Last among the panels I attended on Day 3 of NY Comic Con 2014 was one of my must see events. Among the deluge of WB/DC related television series premieres this season the one I questioned the most was NBC/Universal’s Constantine. Based on DC’s Hellblazer, the series follows the exploits of Exorcist/Demonologist/’Master’ Practitioner of the Dark Arts John Constantine played by Matt Ryan (Criminal Minds).
Constantine is not a typical superhero. He deals in the supernatural realm and works to fight against demons and the servants of Lucifer. His place in the DCU is established amongst hardcore fans but most people only know the Keanu Reeves film from 2005. This new take is more faithful to the original but that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been deviations. The lack of swearing and smoking are issues that irk fans of the character. Also, on the production side there was the writing off of Lucy Griffiths’ (True Blood) character Liv and her replacement with Zed played by Angelica Celaya (Dallas). NBC chose to re-cut the pilot rather than re-shoot in its entirety and they took two opportunities to show the episode at this year’s NY Comic Con.
Constantine’s story differs from his traditional origin in the new series. That said his main issue remains the same. He is a man damned to spend eternity in Hell. He fights against the forces of darkness but he himself is a hard-boiled detective style character. John isn’t exactly the most likeable person in the world and he has to deal with problems that make him wish he was crazy.
The pilot was well paced, well acted and pretty fun. John is witty, self deprecating and rude. Liv is naive but over time picks up on her gifts and Harold Perrineau as Manny the angel does a fantastic job representing the forces of Heaven. The thing is this episode is so focused on using Liv to introduce the spiritual forces at work to the audience that its obvious the original intent was to have her be the main female lead. She was given a power set that was intended to help Constantine find the dangers of the world and the abilities to help him stop them. Zed is a character from the books and therefore may be a better fit long term but NBC should probably have re-shot the pilot.
Spoiler Free Q&A Notes:
- David S Goyer said that they will bring Zed in directly into episode 2 and there’s no slow burn involved that they just go for it. Fan favorite characters like Papa Midnite appear nearly right away.
- God and Lucifer will be referred to as The Creator and The First of the Fallen. Manny is directly referred to as being an Angel and the evil forces as Demons.
- There is an easter egg in the pilot regarding a major DCU supernatural character that got a huge response from the audience. *hint* It involves a helmet.
Detailed Pilot Episode Details:
The reason John is damned to Hell is that he performed an exorcism on his own and tried to rid a little girl named Astra of a demon by summoning an even more powerful demon to drag him off. Instead the demon ripped the girl apart and took her soul to suffer for eternity in Hell.
Heaven sends Manny, an angel, to follow him and try to use his abilities to help them discover why suddenly there is so much demonic activity on Earth.
John does travel by cab and his driver Chas, played by Charles Halford (True Detective), is supernatural in some way. He has “survival skills”.
Zed appears in the very end of the pilot. All you can see is her back but she’s drawing images of Constantine. The drawings look like iconic Hellblazer covers.
The episode is enjoyable and I think there is a great series that can come from it but … I don’t like the idea that NBC decided to change the female lead after spending an hour introducing us to her as an audience analog. If NBC wanted a more formidable female lead to snark at Constantine then they should have introduced her properly. Also the manner in which they chose to exit Lucy Griffiths’ character out of the show is immensely clumsy and will lead to fans asking when she will return. They should have re-shot the pilot entirely.
3.5 out of 5