I tuned in to last night’s Preacher finale hoping for a course correction from last week’s episode. Preacher is a pretty nutty show with over-the-top action and largely consequence-free violence, but last week saw a bunch of characters acting out of character for seemingly no reason. I was really hoping for some explanation in this finale. No such luck. Rather than explain these characters, the show just swept them off the table. Last night’s finale was a nihilistic slap in the face to any of us who liked and invested in the ensemble cast, aside from the trio of badasses at the show’s center who strut from one situation to the next. There is only one virtue in Preacher: be a badass (and only one vice: failure to be a badass). Everyone else might as well burn up in a fiery explosion and if you disagree with that statement…..well, you’re not gonna like Preacher.
If, like me, you feel a little burned by Preacher’s finale then let me recommend an alternative: Outcast. While Preacher’s spent time trying to impress us with its fairly adolescent take on Christianity and Tarantino sensibility, Outcast has slowly been building a more lasting mythology with characters who not only act in understandable ways, but actually face consequences for their behavior. Preacher has had some high points (episode six’s clone battle was fantastic) but Outcast has been building its world and developing its characters with a disciplined confidence. Outcast’s first season reminds me of Wayward Pines’ first season, when each week introduced new elements to the storytelling and subverting those elements with later revelations. On Outcast, the first few episodes lead you to expect a possession-of-the-week dynamic with haunted ghostbuster Kyle Barnes and rabble-rousing preacher Reverend Anderson partnering up to battle evil. The show quickly evolves beyond that premise as we learn that (A) there are way more demons in town than the heroes thought, (B) they can’t always defeat these demons and (C) these demons might not be all that bad. At this point, having watched all of Preacher and all the aired episodes of Outcast, I strongly encourage you to dump Preacher and pickup Outcast.
It is a weird coincidence to have two shows on that put faith front and center, not to mention the fact that Preacher appears on AMC, the channel whose top rated show is The Walking Dead, which was created by Robert Kirkman, who also created Outcast. Despite the superficial similarities, the two shows couldn’t be much more different in tone. Outcast is mostly focused on its haunted hero and his fire and brimstone partner in exorcism. It is a slow, creepy exploration about a local people in a small town overrun by lurking demons. Preacher, on the other hand, bounces from extreme situation to extreme situation and tries way to hard to provide memorable characters: a violent preacher, a friendly but bloodthirsty Irish vampire, a couple of gun-toting angels, a respawning, murderous evil angel, and the genuinely interesting (when she’s not being boringly violent) Tulip. You might notice that all of these characters have one thing in common: everyone is homicidal. On Preacher, everyone is a badass. There’s no question about whether a character can be violent, it’s only a question of when. Thus, it really isn’t so much a cast of characters as much as a character select screen from Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat.
If this sounds unsustainable, it is. Last week, Preacher started to go off the rails. We saw a Sheriff find a victim of an unspeakable crime trapped in a bathtub. See, the heroes had captured an evil angel and were keeping her dismembered body alive so she couldn’t die and respawn (apparently somebody’s been watching Dogma). The sheriff doesn’t know any of this and when she pleads with him to “kill” her, he almost immediately agrees – despite not knowing her name, where her assailants are, or anything about how she wound up there. And that wasn’t the weirdest part. Before that, we were treated to this dialogue: “Cassidy’s a vampire. Okay? Are you okay with that? You good? Can you deal?” Because that’s a thing people say to other people. And the character who hears this (learn in one brief moment that vampires exist and someone she knows is one) not only deals with it, she even sacrifices her long time lover to this vampire she met a few weeks ago. And if that seems abrupt as you read it in this paragraph, please know it was even worse when I watched it on the show. If a guy you kind of know turned out to be homicidal vampire, would you sacrifice to him someone you kind-of disliked? Well, that’s Preacher. Over and over again, we see people who are not acting like people.
Outcast’s characters, while not all perfect, are all much more relatable. In fact, it’s odd that of these two shows, Outcast actually has the more interesting preacher in Reverend Anderson. He’s the deadly serious, old school sermonizer who is increasingly more hopelessly lost in the morally ambiguous world Outcast created (and Philip Glenister is amazing in the role). He’s sacrificed his entire life to fight this unappreciated battle in his small town, he’s utterly incapable of understanding anyone who disagrees with him (or his faith) and he’s frequently jealous of his own younger partner’s gift for exorcism. The other scene stealer is Brent Spiner who is Dexter-level creepy against the two leads. Spiner’s quiet menace makes him a much more interesting antagonist than any of the villains on Preacher. It helps that Spiner is mesmerizing on Preacher; now I wish he had appeared on Dexter. Sure, Outcast has a few annoying sideline characters also but that show’s ability to actually put the characters in complex situations has earned my faith. On shows like Preacher, I often don’t really know what the characters are going to do (though if you guess “be a badass” you’re probably right). On Outcast, I don’t even know what the characters should do and I’m really interested to see what happens next.
So as Preacher wraps up its first season, let me encourage you to take a look at Outcast. Outcast takes a little while to get going but once it hits its stride, it’s pretty awesome. There aren’t as many gun fights, or fist fights, or scenes with women loudly urinating, but – trust me – it’s a much more interesting show to watch.