Thursday, February 19, 2015

Constantine (TV Series) review

     I wanted to like this show, I really did.

    And you know what? I did.


    Sometimes a lot.

    The Matt Ryan version of John Constantine is a very difficult show to review because it is an incredibly uneven experience. There were episodes of this show which I truly hated, utterly missing the point of Hellblazer and its Gothic punk attitude to the world.

    There were other episodes which were really-really good. Most episodes varied between the good, the bad, and the ugly like a heart monitor. One scene would be extremely entertaining and then the next would be cringe-inducing.

    I say this as a Hellblazer fan.

"Noooo, John Constantine should be like THISSS!"
    The heart of Hellblazer's appeal is it is an angry series. It is a series about one underdog henchman's war with reality. Angels, demons, the rich, the dead, and his own weaknesses all make the world a worse place. John rages against the machine with only his wits, a pair of smokes, and some parlor tricks which barely qualify as magic. He's a wizard in the loosest sense of the word and, if he triumphs at all, it's usually at considerable cost.

    I don't think a "proper" adaptation of Hellblazer would be accepted by John Q public. I actually liked Keanu Reeves take on the character despite the considerable liberties taken with the material. If nothing else, Keanu captured John was a self-destructive asshat who hated the world around him.

    So what was Matt Ryan's take on the character?

    My biggest issue is that I'm not really sure.

    The premise of the first and probable last season of Constantine is John surviving the Newcastle Incident with a handful of his friends. For those unfamiliar with the comics, this is when John screws up an exorcism by summoning a demon to banish another demon and gets a little girl killed (as well as damned). Traumatized by the experience, John goes to a mental ward until called back by a friend to help his daughter. Inspired by her and a literal angel looming behind him, John decides to fight a rising darkness afflicting the world in order to find some measure of redemption.

    The thing is, as motivations go, it's all over the place.

For a series about demons and exorcism, it was the human moments which shined.
    John Constantine isn't the sort of character who needs an overarching nemesis to drive his plot as the need for atonement after Newcastle works as a perfectly serviceable motivation on its own. Indeed, the "Rising Darkness" is often a distraction from John's guilt and character building. If I were to draw a comparison, Spiderman doesn't need to find out the Kingpin has a master plan to take over the city in the same episode Uncle Ben dies.

    Despite this, Matt Ryan is probably the closest we've gotten to John physically on screen as well as in terms of personality. I have nothing against his acting and was always entertained by his struggle against the banality the scripts. When given good material like in Blessed are the Damned and The Saint of Last Resorts he knocks it out of the park.

    The supporting cast is serviceable with both Zed (Angelica Celaya) and Chaz (Charles Halford) being decent characters once they're given a chance to actually interact with John. Neither is developed as much as they should be during the beginning, though, with Zed suffering from being a last-minute replacement for True Blood's Lucy Griffiths.

    Unfortunately, serviceable doesn't quite cut it when we see Matt Ryan interact with actors Claire van der Boom and Michael James Shaw. Given people he has real backstory and chemistry with, this version of John Constantine soars. Too bad it's only in about half the episodes.

Teasing the Specter and not using him is just cruel, guys.
    There's also the somewhat nitpicky complaint I'm not sure whether the series wants to be in the DC universe, the Vertigo universe, some hybrid of the two, or the quote-unquote real-world. It's hard to take John's punk attitude seriously in the DCU which is falling over itself with superheroes and a God who is confirmably good. However, this is contrasted with the Vertigo-esque episodes where it seems God is impotent against the forces of evil. Why would John have to do a human sacrifice in order to destroy a Hunger Demon, for example, when he has an angel on speed-dial?

    Which brings me to my final point?

    I still watched it and liked it.

    There were some really good episodes in this book and the chief problem was pacing and not being aware of what elements were working as well as what's not. By the end of the first season, they'd managed to find a much better balance than at the start. It was starting to get to the heart of John's character and develop a network of contacts who were interesting enough to continue showing up. I actually looked forward to the possibility of adapting characters like John's sister and niece or the First of the Fallen. The fact I think the show could handle the Gabriel and Ellie storylines tells me I had faith in this show.

    The humor wasn't always and the action so-so but, on a whole, Constantine was more good than bad. I enjoyed Matt Ryan's performance tremendously and the DC comics elements they inserted tickled me pink. Even if they only showed up for cameos, seeing the Helmet of Nabu and Specter delighted my inner child.

    With better scripts, more people for John to play his rebelliousness off of, and a better developed supporting cast then this show would have been awesome. As such, it's still more to my tastes than most things on television. I recommend this for a rental once it comes out on DVD and I hope Syfy picks up the series as Hellblazer: The Series. Hell, I'd be happy for a retooled NBC version.


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