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‘Preacher’ Review: Seth Rogen’s New AMC Drama Keeps the Blood Flowing

Series based on a graphic novel is off-putting, intense — and yes, incredibly violent

If it’s blood and broken bones that you like, you’ll positively adore “Preacher,” a new 10-episode AMC series premiering Sunday night at 10 that’s as gory as anything served up by television (or films for that matter) in recent memory. At times, in fact, the red stuff flows so freely that the drama might cause an industry-wide shortage of fake plasma.

This is not to say that “Preacher” is without its merits. It fairly drips menace in tantalizing volume and holds our interest with its monumentally disturbing blend of paranormal insanity and dark comedy. The Sony Pictures TV hour that was co-developed and executive produced by Seth Rogen (yes, that one) evokes an unsettling mood that is at once jarringly off-putting and rivetingly intense.

Based on a popular cult 1990s comic book franchise of the same name, “Preacher” was trapped in development hell for the better part of 20 years before finally making it to the small screen. It’s easy to see why it may have taken a while to justify giving this thing a shot. For one, the medium needed to mature to the point where so much graphic mayhem was justified. And in an era when wrenching violence is often applauded as art (“Game of Thrones”), such a ferociously visual comic fable can thrive in all its gory splendor.

The well-acted series centers on the story of Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), a guy with a nasty history who is trying to make amends for some evidently horrible things he did. He struggles to settle in as the preacher of a sleepy and dusty small Texas burg called Annville (pun intended.)

What ol’ Jesse can’t know is that, halfway around the world, an interplanetary supernatural evil has been unleashed that keeps inhabiting people and making them spontaneously explode – a huge inconvenience when you’re looking to stay in one piece. This malevolent entity finally lands in Jesse himself, giving him a power that in the early episodes he hasn’t really a clue what to do with. But at least he hasn’t exploded. Yet.

Significantly complicating Jesse’s attempts to go straight are his murderous badass of an ex-girlfriend, Tulip (scene-stealing work from Ruth Negga) and an Irish drifter named Cassidy (well-played by Joseph Gilgun) who carries as thick a brogue as anyone you’re ever likely to see on television in the United States (and is sometimes unintelligible).

Cassidy may or may not be a vampire, by the way. What we know for sure is that he loves the taste of blood, both literal and figurative. In that sense, he’s come to the right place. Tulip, too, is always thinking about killing and dismembering things. Her brain is like a human chainsaw. She too is in her element.

Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy form an unlikely threesome fighting (or is it fueling?) the wickedness in their midst. They’re also surrounded by a sensitive young man deformed by a failed suicide attempt (Ian Colletti) and a bully bastard named Donnie (Derek Wilson) whose wife admits she likes it when he hurts her physically. I don’t think we’re in Pleasantville anymore, Toto.

The opening trio of “Preacher” episodes find a drama still trying to figure out exactly what it wants to be, besides almost shockingly gruesome. To be sure, the series has as dim and blasphemous a view of religion as anything this side of Bill Maher. It even has a running joke in which the inspirational quotes on the sign in front of the church keep being amended to spell out stuff that’s particularly sacrilegious.

There are also regular exchanges like the following:

“Pray for me, preacher.”

“If there were anyone here listening, I would.”

God is nowhere near this show – at least not the God we’re accustomed to discussing. And it’s a significant understatement to note that “Preacher” is destined to be an acquired taste for many and something to be avoided at all costs for many others. We are, after all, treated to the unnerving spectacle of people purposely shattering limbs and one man taking Preacher Jesse a bit too literally and graphically opening his heart to his aged mother.

It will be interesting to see as this series goes on if Jesse can manage to use his magical powers to prevent such blood-spattered imagery. I wouldn’t count on it. Yet despite such gut-churning imagery, the languidly-paced “Preacher” manages to pique our interest and leave us wondering whose blood will spurt next.

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