Skip Bolen/AMC

Preacher: Season Two

Preacher: Season Two

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It’s only a few minutes into the second season of Preacher before a character has to siphon gas out of a car using a segment of human intestine, so as to escape the scene of a gruesome shootout that follows a stylish car chase. It’s a sequence that manages to simultaneously thrill and repulse, neatly encapsulating the show’s unique weirdness, and by placing it at the outset of the season, series creators Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, and Sam Catlin announce their commitment to their show’s inventive lunacy.

Season two begins where last season ended, with Jesse (Dominic Cooper), Tulip (Ruth Negga), and Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) on the open road, striking out to find God after learning he’d absconded from heaven. The road trip is well-suited to Preacher’s typical blend of comedy and horror, and the show’s writers take advantage by punctuating the trio’s crass banter with a cataclysmic shootout that reintroduces the demon preacher pursuing Jesse. The cartoonish demon bears a distinct resemblance to WWE wrestler the Undertaker, and mechanically delivers violence with a degree of brutality that’s new for the series, faithfully paralleling its comic-book inspiration. Based on the newfound level of madness reached by Preacher in its second season, Goldberg, Rogen, and Catlin appear pleased to have freed their story from the confines of Annville, determined to capitalize on that freedom by expanding the show’s universe and embracing the vulgarity of the comics.

The demon isn’t the only grave threat added to the narrative as the trio drives east: A religious cabal is introduced, and Tulip is revealed to be hiding from a shadowy figure from her past. The romantic dynamic between Jesse and Tulip, previously unattended to in any significant way, is foreshadowed as a source of future tension. It’s hard to discern which of these developments is the most pressing at any given time, because Preacher presents each one with a uniform potential for catastrophe. Characters treat demons, lovers, and the impending apocalypse with the same urgency, a reflection of the show’s tendency to prioritize world building over measured plot development.

Preacher’s madcap imagination makes its occasional blemishes easy to overlook.

This would be frustrating if the world of Preacher weren’t so vividly realized. The show’s look transforms in season two, as the main trio ventures into an American South that’s presented as an unsettling dreamland, a place where motels host gun conventions, strip clubs feature live jazz, and ministers lock their parishioners in cages. The atmosphere is notably darker and more interior, with scenes unfolding in dingy New Orleans alleys and cramped old houses, each new setting depicted with a startling level of specificity and attention to detail. The Mumbai-themed casino in one episode is an inspired location concept that’s entertaining enough as a peculiarity. Preacher mines for the gag humor at a granular level, revealing within the casino’s garish façade an eccentric wedding chapel, complete with a harried casino wedding “planner” who shouts stereotypically into a handheld radio.

Preacher steers its way through this landscape with hyperactive attention, rapidly shifting its focus and tone to pursue a variety of inspirations that range from grindhouse to slapstick. The series exudes an offbeat visual energy that’s often intoxicating, even in moments that would appear excessive and inessential otherwise. The episode in the casino detours into a frenetic, hysterical drug scene that would be inexplicably long if it weren’t plainly obvious that the show’s creators derive such pleasure in its execution. Instances of preposterous violence could appear cruel or arbitrary if they weren’t executed with such imagination and flair.

Preacher does occasionally falter, usually when shifting its gaze away from the three main characters for too long. Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy aren’t multidimensional, but the actors share a sparkling chemistry that imbues their characters’ sarcastic salvos with a magnetic familiarity. Their absence looms over the show’s periodic diversions into scenes with the milquetoast Eugene (Ian Colletti). Although his future evolution is hinted at, Eugene isn’t yet compelling enough on his own to command attention.

Developments in the main plot can occur with unlikely convenience. Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy assume the impossible task of locating God among seven billion humans, and each new lead they follow is improbably fruitful. The many peripheral characters they visit have each heard something, a morsel of gossip or a name for the trio to track down, straining credulity, even in a story as ridiculous as this. More believable are the new romantic and criminal plots that don’t bear the stench of divine intervention or coincidence. The show’s madcap imagination, however, makes these occasional blemishes easy to overlook. This is a story about saving the world, and Preacher has built one worth not only saving, but savoring.

Airtime
AMC, Sundays, 10 p.m.
Cast
Dominic Cooper, Ruth Negga, Joseph Gilgun, Ian Colletti, Graham McTavish, Julie Ann Emery, Noah Taylor, Pip Torrens