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This show breathes atmosphere

click to enlarge Dominic Cooper (center) stars as a cursed man of God in AMC's Preacher.
  • Dominic Cooper (center) stars as a cursed man of God in AMC's Preacher.

AMC's Preacher (9 pm, Sundays) loves to bask in its blood and blasphemy. There are moments of vicious violence. A chainsaw fight with a vampire results in quite a few limbs being hacked off. There are instances of gross-out immaturity. The character design for "Arseface" would feel more at home in the first season of South Park than in prestige television.

There are also moments of needless cruelty. In the pilot, preacher Jesse Custer is blessed (or cursed) with the power to speak with the "Word of God," forcing listeners to follow his commands to the letter.

He tells a beleaguered parishioner to "open [his] heart" to his mother. So the poor parishioner drives down to his mother's retirement home, pulls out a knife, literally carves his heart out and hands it to her. (Apparently, the Word of God doesn't understand idioms.)

But — and this especially true for a series that features its fair share of beheadings — there's something to be said for execution.

Drawing upon the talent of Breaking Bad alum Sam Catlin as the showrunner, it nails the execution. The show breathes atmosphere in and out. The gorgeously composed shots of the Texas town of Annville make the show feel alternatively soaked in sweat or cracked with dust. It oozes dread, not through cheap musical stingers like so much of TV, but through cinematography and color.

And as cruel as the writing often is, Arseface, ironically, is treated the most sympathetically, with brief beats of compassion and humanity. Most impressively, in an age of shaky cam directing turning action scenes into mush, action scenes here stand out by being fast and brutal, but completely intelligible.

So far, Preacher works, which is all the more impressive considering the degree of difficulty. A few episodes in, and the viewer unfamiliar with the comic series that inspired it doesn't really understand what the show is about yet. But for now, that doesn't matter.

The team behind Preacher have somehow pulled off a chaotic high-wire dance, one that appears perpetually on the verge of falling apart at all times. Seeing whether Preacher can keep that dance going is part of the thrill.

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