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It’s no secret that no one stays dead on television anymore. Characters can always be revived, mortality can always be conquered, whether or not the show exists in any recognizable reality. What some of TV’s best shows have done is look at the consequences of that changing dynamic, the logistics of how to get viewers invested in the fates of people who may just live forever.
In its first two seasons, AMC’s graphic novel adaptation “Preacher” concerned itself with maybe the only thing bigger than death: the existence of God itself. Sometimes that’s manifested itself in the form of the series’ main character Jesse (Dominic Cooper) struggling to deal with an unstoppable power he’s been given. When the show hopped venues to New Orleans for Season 2, the essential trio of Jesse, Tulip (Ruth Negga), and Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) searched for The Almighty inside jazz clubs and seedy off-highway motels.
While the show hasn’t always been laser-focused in his attention to these cosmic questions, there’s a certain degree of verve with which it’s tackled its characters’ predicaments. Muddy, murky Texas landscapes and rainbow-colored casino interiors made for fresh places for this TV story to thrive.
Season 3 of the show returns with some new tricks of its own. With at least one main character stuck in a realm beyond that of the living — no, not Eugene, who struggled for all of Season 2 in his own literal hell — this is the world that, by necessity has built worlds beyond the recognizable. One of the series’ best bits of mythmaking is the Season 3 opening flashback, told with the aged, near-grayscale feel of a vintage postcard.
But as with the 23 episodes that have come before it, the biggest stumbling block of “Preacher” has been in the way he treats its ever-shifting relationship to mortality. A convoluted mixture of soul splitting, corpse reviving, and blood guzzling mixed with a heavy theological aftertaste, “Preacher” is a cocktail and it goes down smooth, but has gradually lost its bite.
The triple-barrel combo of Cooper, Negga, and Gilgun that made the Season 2 opening road trip to New Orleans so invigorating has slowly curdled into a far less interesting love triangle of sorts. With everyone competing for each other’s affections, these are three distinct characters that are slowly being robbed of what once made them vibrant. Forced into a cycle of questionable allegiances, encroaching pasts, and an all-encompassing need to avoid direct sunlight, “Preacher” has reached the point where the most compelling parts of the series are the new forces taking shape on the sidelines. (Cassidy’s umbrella hats, however, remain a consistent delight.)
The relative newcomers to the series inject a bit of life and heft into a show that occasionally feel trapped. As a supernaturally gifted matriarch and Jesse’s ancestor, Betty Buckley adds to an impressive recent resume of featured on-screen figures. As Herr Starr, Pip Torrens continues to be one of the best-case incarnations of a true comic book villain. And though the beginning of Season 3 doesn’t offer her much, there’s still plenty of promise in Julie Ann Emery’s Featherstone, not to mention her partner Hoover (new series regular Malcolm Barrett).
Michael Slovis, a series-favorite director whose sure hand delivered some of the best fight sequences of 2017, returns the show to fill the usual Evan Goldberg/Seth Rogen season premiere role behind the camera. While nothing so far in Season 3, one explosion aside, reaches the wild heights of its predecessors, there’s an energy in the visual inventiveness of “Preacher” that make a compelling case for sticking with the show through its more languid story stretches.
Co-creator and showrunner Sam Catlin is in a tricky corner, having to navigate a world where Jesse and Co. are mired in a tussle for cosmic supremacy while hiding out in a setting that naturally pulls “Preacher” to a quieter, introspective place. Part of the appeal of the show is seeing how far out the ripples from Jesse’s actions go. But now that the show is at a point where it has to connect all those dots, stretching further and further away from the core trio, that’s a bit of an odd, unenviable task. “Preacher” doesn’t have to be on the move or tussling with the physical embodiment of God to be interesting to watch. The next time the show puts its wheels to the road, there’s still the potential of both journey and destination being worth the ride. For now, it’s stalling — it just needs to call on the neglected parts of the characters at its heart to get things back up and running.
“Preacher” Season 3 premieres Sunday, June 24 at 10 p.m. on AMC.
Launch Gallery: The Best TV Shows on Each Network, Right Now — June 2018