Season 2 of AMC's Preacher puts its characters on an epic road trip, allowing the series to become what it should have been all along.
More and more it seems that television series look at their first season as something of a prologue or proof of concept, for both the plot and the characters, before digging into a meatier storyline that will unfold as the show moves into season 2 and, with any luck, beyond. While it makes for an impressive change that may help get a few more eyeballs to tune in, and generate some necessary discussion, it can also be a source of frustration. As much as a less-than-stellar first season makes any improvement seem monumental in comparison, it also raises the question of: Well, why the hell didn't they get it right the first time? That's not entirely the case with AMC's adaptation of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's comic book series Preacher, which had a lot to like, but it's not without merit, either.
Developed by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Breaking Bad's Sam Catlin, the series has always had a firm grip on the subversive tone of the comics, and often managed to translate that onto the screen in terrific, but inconsistent ways. The series began with exploding bodies, a Tom Cruise Scientology joke, and an outlandish fight between an Irish vampire and a sect of vampire hunters onboard an airplane that ended with a human being turned into a blood keg. Throughout the season, the story of Genesis, its host, Jessie Custer, and his companions, Tulip O'Hare and the aforementioned vampire Cassidy, maintained its insubordinate tone, and showed glimpses of what the series could eventually be. A fight between three angels and a preacher inside a seedy roadside motel was a promising set piece that underlined the show's ability to get creative when dishing out copious amounts of cartoonish violence.
The series works best when its absurdity and insolence converge in moments like that heavenly throw down, and especially in the season finale, which featured a Facetime call to the Almighty (who wasn't God at all) and a methane explosion that wiped the season 1 setting of the face of the earth. That meant losing characters played by terrific actors like Jackie Earle Haley, W. Earl Brown, and Lucy Griffiths, but for anyone hoping to see the series escape the nearly surreal confines of Annville, Texas, watching the methane-infused mushroom cloud rise into the sky was promising, to say the least. And the season 2 premiere, 'On the Road', is the show's fulfillment of that promise.
The turn Preacher takes from season 1 to season 2 isn't as drastic as, say, the one Parks & Rec took, which transitioned the series from a light, Office-inspired look at local government to one of the best comedies on TV. Instead, the changes to Preacher boil down to focus and the execution of ideas. Season 1 took its time letting Jesse get to know the power of Genesis and to establish his relationship to Cassidy and Tulip, but for a show about an oddball trio searching for God, there wasn't much searching going on. 'On the Road', however, is all about that quest for the absent deity.
With its foot pressed firmly on the accelerator in terms of progressing the narrative with each episode – critics were given the first three hours in advance and they're all quite good – everything improves. Even certain flights of fancy and narrative digressions feel like they have a greater purpose than just to demonstrate how weird the show can get when it wants to. A greater commitment to the overarching story also eliminates the sense of drift that was so persistent in season 1. Here, rather than the nebulous town of Annville binding Jess, Tulip, and Cassidy to a narrative that moved in fits and starts, the characters are bracketed by their ongoing quest and the Terminator-like presence of the Saint of Killers tracking the trio wherever they go and leaving a pile of bodies in his wake.
Graham McTavish's dusty killer cowboy was revealed over the course of the first season in a series of asides that, although they produced a violent, Western-themed episode that was reminiscent of Groundhog Day, still felt like filler. Here, the Saint of Killers is a wonderfully present and potent source of tension; he's the boot that keeps the accelerator floored and the series from spending too much time in one place. The Saint also brings the series' love of grindhouse-like ultra-violence to the surface, as the unkillable antagonist cuts a swath through a group of heavily armed Texas lawmen. It's a frenetic sequence that caps off an anarchic car chase set to Dexy's Midnight Runner's 'Come on Eileen', and continues the show's wonderfully flagrant disregard for moderation and subtlety with an insane shootout that ends with Tulip using a man's intestines to syphon gas into her car.
There are other benefits to the increased focus that go beyond the omnipresent threat of a gun-slinging cowboy from hell. Putting Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy in a car together intensifies their relationships, and creates a different sort of tension that promises another layer of conflict as the proximity makes Cassidy's romantic feelings for Tulip deepen, just as she and Jesse rekindle their relationship. Rogen, Goldberg, and Catlin clearly the see the benefit of having all three spent as much time with one another as possible, transferring them from car to cramped bed as the premiere pauses to catch its breath with a playful and absurd interlude at the house of a fellow preacher played by Glenn Morshower.
In all, Preacher season 2 is more of everything that was good about the series from season 1 and the comics. By putting the characters on an epic road trip, it allows the series to become what it should have been all along. Rogen, Goldberg, and Catlin are still taking their own route with regard to telling Ennis and Dillon's story, but now that the characters are tearing up the asphalt, it makes the journey far more entertaining.
Preacher continues Monday, June 26 with 'Mumbai Sky Tower' @10pm on AMC.
Photos: Skip Bolen/AMC/Sony Pictures Television