Idiot Box: “Constantine”
 Alibi V.23 No.47 • Nov 20-26, 2014 

Idiot Box

Hellblazer? Hell, Yeah!

“Constantine” on NBC

“Constantine” may not have the superheroic name recognition of The CW’s “Arrow” or “The Flash” or FOX’ “Gotham.” It may not have the best time slot, jammed into the grid at 9pm on Fridays when everyone in the desirable demographic is out socializing. It may be hamstrung by the notoriously bad 2005 film version starring Keanu Reeves. But as far as DC comic book adaptations go ... it’s a hell of a lot better than expected.

John Constantine, Hellblazer launched DC’s influential, alternative imprint Vertigo back in 1988 and has been going strong ever since. Even with the current rage for comic books in movies and film, however, “Constantine” was a dicey prospect. A cynical, chain-smoking, punk rock-loving, occasionally bisexual magician and supernatural investigator who hangs out with demons and angels? That doesn’t exactly sound like primetime material. But paired up with NBC’s low-level supernatural hit “Grimm” on Friday nights, it’s not the worst idea NBC has ever come up with. (I mean, they did air “Whitney.”)

NBC’s take on “Constantine” stars Welsh actor Matt Ryan (“Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior”) as our titular occult detective. The casting is spot-on. Walsh looks, sounds and feels like our man John—right down to the skinny black tie and rumpled trench coat. He doesn’t smoke much on the show, but we should have expected that. The supporting cast comes right out of the comic book as well. We’ve already met sexy medium Zed (Angélica Celaya), mysterious cabbie Chas (Charles Halford) and technomystical computer nerd Ritchie (Jeremy Davies). All of them are slightly different than their comic book counterparts, but they’re perfectly recognizable. Fans of the comic books can also look forward to recurring appearances by the likes of the demon Nergal, Astra Logue, Papa Midnite and The Spectre. (If this thing makes it to next season, might we see Swamp Thing himself?)

So far the show plays like a truncated, toned-down, “greatest hits” package. But it’s still got its moments.

Naturally, the show lacks much of the “adult” edge that UK writers Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Andy Diggle and Peter Milligan gave the original source material. So far the show plays like a truncated, toned-down, “greatest hits” package. But it’s still got its moments. The pilot was a rushed affair with too much rapid-fire exposition and a few characters who didn’t work. Shockingly, the producers figured that out and unceremoniously dumped costar Lucy Griffiths (playing mystic Liv Aberdine) without so much as a goodbye in the closing minutes of the pilot. She’s been replaced by Celaya, who has a much more organic and casual chemistry with Ryan.

The overall plot has, of course, been boiled down to its basics. Constantine has been given a map full of “supernatural hotspots” around the US. Each week he and his cohorts breeze into another town and fight off some dangerous supernatural entity—like “The A-Team” but with demons. It’s episodic and not particularly deep, but it’s quite fun. The creepy atmosphere, the above-average special effects and the snarky sense of humor make this—if not the definitive John Constantine fans have been clamoring for—a damned good foundation on which to build.

“Constantine” airs Fridays at 9pm on KOB-4.