Sorry folks. Scrivener has been slacking in regards to his TV consumption lately though increased video game intake is always a good thing right? Well I'm back! This time I'll be following Constantine. I have yet to come up with a snazzy title for a weekly segment about the show so I might just stick to named episode "reviews". We'll see.
Constantine, in case you weren't aware, is the latest in the coming avalanche of DC Comics television shows that are making their way to viewers everywhere. We saw the start of it with Arrow and now Flash is on CW as well. Gotham has fired up on FOX and now NBC has entered the superhero arena (yet again - Heroes and The Cape) with Daniel Cerone/David Goyer's Constantine. The exorcist, habitual smoker -- well maybe not smoker as this is network TV -- and all-around badass, John Constantine, makes his first appearance on the small screen in a pilot that attempts to do a lot of things in 44 minutes. Lets get started shall we?
We're thrust directly into the thick of thing as John Constantine is, willingly, checked into an insane asylum in search of a demon. He finds her quickly enough after getting a bit of establishing color regarding the loss of a young girl, Astra, and how it has clearly affected him. He finds the demon he's been pursuing with a message regarding a woman named Liv. An exorcism follows and the venerable Hellblazer is off to find her.
I have to say, right away, I was impressed with Matt Ryan portraying the world weary urban sorcerer meets exorcist. There is an immediate presence established on-screen that makes up for the somewhat lacking performances elsewhere. This version of John Constantine felt pretty damn good to me in comparison to the only other example we have, Keanu Reeves in 2005's Constantine. David Goyer and Daniel Cherone appear to have at least gotten the distilled essence of what makes the character so appealing on the page and Ryan makes it translate to the small screen quite well.
What It Got Right
Matt Ryan not only nails it as John Constantine but he inhabits a world that is so very dark and possessed of the grim tonality that one would expect from a show that will, undoubtedly, feature the more macabre and magical elements of the DC Universe. He doesn't smoke, sure, but he does carry around a lighter. I have a feeling that will play a big big role in an upcoming narrative arc (possibly the "Dangerous Habits" story?).
The excoricsm scenes were, despite having a lower-tier budget due to television executives (especially on network) not wanting to sink that much into a prime-time show, fairly well done. The climactic scene on a rooftop worked rather well. The cheaper look of the show can be forgiven as this was a pilot and, well, its tough to see NBC pumping millions into a show about an Englisman exorcist who likes his drink.
There is an atmosphere of decidedly classic horror that permeates the whole thing that I really dug. There were a few jump scares and, honestly, I felt that this was vastly different from the other DC television offerings. I think this could possibly be a great jumping off point to introduce a wider audience to characters like Dr. Fate, Swamp Thing, Animal Man, etc. Heck we even get a brief glimpse at Dr. Fate's helmet during a scene that is, well, chock full of small Easter Eggs if one were observant enough to spot it.
Jeremy Davies as Ritchie Simpson, Constantine's ally and a noted hacker, also shines in a small role in the pilot.
What It Got Wrong
The pacing is just all wrong and felt so very uneven. We're thrust right into the heart of things then jerked back out immediately. The whole episode suffered from this and while Ryan's acting helped elevate it from mere dreck it was still a very noticeable problem. This is pretty typical of pilot episodes, though, as you've got to present all of the product right away and, well, it suffers for it.
Liv Aberdine, played by Lucy Griffiths, could have been an interesting foil to Ryan's weathered Constatine but instead felt more like a hindrance to the proceedings. She gives the viewer a near POV look at the effects of such demonic magic in the real world and, well, doesn't serve much other purpose other than giving John a reason to keep on his journey of punching demons and drinking heavily. It is, honestly, a good thing she was written out at the end of the episode and since this is a pilot we won't be seeing her again (I hope).
John's literal guardian angel, Manny (Harold Perrineau) did little more than serve as a huge dumptruck of expository dialogue. I hope that improves with the coming episodes. Chas, Constatine's other companion, didn't speak much and, thus, left little impression on me other than he was a body present I suppose.
Constantine ultimately succeeds where it could have easily stumbled out of the gate and that is mostly due to Matt Ryan's spot-on performance. He embodies the weary warrior of demonic forces quite well. That coupled with the overall tone of the show, which is far different from anything else DC is doing on television right now, made for an interesting episode. It suffered from poor pacing and some secondary characters (Liv mostly) who just were forgettable or boring. It is, however, not a bad start for Constantine on the small screen. I'm intrigued to see where this goes.
See you next week for the second episode. These will be published in a far more timely manner from now on. Promise!