Seth Rogen had a big day at SXSW on Monday. Not only did his eight-years-in-the-making adult animation project, Sausage Party, screen as a work in progress ahead of its August release but another project that has been trying to get off the ground for close to a decade also premiered, Preacher, based on the comic by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. Many will eagerly be awaiting AMC’s latest venture in the wake of the runaway success of previous shows such as Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead and for fans of the latter show, they don’t quite need to place all their eggs in one basket because a second new offering was provided in the form of the premiere of Outcast, the new series from Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, which is again based on one of his own comics.
There are more than just television networks, comic adaptations and original creators that link the two shows that look set to dominate a great deal of televisual discussion this year. Both pilots opened strongly and with a visceral brutality, both alive with violence and intensity, as well as a foreboding and ruminating sense of dread that permeated the small towns of the locations, Texas (Preacher) and West Virginia (Outcast). The theme of possession or an unnatural inhabitation of a human being drove forward both scripts too.
Preacher sees Dominic Cooper in the titular profession in rural Texas, apathetically and shoddily giving sermons to disinterested locals whilst also harbouring a wounded past and seemingly insidious and otherworldly secrets, as a strange and unexplainable force travels around the world possessing, and imploding, various religious leaders (including a stand-out scene in which a newscast announces a celebrity figure within the church of Scientology has exploded and died). There is a slightly surprising – but welcome – appearance by Joe Gilgun, most commonly known as Woody from Shane Meadows’ This Is England series and Eli Dingle from Emmerdale, who plays a hard-drinking, hard-fighting, wise-cracking Irishman that seems to be from another place or planet altogether. Based on this pilot, it’s a show that fuses the slow, menacing dread of programmes such as True Detective alongside more high-octane supernatural science fiction. It was an auspicious outing and one that has set-up an intriguing world and bizarre narrative backdrop to explore further.
Outcast was teeth-bitingly intense and wasted no time in getting straight into some rather extreme drama in the form of gripping violence, creeping horror and screaming exorcisms. It was a packed pilot, rich in narrative and brimming with fear and anxiety from the opening few minutes. Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous, Gone Girl) plays Kyle Barnes, a recluse with a violent past and one involving a mentally unstable - or possessed, depending on the source – mother who lies permanently in a hospital bed. Gabriel Bateman brilliantly plays a demonically possessed child and Barnes is reintroduced to the world with a cataclysmic bang as a result. Many pilot shows take the slow and steady intro, teasing and alluring one into a world but Outcast throws you into it with such unrelenting force that it leaves itself needing some mighty impressive follow-up episodes to match the opening in pace, tension and exhilaration.
Whether the possessive elements found within both shows narrative will be enough to extend its grip on a wider audience is too early to tell, but both have enormous promise in becoming the next binge-inducing, socially inescapable, TV series.