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‘Preacher’ review: Seth Rogen’s dark TV adaptation may work best on page

Dominic Cooper as Jesse Custer in AMC's

Dominic Cooper as Jesse Custer in AMC's "Preacher." Credit: Sony Pictures Televsion/AMC / Lewis Jacobs

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on AMC


WHAT IT’S ABOUT A mysterious force from outer space is targeting Earth’s preachers, until it reaches one Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) of Annville, Texas — the series is shot in and around Albuquerque, New Mexico — and then something truly mysterious happens. Jesse has a dark past, to which his ex, Tulip (Ruth Negga) wants him to return. Jesse has other ideas. Notably, he wants a sign from God that He exists. One night, over a cold beer at the local bar, he makes a new friend: Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun). He also has a dark past — arguably darker than Jesse’s. This show is based on the Vertigo comic series of the same name, by Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon and was developed for TV by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (“Superbad,” “Pineapple Express”).

MY SAY At long last, “Preacher,” has arrived. Over the years, the beloved comic book series eluded the grasp of Kevin Smith, Bob Weinstein, HBO, and Sam Mendes, before finally submitting to the most unlikely of teams, Rogen and Goldberg. Why so long to get this adaptation to the screen? Content must have been an obvious impediment — that unholy brew of grindhouse gore and ecclesiastical sacrilege — but hardly the only one. Maybe “Preacher” was simply one of those rare comics that worked better on the page than on screen. Judging from the first four episodes, this reason can’t be ruled out.

The pilot, effectively directed by Rogen and Goldberg, is unadulterated Tarantino — the Tarantino of, say, “Kill Bill,” both volumes. You arrive in the middle of a story, or stories, while a series of on-screen cards reading “Back to Africa,” “Russia,” or “Kansas Not That Long Ago” serves as signposts to a narrative that isn’t “linear” so much as “tick-tack-toe.” You won’t be twiddling your thumbs waiting around for the violence either. One extended scene — easily the best — turns a cornfield into a giant, green Etch a Sketch scrawl. Another demonstrates how to turn a toy soldier and tin can into lethal weapons.

“Preacher” has an acrid — and appropriately horrifying — sense of humor, too. Cassidy, who often quotes from his favorite movies, gets the best lines. So does an unseen news announcer on TV. (I won’t give away that laugh-out-loud line).

But as you have already correctly deduced, pure Tarantino as an operating principle for a TV series can only go so far and for so long. Over the next three episodes, “Preacher” settles into a more familiar TV rhythm of character exposition, back story and reveals. What’s missing, glaringly, is the fun of the pilot. The three leads are good — Negga’s Tulip heists her scenes and almost the series — but their scenes often falter or occasionally stall out.

You may start to wonder as I did whether “Preacher’s” real problem isn’t content. Maybe it’s the story.

BOTTOM LINE Good setup pilot on Sunday that doesn’t quite carry over into subsequent episodes.

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