Credit: Lewis Jacobs/AMC

UPDATED: AMC’s upcoming series Preacher debuted Monday at the South by Southwest film festival and the screening was stuffed with comic ultra-violence and wit that will likely have critics making comparisons to the R-rated hit Deadpool.

The SXSW audience seemed to love the fast-moving and bloody premiere episode, which introduces Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), a weary, faithless West Texas preacher with a shady past, his badass ex-girlfriend Tulip O’Hare (Ruth Negga), and a deadbeat Irish vampire Cassidy (Joe Gilgun). The series is based on Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s ‘90s comic-book franchise of the same name and is from executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (This Is the End) — who also directed the pilot — and executive producer and showrunner Sam Catlin (Breaking Bad).

Backstage after the screening, Rogen marveled that he didn’t realize how funny many of the scenes played until watching it with an audience of prospective fans.

One favorite scene in particular is bound to draw comparisons to Deadpool — a darkly comic and brutal fight in a car involving Tulip set to Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” which echoes Deadpool’s opening car battle that was set to Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning” (though come to think of it, the songs would be thematically better suited for their respective titles if they were switched). For the record, Preacher was shot last summer before footage of the Deadpool scene was previewed at Comic-Con. “We both ripped off a lot of movies I’m sure,” Rogen said of the similarity.

Another throwaway gag made buzz in particular by depicting the death of Tom Cruise. In the pilot, a mysterious force from outer space is possessing preachers around the world — then graphically exploding them from the inside out. Midway through the episode, there’s a news report that shows Cruise speaking in front of a Church of Scientology audience, and then likewise blowing up.

Asked if anybody at AMC objected to the gag, Goldberg replied, “It’s amazing, no one said anything! We kept waiting for somebody to say no and now it’s too late.”

“I will run into [Cruise] one day, though. That will happen,” Rogen predicted. “And I’ll have to explain that. I’ll have to come up with a way in my head to make it seem complimentary but I haven’t done it yet.”

Preacher has had a long and rocky road to the screen, having previously been in theatrical development and then later in the works as an HBO series. AMC doubtless hopes the show will make for another comic-inspired hit like its flagship The Walking Dead. Rogen told the crowd that his first unofficial meeting about the project was in a trailer while shooting 2007’s Superbad. “Literally as soon as we had any power in Hollywood we tried to make it,” Rogen said. “But it’s always been in the hands of people more successful and talented people. Somehow they all f—ed it up and it rolled downhill into our laps, which I’m very grateful for.”

Yet the team was decidedly quiet on how the show would unfold beyond the pilot, which premieres May 22 and in the words of Catlin “starts going at 200 mph and stays at 300.”

Preacher is one of two religious-themed cable dramas having their premiere screening at SXSW on Monday; the other is Cinemax’s Outcast from Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman — more on that title here.

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