There’s an industry term, “four-quadrant movie,” that’s used to describe a film that appeals to all four major demographic “quadrants” of the moviegoing audience. It appeals to both male and female audiences and both under and over 25 year olds. This term is bandied about a lot for big tentpole movies. Pixar movies are usually a pretty good example.
What I’d like to talk about today is what I call the four-quadrant geek television show. Because I’ve found a show that hits all four of the “quadrants” that make shows successful to the masses of pop-culture drenched geeks who obsessively consume the modern landscape of TV. These aren’t demographics, but themes that are shared across many of geekdom’s favorite shows. It all comes down to a truly great show having four things: Propulsive Energy, World Building, Massive Stakes and Loads of Charm.
Having screened the pilot for AMC’s Preacher this past week at SXSW, I’m of the opinion that it nails all four of these quadrants and will ultimately become the next obsession for myself and fellow geeks. Let’s explore.
1. Propulsive Energy
When we talk about Propulsive Energy, we’re talking about shows like Breaking Bad that take off like they are shot out of a cannon. More importantly, these kinds of shows have tons of forward momentum.
For Preacher, this includes dropping us into a story in-progress for many of its main characters. This is similar to the way Garth Ennis’ Preacher comics begin, but for the show it’s not so much a road story as it is contained in a single location, the town of Ann-ville, Texas.
It will come as no surprise that the show runner of Preacher is Sam Catlin, an alum of Breaking Bad. The names of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are attached, but it’s Catlin’s influence that gives Preacher a sense of greater momentum. Even though the pilot is exciting and self-contained, there is a clear sense that there’s a lot more going on in this world. Which leads us to quadrant number two…
2. World Building
A lot of our favorite shows are those on existing source material. Game of Thrones is a perfect example of this. Why? Because that source material does such a wonderful job of building worlds and populating them with interesting characters. For the medium of television, this is a match made in heaven. Showrunners often have plenty of time to let characters breath and tell bigger stories. It’s what’s driven the shift from episodic shows to serialized television. Something that is the foundation of a television landscape that feels far more cinematic than ever.
Preacher is based on a comic, by Garth Ennis, as I mentioned above. It’s filled with characters that are a lot of fun. And I’m saying this based solely on seeing the pilot, having never read the comics. In their post-screening Q&A, Rogen and Goldberg made a point of telling the audience that while a lot of things have been changed in the adaptation, the characters have been changed the least. This is almost always a good thing.
It’s also important, while we’re placing Game of Thrones and Preacher together, to mention that Preacher is delightfully violent. It revels in splattering the maximum amount of blood that cable television will allow.
3. Massive Stakes
If you’re going to go through all the trouble of building worlds and propelling your story with great energy, you also need to create stakes. The Walking Dead does this well with its all-out zombie apocalypse. From vampires to zombies, monsters have been and will always be pretty big.
Guess what? Preacher has vampires. More importantly, Preacher is about big ideas like faith and God and the supernatural things that come along with all kinds of faith and God. You know, like vampires.
Within the pilot, we already get a sense of the stakes in this world. And those stakes are amplified with some kickass action sequences. Some of the most polished, cinematic TV action set pieces we’ve seen in a pilot since perhaps Lost. While it shares of a lot of the stakes game with its AMC cousin The Walking Dead, the action is far more fun.
4. Loads of Charm
Fun is important. In order to be a long-running, obsession type show, everything can’t be grimdark all the time. The showrunners of Arrow learned this somewhere along the way. Not every character needs to be charming, but you have to have some levity somewhere.
Preacher has two characters that exemplify this quality. The first is Cassidy the vampire, played by Joseph Gilgun. He’s a sardonic, hyper-violent wild card and Gilgun’s incredible comedic timing delivers a character that feels fully formed. He’s just a lot of fun. And he’s a good match for Dominic Cooper, who plays our titular preacher Jesse Custer.
The same can be said for Jesse’s eccentric former flame Tulip, played by Ruth Negga. When we meet her, she’s having a wrestling match inside a speeding car that gives the opening action sequence from Deadpool a run for its money. Within only minutes of screen time, we get what Tulip is all about. She’s crafty, she’s ruthless and she’s tough. It’s like someone took Matt Smith’s Doctor Who and mashed it together with the personality mix of all the clones on Orphan Black.
While Dominic Cooper enters Preacher as the known quantity thanks to his work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and plenty of other projects, it will be Gilgun and Negga who may ultimately be the breakout stars of this show.
Mark May 22 on Your Calendars
The realization that there are a lot of shows out there is not lost on me. In a month, Game of Thrones will be back. And there are only so many hours for the consumption of entertainment. That said, Preacher is the kind of show that deserves to have one of those hours every week. It’s a show that we’ll be talking about on Twitter. That will aggravate people who missed it because they can’t be part of the conversation. My advice: mark on your calendar and get ready to have some fun.