like a sordid tryst between Buffy and Ash vs Evil Dead (also excellent if you havent watched it yet), but it felt new. Like something that could only exist after all the high-end genre telly before it had flattened down a path.

Ruth
Ruth Negga as Tulip OHare, who flits from vulnerable to punch-your-face-off in a flip of the bird. Photograph: Matthias Clamer/AMC

Its trio of leads help: Dominic Cooper is just the right side of impossibly handsome to pull off a murdering-criminal-turned-preacher; Ruth Negga flits from vulnerable to punch-your-face-off in a flip of the bird; and Joe Gilgun somehow makes Cassidy, the mass-murdering vampire, more darn lovable than a bucket full of puppies and cash. Yes, his Oirish accent is wobbly, but you wouldnt ever tell him that, in case you hurt his feelings.

Its in the introduction of secondary characters that Preacher starts to creak. Every scene involving Eugene or besotted church helper Emily siphons off energy from the narrative which was in no rush to begin with. The show also ignores more interesting side players for episodes at a time, from the Angels to Jackie Earle Haleys delectably bastardous Quincannon.

Tom
The Angels Tom Brooke as Fiore and Anatol Yusef as DeBlanc. Photograph: Matthias Clamer/AMC

Maybe its a hangover from the Game of Throneses and Breaking Bads of tellyland, but any instance now in which a shows end credits roll and your gob isnt on the floor feels like a missed opportunity. Preacher simply doesnt do sedentary that well. In fairness, it has deployed a few OMG moments in recent episodes, but, in an age of constant gratification, it had surely haemorrhaged a fair number of viewers before that point.

This first series is effectively a prequel to the comics, which is the reason for its occasionally languid crawl. Preachers co-developers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg said they wanted to show the Preacher actually preaching, which the comics never did. So we get character development, slow-burning machinations and flashbacks, which are fine for the most part, and occasionally fantastic. But, overall, what that leaves is a show that has never quite grabbed you by the lapels and informed you that your social life is now its property. And isnt that what were all looking for?

Joseph
Joe Gilgun as Cassidy, the lovable mass-murdering vampire. Photograph: Lewis Jacobs/Sony Pictures/AMC

Everything Preacher does so well the OTT violence, the pop-culture zingers, the sheer handsomeness of the thing, the battle set pieces (is the motel fight the most enjoyable thing that has been on TV all year?) make its minor shortcomings sting all the more. The good news is that it has been commissioned for a longer, 13-episode second season. The groundwork laid in this first run will hopefully, surely, bear fruit in the second. Im going to keep watching in the hope that Preacher will grow to be the show we know it can be. And, just maybe, to pretend that Cassidy is my best friend in the whole, wide world.

As for now: Preacher has come mighty close, but it hasnt yet earned its cigar.

Preacher airs in the US on Sundays at 9pm on AMC, with new episodes available in the UK every Monday on Amazon Prime.

Read more: www.theguardian.com


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