What? Another comic book property that is being visualized on the small screen? As if all of the big-screen adaptations aren’t enough. I know this review already sounds pessimistic, and why shouldn’t it be, I mean, this is DC/Warner Brothers that we’re talking about here. If you haven’t gotten it by now, this is my take on the forthcoming TV adaptation of DC/Vertigo’s cult comic book series “Constantine”. And while I’m not the biggest fan, and maybe the 2005 film version kind-of-sort-of ruined it for me, I’m strangely drawn to the show, and this is only the pilot.
A little history lesson first; “Constantine” was created back in the 1980s by comic book legend/cranky old weird man, Alan Moore, who I’m sure has already condemned this show. John Constantine is a chain-smoking, hard living, cynical exorcist who has been condemned to Hell. He’s kind of like Beetlejuice in some ways.
In the pilot episode we find John residing in an mental institution after a botched exorcism that leaves a young girl names Astra dead and banished to Hell. He soon meets a girl named Liv Aberdine who is connected with John’s past and is hunted by a growing threat from Hell. If you can’t tell by now, there is a lot of Hell-related activity in this show.
Putting this out there; I’m not an avid reader of “Hellblazer” and don’t know all that much about the exploits of John Constantine in the comics. I really only have the film that featured Keanu Reeves in the starring role to fall back on, so excuse me if my knowledge might be lacking, but if I was to simply judge the show on it’s own merits, and as a completely impartial viewer who has little stake as a fanboy, I would say that “Constantine” has a bright future. Much in the vein of “Grimm,” another NBC mainstay that garnishes decent ratings in a horrible time slot on Friday night, I believe that NBC has a winner on their hands.
Albeit a rabid fanbase, “Constantine” is still a rather fringy property, much like many of Vertigo’s comic book titles. Yes, we have the possible “Sandman” adaptation with Joseph Gordon Levitt’s involvement and Seth Rogen and AMC’s interest in “Preacher” but it’s surprising to see NBC taking such a gamble on “Constantine.” As I said, “Grimm” and “Constantine” are two rather comparable shows, and could this be the writing on the wall that NBC is growing tired of “Grimm” or is NBC seeing the interest in adapted work, ie, “Hannibal” which is much-watch TV in my book.
As far as casting goes, Matt Ryan is who I would have always wanted to play John Constantine. One, he’s English, which I’m sure pleases fans. Two, he’s sardonic and speaks with a British accent, no Keanu-surfer dude “Whoa” here. And three, he’s oozing charm, something Reeves never had in the film. Ryan will be the one to make or break this show, and if this is any inclination that he can after one episode, I’d say the show is in good hands.
As with any review, there have to be a few cons. One, David Goyer is helping in show-running duties. It’s not that I don’t like Goyer, he’s okay sometimes, but I think his ego and big ideas get in the way. Two, and this isn’t a big deal to me, but it’s blasphemy to others; there is no smoking in this show, in the classic sense. And by classic sense I mean putting a cigarette to your lips and smoking it. News flash people, you can’t smoke on prime time Network TV. You can show mass murder, implied child molestation, implied rape, cannibalism, and all sorts of other wholesome family activities, but you can’t smoke. Yes, you might argue “Why put “Constantine” on NBC than?!” Well, this is what you got, and if you are going to be blinded about the fact that Constantine doesn’t smoke and make that the barometer of your argument of why you won’t watch the show, that’s pretty dumb.
Outside of smoking, the show looks like it is going to hit on all the major points that the film was neglectful about. The casting seems spot on, the world feels lived in, the special effects already look better than the movie, and I was drawn in after only 45 minutes, whereas the film I was bored to tears. Smoking is small potatoes, and if you pay close enough attention to the pilot you’ll see a nice little nod that should make you feel a little better that the creators did all they could to incorporate your precious cigarettes.
All in all, “Constantine” looks better than I expected, and it might wash the taste out of mouth of the lackluster film version starring Johnny Utah (and don’t get me wrong, I love “Point Break”). It looks like NBC is all in, and the fact that it has to compete against Fox who is premiering another DC property later this Fall in “Gotham” I’d say they will let the show grow and become one of the surprises on Fall schedule.
Fun Fact: John Constantine first appeared in 1985’s “The Saga of the Swamp Thing.”