In an ever-expanding television landscape with over 500 shows on the air, it’s only natural that some will fly under the radar — of course, we can’t watch everything at once. Usually, the shows that go relatively unnoticed fall into one of two categories: unremarkable series that slip into oblivion by virtue of the fact that they’re not good, and genuine hidden gems that get buried under the landslide of television programming and never truly hit the mainstream. Preacher, the supernatural horror/black comedy/Western series starring Dominic Cooper, is undoubtedly a show that belongs in the latter category.
Preacher, which celebrates the first anniversary of its finale this week, was an adaptation of a Garth Ennis comic of the same name. Produced by Sam Catlin, Evan Goldberg, and Seth Rogen, Preacher only aired for a relatively short four-season run on AMC, but oh, what a trip those four seasons were. The show followed the story of Jesse Custer (Cooper), an alcoholic pastor with serious emotional baggage and daddy issues who suddenly finds himself playing bodily host to Genesis, a half-angel, half-demon that gives him the ability to control minds and bend anyone’s will at his command — an ability referred to as The Word.
With his newfound power, Jesse also finds himself with some new enemies hungry to capture it for themselves — everyone from a German psychopath with a foreskin for an ear to a resurrected Civil War cowboy to God himself comes chasing after Jesse at one point or another. Luckily, though, he’s not alone — by his side are his kickass bombshell girlfriend Tulip O’Hare (Ruth Negga) and a bisexual Irish vampire named Cassidy (Joe Gilgun) who also accompanies the pair as the world’s most depressing/iconic third wheel.
Together, the three of them travel the globe simultaneously on the hunt for God and on the run from the villainous Herr Starr — and along the way, they encounter anything and everything you could possibly think up. That unpredictability, nay, insanity, is what makes Preacher so great — it obeys no rules, refuses to concede to expectation or commonality, and makes no attempt to follow in the footsteps of what comes before. Although certain elements of the show draw inspiration or pay homage to classics of the Western and horror genres, Preacher never tries to be anything but its batsh** crazy self.
But as fun as the insanity of it all can be, Preacher’s greatest strength has always been its core trio. The show struck gold with Cooper, Negga, and Gilgun — all of whom give incredible, full-bodied performances that strike the perfect balance of comedy and emotionality to fit within the show’s strange and sometimes difficult-to-place town. Straight from the very first episode, it’s clear all three actors know exactly what they’ve gotten themselves into, and it’s a blast to see them play around in the veritable sandbox of chaos that is each week’s script.
Not only are they suited to the show’s tone, but they’re suited to each other. Jesse and Tulip are the show’s prominent relationship from the get-go, and it should come as no surprise to anyone that Cooper and Negga have electric chemistry — not only because they’re brilliant actors, but also because the duo was in a real-life relationship for several years. Both on and offscreen, the romantic connection is there.
What truly sets Jesse and Tulip apart though, is that unlike so many other genre romances, it’s not just the action hero and the beautiful woman by his side. Yes, Jesse is the leading man (who, by his own admission, takes inspiration from the swoon-worthy cowboys of classic Westerns), but Tulip is the show’s second protagonist, and very much her own woman — she is never defined by, tied down to, or relegated to being purely just the girlfriend. Where Jesse struggles to do justice to the memory of his father and to grapple with the newfound power inside of him, Tulip has her own journey trying to end the “O’Hare curse” that plagues her entire family and proving to herself that she isn’t the no-good, short-tempered screw-up that the world tells her she is.
While they’re endlessly brilliant separate, they’re also mesmerizing when they’re together — they have the kind of chemistry that is instantly believable and fits like a glove, which spells trouble for the show’s third lead (and my favorite character), Gilgun's Cassidy, who falls in love with Tulip the moment he lays eyes on her. Before you roll your eyes because it’s another love triangle, remember how well-rounded and beautifully developed Tulip is as a character — because all of that development comes to fruition here.
The love triangle in Preacher isn’t “poor, beautiful Tulip forced to choose between her childhood love and the mysterious new guy,” it’s “poor Cassidy, he’s in love with Tulip, who is clearly in love with Jesse.” As much as you want to root for Tulip and Jesse’s romance because they simply work as a couple, the show is designed so that at the same time, seeing them happy together is like a dagger to the heart because it’s killing Cassidy inside.
Joe Gilgun gives a tour-de-force performance — pulling double duty as both the comic relief and the show’s emotional core. While Cassidy undoubtedly gets the show’s funniest lines (although every character’s dialogue is filled to the brim with snark and vitriol) he also grounds the show in its most depressing, emotional moments. Behind all of his wise-cracking, blood-sucking, and booze-pounding, Cassidy is just a lonely, broken soul who wants to be loved.
The only thing more tragic than Cassidy’s pining, Jesse’s religious guilt, and Tulip’s family curse is how unappreciated Preacher was in its run — during its final season, the series barely cracked half a million views per episode. But, Preacher deserves to find a second life via streaming, as it’s currently available to binge on Hulu. There isn’t a series out there more deserving of mainstream success and praise. Combine three beautiful, nuanced, razor-sharp characters with breakneck dialogue, some impressive action, and a plot that whirls from place to place like a ping-pong ball in a blender, and you get Preacher — one hell of a show.