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Constantine: 13 and Done?

I’ve been holding back from talking about NBC’s Constantine because I try (I really do) to honor the effort and vision of media makers. Putting together a comic, film, or a television show is a lot of hard work and I want to respect that. And truth be told, I try to give sci fi and related genres more latitude than I should because I love them so much.  Another reason why I held off for so long is that John Constantine is in my top five favorite comic book characters of the past decade or so, and I wanted to make sure I could be somewhat neutral.

We will NOT be speaking about the 2005 Keanu Reeves joint.

I’ve always been interested in the occult, and the way that it is presented in the Hellblazer book is fascinating.

When I heard that NBC was going to deliver a Constantine television show, I was elated and skeptical at the same time. NBC isn’t exactly known for edgy programming, and there are few characters more edgy than John Constantine. Would he smoke? Would they include his bi-sexuality? Would he be portrayed as the arrogant near-psychopath that he is? Would the show get into his occult hubris induced guilt? Question after question I asked (to no one in particular), hoping that through my constant inquiry Constantine would be the kind of show I’d watched when it aired, and not DVR’d and watched at 11:30 on a Saturday night.

After watching the first episode, “Non Est Asylum”, I was 60/40 in favor of the show.

Matt Ryan was great, despite his trench coat and open tie looking more like a costume than a uniform, and there were a few legitimate scares.

Setting the episode in an asylum was a nice touch, but the show lacked… atmosphere? Things seemed to have no real gravity… even the possession didn’t feel too dangerous or, well, demonic. I decided to apply the rule of five: I’ll watch five episodes of anything (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. only got three and a half. Only time I never made it to five) and then decide whether or not I will continue watching. On November 21, “Danse Vaudou,” was the fifth episode. And I just might be done.

When I heard that Papa Midnight was going to show up, I was ecstatic.

Papa, played by Djimon Hounsou in the film that shall not be named, is a fascinating character. I was surprised at how well he was handled in…that film…
…and in his comic book mini-series.

So when I was forced to sit through Michael James Shaw’s underwhelming performance in “The Devil’s Vinyl” (aired on November 7), I was lightweight upset. By the way, “The Devil’s Vinyl” is, by a large margin, the best-written episode so far. Mark Verheiden and David. S Goyer wrote it. Yes, that David S. Goyer. Murderer of the Blade franchise. He who gave us the most un-Superman Superman in the Man of Steel. The director both of the genre train wrecks The Unborn and The Invisible. He did his thing with this episode. But the subsequent episode, “A Feast of Friends” was like having a great steak, but getting a Tootsie Roll as desert. Such a complete and utter letdown from Vinyl. And this is the primary problem with Constantine. It is entirely too uneven.

There is no tone to the entire enterprise. Is Constantine a badass occult practicing con man, or is he an emo penitent with a literal angel on his shoulder reminding him of his past and doing fu#kall? It wouldn’t mind it if they showed both sides, but I’m not getting the con man at all. He isn’t oily enough. Not to dismiss Matt Ryan’s portrayal — it is the fault of the writing.

NBC announced that they would be stopping Constantine’s episode order at 13. And this is a wonderful thing. Thirteen, in many beliefs and practices, is an auspicious number. Also, 13 episodes is a good number to assess when and where the train got derailed. Here are my pros and cons about the show:



I’m about two episodes behind, and I will be revisiting this at the conclusion of the initial 13 episodes. This is my take. What is yours?

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