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Constantine Exorcises a Problem, But Might Still Die

November 5, 2014

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The Friday night 10pm slot on NBC has been a hard one to fill recently. Both Dracula and Crossbones tried to survive there in the last year with twists on iconic characters and failed. Hannibal is still airing in the spring, but every year it is a tossup whether it will continue or not, and the main reason it keeps going is because it brings in money from overseas to offset the heavy price tag for the network.

The latest attempt at filling the timeslot is Constantine, an adaptation of the DC/Vertigo comic series. In 2005, Keanu Reeves played the character in a film of the same name, a film that was largely forgettable with the exception of the ever amazing Tilda Swinton, playing the sexless archangel Gabriel.

On the series, the title character is played by Matt Ryan, who offers up a much more interesting version of the character. He is British, blonde, and a bit of a rapscallion, despite the enormous weight on his shoulders.  At the start of the pilot, he is in a mental institution, and his therapist reveals to the audience that Constantine considers himself an exorcist and master of the dark arts. Shortly thereafter, bugs swarm the wall of one of the rooms in the institution, and Constantine has to cast a demon out of a fellow patient. This would all be well and good for a series start, except it takes a drastic left turn right after this.

Constantine and his occasional confidante, Chas (Charles Halford) go to Atlanta, where a young woman named Liv (Lucy Griffiths) is being targeted by dark forces. Turns out she’s the descendant of a powerful dark arts practitioner herself and has abilities that the other side wants to snuff out. Sadly, Griffiths is completely uninteresting to watch, despite being set up as a series regular for the show. She was delightful as Marian in the BBC’s Robin Hood, so maybe it’s the American accent that is throwing her off, but Liv seemed largely unaffected by anything that was happening to her. This is something that was clearly seen by the producers of the show, since the writers wrote her out by the end of the episode.

While we were distracted by Liv’s lack of emotion, other things were happening. Constantine is haunted by the fact that he let a little girl go to hell, and is therefore forever damned to go there as well. Chas is apparently immortal, though we don’t yet know why. And there is a terribly named angel, Manny, played by Harold Perrineau, who has grand plans for Constantine if the man would only cooperate. All in all, the pilot was a dud.

However, at the end of the episode, in that hastily added ending where Liv leaves forever, they introduce a psychic who keeps seeing visions of Constantine, giving hope for another, better, more interesting female sidekick. In the second episode, we meet her: Zed Martin (Angelica Celaya), a psychic from the comics that is already sassy, smart and able to keep up with Constantine as he investigates a mine where spirits keep killing people.

The second episode sets up a bit of a “freak of the week” format that has worked for genre shows like this forever (Buffy, Angel, Smallville, Supernatural, Grimm, etc.), while reminding us that there is a larger force at work that Constantine will have to tackle. This episode was much more enjoyable to watch, since Celaya was more emotive than Griffiths had been, and the episode didn’t revolve entirely around her, but around the case that Constantine was working, a more natural way to get character information than just sitting around and talking about it.

The show has a lot of potential to be a great comic adaptation and supernatural thriller, but again, the timeslot isn’t doing it any favors. I’d love to see it continue, but I’m not holding my breath.

Constantine airs Fridays at 10pm on NBC.

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