by Mark Greig
The 2014/2015 television season will probably be remembered as the season that comic book shows took over the various platforms we now watch TV shows on.
Right now there are four series currently airing on the major networks based on comics (The Flash, Gotham, Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) with more on the way. ABC has Agent Carter to fill the gap when AoS goes on hiatus. Netflix has four Marvel shows in the works, including next year's Daredevil, CBS is developing a Supergirl series, and Playstation (yes, Playstation) will bring the long gestating Powers series to the...whatever it is they will show it on. Before any of those arrive we have Constantine, an adaptation of DC's long running horror series Hellblazer. I'm a huge fan of the comic so my expectations were pretty high. Did this pilot even come close to meeting them? Yes, and no.
Like many comic book characters, Constantine hasn't had the smoothest journey from page to screen. Last time anyone adapted Hellblazer, they thought it would be a good idea to cast none other than Keanu Reeves as the distinctly British, blonde haired, chain-smoking trench coat wearing John Constantine. In all fairness, Constantine was a perfectly serviceable supernatural thriller, it just wasn't a John Constantine movie, because whoever Keanu was playing wasn't John Constantine.
John Constantine is a cynic with a sarcastic sense of humour who failed as punk rocker but never let go of the "fuck the system" attitude. He's a conman and trickster who defeats his enemies through cunning and isn't afraid to throw a friend under the bus if it ultimately serves his purpose. Keanu's Constantine was just Neo without the shades. But what that film got wrong, this series intends to get right. I say intends, it hasn't actually succeeded. Not yet anyway.
I can't find fault with the show's leading man. Matt Ryan looks the part (even if he can't smoke), and has a good handle on character. It is just too bad that he's let down by a script that overdoes the character's Englishness (there was one utterance of "bollocks" too many) and tries too hard to explain everything, not just the mythology of the series, but John himself. Things that should've been slowly revealed over time (Newcastle, his abuse at the hand of his father) are dumped on us all in one go. As a result, John is less leading man and more exposition man. The bulk of his dialogue consists of him explaining things to us.
And then there's Liv. Originally, Liv, an original character created for the show, was meant to serve as Constantine's parter, a novice to tag along with him so that there would be someone for him to explain things to. But at some point after the pilot was filmed the powers that be decided to go in a different direction and Lucy Griffiths was let go and the character of Liv written out of the show. Which makes this pilot extra frustrating since so much of it is devoted to developing a character who is gone by the end. Not that I am sorry to see Liv go. She was a terrible character and Griffiths' acting was painfully wooden.
As underwhelmed as I was by this pilot, I'm still going to give this show a chance because I love character so much and do think that, with better stories, this could make for a great show.