Last Friday NBC premiered the pilot of their much anticipated Hellblazer adaptation Constantine. Our staff has seen the show, here are their thoughts.
Edward – Staff Writer
John Constantine. Exorcist, Demonologist, and master of the dark arts, or so it says on his business card, but he’s getting new ones.
As a fan of the Vertigo DC Comics series Hellblazer, Constantine was my most anticipated new show of the fall season. The last time Hellblazer was adapted was for the big screen by director Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) and starring Keanu Reeves. While a very good movie in its own right, it took more than its fair share of liberties with its source material. Time will tell whether this show creates its own mythology or delves deeper into the 25 years of already established story arcs, and while last night’s series premiere showed promise, it didn’t make me an instant convert.
It irked me that John Constantine never held a cigarette once in the entire 42 minute long episode (he’s a chain smoker in the comics and the film), but at least his style of clothing, hairstyle, and English accent seem to suggest that he will be a more faithful rendition of his comic book persona. Matt Ryan does a great job of capturing the character’s sarcastic attitude, tortured soul, and reluctance to accept his talents and use them towards a greater cause.
Constantine hates that can communicate with the dead, and that he has to travel around exorcising demons and protecting people he barely knows. A moral obligation gets him to accept his jobs. The Constantine in the Hellblazer comics has a more reckless approach to the cases he gets, resulting in many innocent casualties. The show alludes to this through the character of Astra. Constantine is in deep remorse for what he did to Astra, a nine year old possessed girl who he tried to save by summoning a much more sinister demon, but instead, her soul is damned to hell for all eternity.
The setting of the episode is Atlanta. From the looks of it, Atlanta is the new Sunnydale, populated with ghosts, demons, and monsters lurking around for new souls to claim. With the help of his partner Chas, and a mysterious angel named Manny, John sets out to rid the world of as many demons as he can, hoping to save his own soul along the way. This sets the expectation that Constantine will be a serialized show with a demon of the week as the center focus for each new episode. This format worked very well for both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X Files, so it will be interesting to see what the next few weeks will bring. The series premiere focused on Constantine trying to help Liv Aberdeen, who has been targeted by a particularly nasty demon who can feed off electricity for its power. He was friends with Liv’s father, Jasper, who was able to see what others couldn’t see whenever he held a pendant. Liv seems to have inherited this gift and while she seems like she could be an asset to John, he is reluctant to have her around out of fear of her being hurt.
Last night’s series premiere moved at a brisk pace. It established its characters and managed to give them some dimension. Things are left unexplained, like who exactly does Manny answer to, or why is Chas seemingly immortal. For the most part, the show works. It helps that Manny is played by the very talented Harrold Perrineau from LOST, Oz, and The Matrix sequels. The weakest character on the show was Liv, played by Lucy Griffiths. Apart from her very monotonous acting range, Liv tends to flip flop between terrified damsel in distress to overly excited sidekick, almost in the same scene. It shows an inconsistency in her character that continually made scenes lose their impact. It’s a plus to the show that her character is not a recurring one, but even then, her exit felt tacked on and a bit unfulfilling.
Overall, Constantine neither wowed nor disappointed me. The story felt formulaic – hero sees a vision of a girl in danger, then finds her, convinces her the world is not what it seems, faces off against the danger, saves her, then says goodbye. The demon make up felt cheesy at times, and the effects need work (the opening exorcism looked really fake). What elevated the episode was the portrayal of its title character and the performances by the main leads. There are interesting ideas and potential story avenues to be explored. Whether Constantine ends up as can’t miss TV like Arrow or a losing ticket like The Lottery will be left up to the next few episodes, and based off this series premiere, it can go either way.
Will – Staff Writer
Full disclosure even though I am aware of them and the character I have never read the Hellblazer comic series upon which this show is based, so I cannot tell you how faithful this is to the source material. My only previous experience with the character was the Keanu Reeves film, which was enjoyable but nothing remarkable, and the same could be said for the premiere of NBC’s take on the character. Constantine was a solid and enjoyable pilot, but it wasn’t a standout. Thast being said, there is potential here for a standout series.
Star Matt Ryan does a great job portraying Constantine, A tortured, cynical, grumpy exorcist, tasked with saving a young woman from the wrath of a Demon. In fact, much of the pilot was worth watching for his performance alone. Harold Perrineau gives an equally good performance as Manny, an Angel sent to watch over Constantine, giving the character an almost sinister tone. The other actors performances were serviceable, the plot of the episode was pretty standard, and the effects weren’t always up to par either, a sure sign of budget constraints.
Also, the pilot suffers from pacing problems. It’s clear that the writers tried to cram a lot into one hour, but it doesn’t all fit well, so some scenes end abruptly while others seem to drag, This, hopefully, will be fixed by episode 2, as the set up and establishment of the world is out of the way.
Overall I enjoyed Constantine, and there is definitely the potential here for a great series. Pilots are rarely as good as what follow,s so it’s often unfair to judge a show on it’s pilot alone, but this one, while not outstanding, had good characters and action wrapped up in an interesting premise, with a very charismatic lead. I’ll happily tune in for the next episode based on the pilot, and I recommend that anybody interested in supernatural horror check it out as well. Hopefully the show does well enough to stick around, because I’d like to see what it evolves into by its second or third season.
Tyson – Editor in Chief
I’ll just start by saying that I really enjoyed Constantine. I had been fervently excited about the series since its first trailer debuted, nailing the tone I hoped for. The casting of a lesser known actor in the role who seemed to perfectly fit the part, as well as a significant role for a LOST alum didn’t hurt my excitement either. Like Will, I was aware of, but unbaptized by the Hellblazer comic book series upon which Constantine was based, and my only direct exposure to the character was through the 2005 Keanu Reeves film. So I approached the series with a lot of excitement, and quite a bit of purity to the mythos. In the end, I’ll say that the pilot under-served my hype, but exceeded my typical pilot expectations.
Constantine, like many series, suffers from pilotitis, the term I use to explain the negative trappings of the pilot format in television. Pilots are not meant for us, they are for the studio, and as such, pilots rarely feel whole and well paced. With Constantine, pilotitis rears its ugly head in the form of bad pacing, rushed character development, and an over-encapsulated story.
The performances were mostly solid, with the weakest player having already made her exit from the series. Perrineau (LOST) does a lot of justice to his portrayal of a guardian angel with more than a little contempt for humanity brewing beneath the surface. Charles Halford (True Detective) does what he can with Chas, a characetr who might as well not have appeared in the pilot at all. Jeremy Davies (LOST, Justified), as always, gave more than anybody rightfully should have for the minimal screen time he had. Lucy Griffiths (True Blood) was rather weak and unbalanced as Liv, though much of that could be a result of pilotitis. Lastly, Matt Ryan (Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag) embodied the role, if only lacking in the over abbreviated moments of sentimentality, though I attribute that more to pilotitis than to Ryan’s performance. Director Neil Marshall (Game of Thrones) did a fine job establishing the cinematic language of the series, though was limited by the pilot structure of the episode, making me hope he gets another shot at the series in less constrained conditions.
I have high hopes for Constantine, but the next few weeks will be more telling of the series overall quality. So far I would say it is the best network drama pilot of the season, and while that isn’t saying much, unfortunately, it is easily ahead of the first outings for Gotham and The Flash.
What did you think of Constantine? Tell us in our comments, and stay tuned to TVEnthusiast for more coverage of the series, and all of your favorite shows.