Constantine TV Review

The world of sci-fi television is growing by leaps and bounds, and the comic-related realm is especially skyrocketing as of late, but even in the new era of television, Constantine is a massive gamble. A weird hybrid of film noir-esque motifs and traditions, and the wildest fantasy filled with demons, angels and everything in between, it’s a story tailor made for self-professed comic geeks. Superheroes are one thing, but Constantine, popular as it is within its own circle, is a niche in a niche, and it’s in a small box in the corner of that room besides.

Convincing the numbers NBC is going to want isn’t going to be easy, and the somewhat half-hearted special effects budget isn’t going to help.

John Constantine (Matt Ryan) is introduced to us inside a mental hospital, and he tells us through narration that he’s checked himself in… largely, apparently, for the shock treatments. Unfortunately, just because you move into an asylum and have yourself zapped with electricity, it doesn’t mean the demons are going to leave you alone.

Constantine TV Review NBC Matt Ryan
Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC

Constantine is something of a special case.

Before long, one of the inmates is possessed, and we see Constantine pull out his exorcist abilities, but not before the demon has left him a message.

Which leads to a lot of backstory, that we get through the demon’s target, Liv Aberdine, who turns out to be the daughter of Jasper Winters, an old friend of Constantine’s, and a serious authority on all things occult and/or very creepy. As it turns out, Constantine is/was a serious player in the game himself, but when things didn’t go the way he planned, which resulted in a little girl, Astra, losing her soul to a demon, Constantine lost his own, and can’t live with the guilt. He’s going to have to get back into the game to save Liv though, and an angel, Manny (Harold Perrineau), seems eager to nudge Constantine toward a return to the general fight.

The only way Constantine can save Liv is to figure out which demon is after her, and send him back to hell, which obviously involves the standard effort of pressing old acquaintances into service, and a cunning plan. The pilot’s finale exposes us to Constantine’s rather malleable morality, which doesn’t always make a lot of sense, and opens the door for the continuing, episodic chases we’ll be following throughout the show.

The show is a lot of fun, and Matt Ryan could easily carry things, assuming that future scripts give him enough room to flesh out the character, without heaping layers of cartoon on him. The character’s snark and despondency, coupled with a certain “too tired and bored to really care… until I do” attitude could easily make this a show with an impressive following. If it can find a way to connect the character with the same force as the Hellblazer comics, it obviously will. But, this involves a tough balance, and the show has several elements working against it, but if the stories attempt to forge Constantine as much as the spooky creature du jour, the show could pull itself more toward efforts like Being Human, and further away from things like Dominion.

Constantine TV Review
Harold Perrineau as Manny, Matt Ryan as John Constantine — (Photo by: Quantrell Colbert/NBC)

The show’s first problem might not be too difficult for a show that should have a chance. It’s a hurdle, but something that shouldn’t cause too much worry for most viewers. The problem is that the second episode is basically the second pilot, and just when you thought you knew the general structure, the pilot explains Liv away and hopes you’re going to be fine with not seeing her again, because you won’t. This means more focus on different supporting characters in the second episode, because now we have to establish their inclusion, and while certainly no kiss of death for a series, it feels odd.

The other problem isn’t as easy to dismiss. When you have a wild concept that you’re trying to deliver to a wide enough audience to keep a series going, you have to either go big, or go home. In this case, that means you have to put the budget into the special effects of the madness you’re going to have on display, and you have to also put the money into the overall product so that when we leave a set and film outside, it doesn’t look like we’re doing a lot of our filming with a phone.

Constantine improves slightly after the first episode in this regard, but we still find ourselves dangerously close to the land of The Dresden Files (which was brilliant, and should immediately be rebooted with original star, Paul Blackthorne). The Dresden Files, which was a Syfy show, has many parallels with Constantine, and needs to learn the potential lessons available. Dresden is a similar character, but the show was a little too interested in spectacle and ease of plot development – which should remain the realm of things aiming for simpler efforts, like Merlin, or Legend of the Seeker – and not nearly enough on delivering the complex character that has to get people to tune in. It doesn’t matter how good your theory is, and these two shows are from great books and comics, if it looks and feels like you should be watching it on Saturday afternoon, twenty years ago, it’s going to be hard to keep people tuning in.

That said, Matt Ryan could manage this. The elements are there, and somewhere around the fifth episode this could turn out to be the coolest show on television, but whether or not the development will focus in the right direction is anyone’s guess. It will probably get a fair share of viewers based on wanting it to work, whether it does or not, and that could keep it around long enough to feel more confident in itself. That doesn’t change what we already have in the can, but could steer future production.

The rating is based on equal parts actuality and potential, but the recommendation is that you give this one a chance.

 

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Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and co-host of the Are You Screening? podcast with co-host Shane Leonard. He has been writing film reviews for over 20 years, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He has been member of the Critics Choice Awards for well over a decade.

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