It’s been many years since John Constantine first wandered into the pages of Alan Moore’s run of Swamp Thing and to eventually become the longest running Vertigo title and certainly one of the most popular. His take no shit from any tosser of demon attitude as well as his very questionable moral standings has made him easily the most interesting characters to appear in comic books and no small reason for his popularity. In 2005 Warner Brothers brought Constantine to the big screen but instead of a smart ass Britt working the occult side of London England we were saddled with Keanu Reeves fighting demons in Los Angles, though not a terrible movie it certainly was a little disheartening to fans of the comic.
Flash forward to 2014 and another attempt to bring Constantine to life only this time to the small screen. Shows like Supernatural and American Horror Story have proven there is a market for horror on television and that the only danger is on how far the show runners are willing or able to go. As a network show there are definite limitations so you’re not going to see the gore and sexuality of say something like you get in an episode of Penny Dreadful, but already in the pilot we see that this Constantine is pretty watered down even by regular television standards.
The pilot was directed by Neil Marshall so that gave us some hope but as David Goyer is also attached as one of the writers that hope faded rather quickly. The show opens with John Constantine (Matt Ryan) having committed himself to a hospital for the mentally ill for the apparent purpose of having the medical field prove to him that demons don’t exist. You see something really bad went down resulting in a young girl being yanked down to hell were her soul is now damned forever and I guess Constantine would rather think himself crazy than culpable. This is pretty idiotic. Not that a hero with a tortured has dark past that he wants to forget, no that is pretty standard stuff, but burying your head in the sand via nuthouse is just stupid. It makes Constantine out to be either a coward or stupid…or both.
Just as he is settling into group therapy he is yanked out of retirement by a possessed patient, a woman possessed by the soul of dead friend of Constantine’s. It seems this dead friend has a daughter that is in danger; a nasty demon from the inner circle of Hell is after her.
She is of course in the United States so good all John Constantine must cross the Atlantic and save the Network a bundle on shooting locations. The damsel in question is Liv Aberdine (Lucy Griffiths) and our introduction to her is watching her pull a can of pepper spray on Constantine after she was almost swallowed by a fiery sink hole. Yeah it’s a stupid as it sounds, you see while leaving work her car starts acting up before dying completely, then the power goes out in the parking lot, next the ground begins to cracking open and then suddenly collapsing into a huge fiery pit and that is when Constantine shows up in a cab and her reaction is to aim a can of pepper spray at him as if he could somehow be responsible for these events. This is classic lazy screenwriting 101. False conflict is not dramatic Mister Goyer, it’s just lame.
So it seems that Liv has inherited some of her father’s abilities and with a magical pendant in hand she can see that dead and because of this some high ranking demon wants her dead. With the help of cabbie an apparently immortal Chas Chandler (Charles Halford) Constantine must do battle with the forces of Hell all the while being harassed by the angel Manny (Harold Perrineau) who wants Constantine’s’ help in the coming apocalypse. Is it me or is Manny a really stupid name for an angel?
So that’s the set-up for the show, will helping the angels fight the legions of Hell save John’s soul which apparently got damned for his failure to save the little girl? Will Liv use her abilities as a scrivener to help in Constantine’s fight? Will the show’s producers allow John Constantine to light up a cigarette or are we stuck watching him constantly play with his fucking lighter? Will any or all of these questions be answered before this show is cancelled? Answer: Doubtful.
Now the show isn’t without merit, Matt Ryan does a fine job with the script given, the look of the show is decent and the effects around the magic side of things are excellent, if only it all just didn’t seem so tepid. John Constantine is suppose to be a right bastard and this show has given us a Diet Coke version of him with a clichéd backstory and uninteresting supporting cast. Of course this is just the pilot so who knows maybe they’ll turn it around before it joins the ranks of the damned.