Constantine gave a showing of its pilot followed by a Q&A with David S. Goyer, and stars Matt Ryan and Angélica Celaya. If you’re curious about what’s in store for everyone’s favorite occultist, take a peek at the spoiler-light review below, plus what was said at the Q&A!
For those who are concerned about bringing such an irascible un-family-friendly antihero to television… well, that seems to be everyone’s concern, and the pilot doesn’t quite make it clear if they’ve succeeded on that front. Don’t get me wrong—Constantine is a bastard for sure, and Matt Ryan clearly has the chops for the part when the script gives him authentic moments to work with. But the first quarter of the pilot seems overly-concerned with making sure people are impressed enough with John Constantine to want to watch him again. As a result, he is given over to hyperbole and grandstanding…not the greatest way to achieve their ends. His first act of magic in the script involves lots of flailing and flashing lights and explosions of broken glass. Later, he shouts to the sky with his arms spread wide. It’s not that Constantine isn’t a powerful individual, but there’s a subtlety to the character that is lost in half of the pilot; all the moments where John is clearly trying to make people believe he’s impressive rather than swaggering around and getting the job done.
Ravenscar Hospital is where we meet him, only to find out that he checked himself into the hospital. It’s clear why this choice was made; if John checked himself in, he’s free to walk out provided he’s not a danger to himself or others. This is needed to get the plot moving, which it does. But the result does rob him of some defining character-building experiences—fans of the comics know that the abuse Constantine suffers at Ravenscar is integral to his person. The incident that landed him in Ravenscar (the formerly-named “Newcastle Incident”) is still very central to the plot and John’s emotional state.
We meet Liv (True Blood and Robin Hood’s Lucy Griffiths), who was intended to be Constantine’s partner on the series… but has already been scrapped as a character and recast as the psychic Zed, a name that Hellblazer fans are likely to recognize. Goyer admitted over the summer that they realized Liv—a character they’d created specifically for the show—was only ever going to be a reactive figure. So she was replaced by Zed’s character, who is set to show up properly a few episodes down the line. While it’s excellent that the creators realized they’d made a mistake in creating a female lead who could only ever react to things (which is precisely was Griffiths does the whole episode), it is odd to watch the pilot, see so much development for her background, and know that none of it will be relevant in the long run.
Constantine’s relationship with Manny, an angel, is already shaping up to be good fun, mostly due to Harold Perrineau’s thoroughly enjoyable portrayal. He’s also wearing a very interesting set of contacts. The show doesn’t waste time in setting John up as a major player in the games of heaven and hell, which allows Manny’s presence to fold seamlessly into the narrative as is.
The show handles its supernatural side very well; audiences are accustomed to these tropes now that Supernatural has had the market cornered on old Latin exorcisms and Enochian symbols for the past decade or so. But Constantine easily sets itself apart in how gruesome the magic turns out to be, and what sort of effort goes into it. In Constantine’s world, you can’t just learn a special skill set with the right books. That’s enough to make the show compelling to people who enjoy these sorts of narratives, but haven’t checked into the Hellblazer universe beforehand. It’s still unfortunate that they couldn’t have set the show in England, but not surprising coming from NBC.
Matt Ryan does an excellent job as the titular character, and it’s relieving to find that the show has no problem allowing him to look haggard and drawn. John Constantine isn’t a fresh-faced kind of guy, even if we are meeting him at a younger age than the comics left him. Perhaps the show could stand to scrub at his clothes a little; they could look a bit more worn (and he should have a longer trench coat, in my opinion). But when he’s not given bad voiceover dialogue—and it is bad voiceover, especially there at the end—he manages to give off just the right amount of rude charm. He also gets funnier as the episode goes on, which is a relief because the character has to be funny if he’s going to stand up to the heaviness of the world he occupies.
Certain hallmarks are still there, such as John’s taste in punk music, and it will be interesting to see how to show manages to make that work with the character being youthed up for the sake of television; original Constantine liked punk music because he was in his early 20s when punk was emerging—he saw the Sex Pistols perform live. Ryan’s version of the character probably hadn’t even been born at that point. So while it’s good to see that the character’s makeup hasn’t been changed too radically, it does mean that more of John’s choices will come off as affectation rather than honest tastes created by his formative experiences.
In fun hint-y bits—a helmet appears that many fans will be excited to see, and artwork from various Hellblazer covers also make an appearance.
An odd start, but most pilots fare that way. The Q&A after the showing at least gave us a better idea of what they were working on, and what we could expect:
They are not permitted to show the character of Constantine smoking on the show, which is amusing only because the show is incredibly determined to make sure the audience knows he does smoke; one of Constantine’s constant props is a lighter, and they’re clearly sneaking in as much imagery as possible. Matt Ryan admitted as much, likening it to a scavenger hunt for fans. He also claimed that the writers keep coming up with more outrageous things for him to do in each episode; we’ll see him all tied up, or naked and covered in blood, and they just keep pushing him farther.
Angélica Celaya is excited for the character of Zed, who she claims is more than capable of going toe to toe with Constantine, and won’t be taking taking any of his crap. Since this was exactly what the show seemed to be lacking with Liv’s character, it makes sense that these would be the selling points for Zed. (You see her for about three seconds in the pilot, but it’s from the back and she has the same dark curly hair as Liv; some differentiation would have been nice… women look different, ya know.)
Goyer says that while they haven’t reached it yet, he does plan to tackle the Dangerous Habits arc down the road, provided the show keeps going. There are plenty of characters that he would like to pull in, but now that there are so many DC shows, it will likely be harder to get their pick. (Can they have Zatanna? I’d much rather see her here than on Gotham. Or Arrow.) He is adamant that Constantine will be every bit as much of a jerk as he is in the comics, and that they are determined to not to lighten him up for network television.
So get geared up for the pilot at the end of October! With any luck, this will morph into the Constantine that we deserve.