SXSW generally has a great slate of TV premieres but most of the shows they lined up this year didn’t stir my interest one way or another. The big exception was Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s adaptation of Preacher, set to air on AMC this summer, which I was interested in not because I thought it would be good but because I was curious to see whether Rogen and Goldberg gave in to their worst habits as a result of the source material. Preacher in comic form is one of those curious ’90s Vertigo efforts that comic fans love to hold up as an example of how comics can be “mature” and literary, oblivious to how childish and artless it is; it’s a series that has multiple gay panic subplots and enough “brave” attacks on “PC culture” to make Donald Trump smile, there is nothing adult about it. Which is why the announcement that Rogen and Goldberg would be helming the show had me even more worried. It seemed like Preacher would be an opportunity for them to regress and indulge in their worst geek impulses all while geeks cheered them on for “getting it right.” After seeing the premiere, I am happy to admit that (so far) I was dead wrong.
The pilot begins with a stylistically jarring representation of a celestial force rocketing through space and eventually coming down to earth, where the style shifts to the aesthetic viewers might be used to from prior Rogen and Goldberg works like This is the End. The space parts have an odd ’80s sci-fi tv feel, complete with big blocky text, but the moment the force lands on earth and possesses the body of a preacher, everything becomes more cinematic and expansive, setting the framework for what is ultimately an extremely well-produced and shot pilot. The pilot splits its time between incidents involving this force– which is seen possessing religious figures across the world and causing them to explode, in turn — and small town life in west Texas, where reformed criminal Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) is struggling to adapt to life as a preacher. Things are complicated by the sudden reappearance of his criminal and romantic partner Tulip (Ruth Negga), who has tracked him down in order to convince him to go in on a big score with her. Oh yeah, and a vampire named Cassidy (Joe Gilgun) has literally dropped into town.
One of the most impressive aspects of the pilot is how well it balances all that, effortlessly moving from scene to scene, providing ample action and solid character beats. Cooper absolutely nails Jesse’s struggle to be a good guy despite his awareness that the only thing he is good at is hurting people, but Negga is the real star here, turning Tulip into a far more actualized and dynamic character than she was in the comics. The show still has the bleak humor of Garth Ennis’ script, but it’s more humane and complex now, not as self-indulgent and juvenile, and while the show does not have the loose kineticism and lonely backgrounds of Steve Dillon’s art, it matches its vividness and style, particularly in the impressively choreographed action sequences. Early buzz had marked Preacher as another Walking Dead for AMC, but other than a network and an origin in comics, the shows couldn’t be more different. Preacher has a deeper visual sense and far more interesting performances, but I will say that if the show can remain even half as engaging as it is in the pilot, it will almost certainly be just as much of a hit for the network as Walking Dead has been.
Far more frustrating and disappointing was the next film I caught, Goodnight Brooklyn: The Story of Death by Audio, a documentary about the titular DIY venue that was closed down after Vice Media bought out their building. Though Goodnight Brooklyn is expertly shot and edited, it’s in service of what might as well be a vanity project. Directed by former Death by Audio co-owner Matt Conboy, Goodnight Brooklyn doesn’t necessarily aim for objectivity but the lack of distance between its subjects and its documentarians is troubling, especially since Conboy’s involvement isn’t well communicated until the end. The film lovingly presents the origins of Death by Audio for the first third of its runtime, and in this section it is interesting at points, but by the halfway mark, as the space’s demise is imminent, it becomes overly self-indulgent and entitled.
Ultimately, Goodnight Brooklyn is little more than a home movie, the kind of artifact that should have stayed within a circle of friends, like a wedding video or a tape of a kid’s recital. This is not a film that wants to engage with any sort of larger conversation about art and commerce in America, and in many ways actively works against the efforts of activists in other cities who are better equipped to navigate the murky waters of expansion. Goodnight Brooklyn will undoubtedly go over well with music fans who, to paraphrase Conboy himself, boringly devote their time to talking about how much better thing used to be, but anyone who wants to better understand the cyclical way businesses co-opt areas of cities that have been culturally developed by artists should look elsewhere.
Luckily, day four still ended on a relative high note, with Thomas Dekker’s impressive psychological thriller Jack Goes Home. Like Jacob’s Ladder before it, Jack Goes Home is an exploration of trauma that utilizes horror tropes and imagery to bring viewers closer to its protagonist’s headspace. The eponymous Jack is masterfully played with smug ferocity by Rory Culkin, while the underrated character actor and horror icon Lin Shaye plays his seemingly unhinged mother, who he is visiting after a car accident injured her and killed his father. Smartly constructed and shot, Jack Goes Home doesn’t necessarily break new ground but Dekker’s direction is so confident and his aesthetic sense so well honed it feels like a completely unique horror experience.
Morgan Davis sells bootleg queso on the streets of Austin in order to fund Loser City. When he isn’t doing that, he gets complimented and/or threatened by Austin’s musical community for stuff he writes at Ovrld, which he is the Managing Editor of.