I review the first season of NBC’s dark urban fantasy TV series Constantine, compromised of thirteen episodes and based on the titular DC Comics character and starring Matt Ryan in the lead role. Developed by Daniel Cerone and David S. Goyer, Constantine also stars Harold Perrineau, Angelica Celaya and Charles Halford. It airs in the UK on Amazon Prime.
John Constantine is my favourite DC Comics character. I’m a massive fan of the trenchcoat wearing, British master of the occult, and will read and watch pretty much anything featuring him. However, his onscreen history, which is mainly just the disaster that was the Keanu Reeves movie from 2005 (that even featured a pre-Transformers Shia LaBeouf), hasn’t been anywhere near as successful as his comics counterpart, who, after a rich history of Hellblazer stories from Vertigo Comics has been integrated into the main DC Universe with the New 52 and currently stars in a comic (Also called Constantine) that is about to be relaunched in a few months under the name Constantine: Hellblazer. So when it was announced that Constantine would be joining the impressive DC Comics fall line-up of Gotham, Arrow and The Flash, I was incredibly excited.
And then the first episode hit, and problems emerged straight from the start. Due to a law against it on network TV, John couldn’t smoke on screen, angering a lot of fans from the comics. The supporting actress, Lucy Griffiths (whose character was Liv Aberdine) abruptly departed the show after the pilot, serving as nothing more than a gateway into Constantine’s world. The pilot itself was although entertaining, and introduced the world of Constantine, fairly weak, and could have been a lot better. The second episode served as a more improved pilot however, introducing Zed (played by Angelica Celaya) to the series in a more progressive role that worked, and was already a sign that the show was starting to turn things around. The fact that Matt Ryan pretty much looks exactly how you’d imagine John Constantine to look like really helped as well, as he continued to steal the show week after week delivering some impressive performances. The supporting cast, Charles Halford, who plays the seemingly immortal Chas, Constantine’s oldest friend, and Angelica Celaya, are also solid as well, even if the episodes are few and far between where they actually share the same story as John rather than being dragged off on their own separate subplots or not appearing in an episode at all.
There is never an unwatchable episode in Constantine though, but it takes a while for the season to get going. With a few storylines adapted from the Hellblazer comic, the main focus of Season 1 revolves around the Rising Darkness, a mysterious threat of supernatural origin that loosely connects the mostly ‘monster of the week’ episodes which see John, Chas and Zed being drawn into various situations after another.
The monster of the week storylines are actually pretty good for the most part, however as with most shows, you’d hope that it can transform into greater things as the show progresses. (However, that said, the series is still awaiting renewal, with it not given its full episode running time, limited to only 13, but at the same time, not actually cancelled yet) My favourite episodes are A Feast of Friends, which shows you that John ain’t exactly your standard Mr. Nice Guy, revolving around a mystery concerning Gary Lester (Jonjo O’Neill), an old friend of John’s. The following episodes after A Feast of Friends are also mostly strong, with Danse Vandou introducing Detective Jim Corrigan (Emmett J. Scanlan), Blessed Are the Damned, exploring the Angelic mythology and fleshing out Manny’s character (Harold Perrineau), who is also an Angel, a bit more. The two-part Saint of Last Resorts episode brings another old friend of John, now working for a convent, Anne Marie, back as things get very interesting indeed. And then, Waiting for the Man ends the season on a pretty good high note.
The show remains pretty faithful to the comics mythology, and even the problem concerning the lack of John’s smoking on screen is addressed (he’s constantly seen having just finished a cigarette), and by the final few episodes, is smoking on screen in full view of the audience. The villains that we meet are varied, some standard supernatural creatures of the week, but others more sinister in nature, with the intimidating, scenery-chewing Papa Midnite (Michael James Shaw) and Felix Faust (Mark Margolis) serve as notable antagonists for John to face.
We explore John’s character pretty well with Matt Ryan knocking it out of the park with his performance. He’s flawed, and comes across as more of an anti-hero than a straight-up ‘superhero’, which is exactly what comics fan would expect. We are first introduced to him when he’s locked in a Asylum in the UK (even though the action is largely set in the US) having admitted himself after the Newcastle incident where he damned a girl to hell, and with the Newcastle storyline playing a fairly big role in the series, it’s great to see that the creators don’t shy away from introducing old friends, like Anne Marie and Gary Lester, to the mix as well. This season also provides several great nods that comic fans will really appreciate – Dr. Fate’s helmet is seen in the pilots, and there are various subtle foreshadowing hints that yes, Jim Corrigan is really going to become the Spectre. So if you’re a fan of the comics then you’ll certainly get something out of this show for sure.
If you’re going to watch Constantine, but don’t entirely enjoy it at first, wait until the fourth episode before deciding on whether or not to abandon it entirely. It’s one of the series’ finest moments and will convince a lot of people who are on the edge to stick around for more. It’s a show that gets better week after week, and by the end of the first season, you’ll join the category of fans desperately wanting a second season and hoping that NBC (or, if rumours are true, SyFy) renew it. It may be the riskiest DC Comic adaption currently on television at the moment, but it packs enough original elements to avoid feeling like a clone of the likes of Grimm and Supernatural, and gives audiences something fresh and exciting each week. With everything taken into consideration though, you could do far worse than watch this show, and should be a welcome treat for fans looking for more urban fantasy/horror shows on television.