ADVANCE LOOK: CONSTANTINE 1.01 “PILOT” (NOT-FOR-AIR)A tv review article by: Paul Brian McCoy, Alex Wolfe
Due the some particularly subtle and powerful dark arts, our friends at Psycho Drive-In have gotten a glimpse at the pilot to the highly anticipated NBC Fall series Constantine. Just to be clear, this is an early pilot not intended for airing that we’ll be discussing and many, many things can change between now and October, when Constantine is set to premiere. The discussion is spoiler-free regardless.
With that said…
Alex Wolfe: Hhwwooahh. Was that a hell of a pilot. I’ve gotta say, I’ve been looking forward to this show popping up since I saw the very first poster for it, and now that I’ve seen it, I can’t say I’m the least bit disappointed.
Paul Brian McCoy: I have to agree. From the moment I first heard this was happening, I was excited. A little afraid of how it would actually translate to TV, but excited. And this turned out pretty well.
Alex: The show we’re talking about, of course, is the brand-new Constantine, and before I give my first impressions on it (besides the fact that it was friggin’ AWESOME), there are a few things – three, to be exact – that it must be compared to.
The first is the Hellblazer series of comics that the show is based on. Now, despite being a comic reader, I never actually checked any of these out. I can’t really say exactly how true the tone and storyline of the show is to the source material. I can say, however, that the character appears to be totally spot-on from everything I know about him. Hell, just look at the two of ‘em side by side!
Paul: Since this is my area of expertise here, let me just say that the casting of Matt Ryan is pretty spot-on. I’ve been reading Hellblazer comics from the very first issue, back in 1988, after falling in love with the character when he first started showing up in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run. This John is a little more frenetic than what we usually got in the comics, but we’re also getting introduced to the character very shortly after an extremely traumatic experience straight from the comics, so it makes sense.
I was expecting him to be a little more calm and collected, but Ryan brings a welcome energy to the pilot.
Alex: Also, since the Hellblazer mythos has now merged with the DC Universe, it seems like we have a ton of fun Easter eggs and characters to look forward to – as comic fans caught in the second trailer for Constantine, the helmet of Dr. Fate can be seen. Can you say “squee”?
Paul: That was a great little moment and I hope they can really use this opportunity to expand the Constantine universe in the same way Arrow is doing with the DC superhero properties.
Alex: The second thing to compare this to is the Keanu Reeves vessel by the same name, released in 2005. While this straight-faced, American version of Constantine still made for a pretty good movie, fans of the original character were primarily outraged by this movie pissing all over the mythos they had loved. Can the new Constantine really be compared to the Reeves version, as far as a movie to a show? Well, they do have some similar horror elements, but it’s the wild differences in the main character that makes them challenging to pit against each other. While this pilot was intense and even terrifying at a few points, we always have John Constantine’s commanding presence and flippant charm to help us through the experience, whereas the film version was oppressively dark and gloomy.
Paul: Yeah, there’s a distinctly different feel between the two interpretations. I think that most of the fans who didn’t like the Reeves movie wouldn’t have had a problem if he wasn’t supposed to the Constantine. The movie stood pretty well on its own – despite the presence of Shia LaBeouf – but went a little off the rails as it went on.
This pilot does a pretty good job of establishing the world of Constantine and laying the groundwork for some pretty interesting possibilities down the road. I’m gonna miss him smoking though. That was a pretty central element of the character and inspired what was maybe the best storyline in the series (Dangerous Habits is a trade that everyone who loves horror and dark fantasy should check out).
Alex: The third and final thing that Constantine must be compared to is the show Supernatural. Why, you ask? Because, at a glance, they’re the same show. “Troubled fella/fellas exist in a world of sinister magic and have to fight against the growing darkness in their own special way.” Similar themes are used, both draw from Judeo-Christian mythology, both use things like runic traps and salt-lines to trap demons, and the broad similarities go on. Comparing both shows directly, and with such little exposure to Constantine so far, I can say the one difference that stands out is that our newcomer is a great deal more intense and less fueled by monster movies than the early seasons of Supernatural were. The tone is more surreal and more fitting for an exorcism- and demonic-based horror film. Also, while John has some angst in this, it’s suppressed and maybe even poked fun at.
Paul: I’d also add that Constantine has a much more interesting and involving pilot than Supernatural did. I had trouble getting into Supernatural that first season and had to play catch up once it started really building up its mythology. Constantine really hits the ground running and doesn’t really let up steam until the closing credits finally roll.
They may actually benefit from Supernatural being around for so long and laying the groundwork for these ideas, but I suppose there’s always the chance that this could be seen as ripping off a show that was already inspired by the Hellblazer comics. I’ve heard that the character design of Cas on Supernatural was based on Constantine so there’s a weird cross-pollination between shows that hopefully won’t affect the audience response.
Alex: On to the show itself. Since I don’t want to ruin the experience for those who have yet to watch the pilot, I’ll go over this in broad strokes.
This show’s greatest strength is its eponymous character, John Constantine. He’s a flippant, manipulative, possibly-bipolar, charming bastard – the type who pretends he doesn’t give a damn but secretly gives lots of damns (this, however, it handled subtly, making John seem human rather than giving him a clichéd “broken bird” personality – the kind we’ve seen in so many other anti-heroes). He has a powerful presence that absolutely dominates the screen, and when he raises his voice it becomes considerably less obvious that there are other people actually in the scene with him.
Paul: Totally agreed on this. Matt Ryan nails the character from the first time he appears on-screen and dominates throughout. You can tell that he’s really overcompensating with his aggressive sarcasm and attitude in order to keep something inside from damaging him even more than it already has.
If I had any complaints, I’d almost wish he’d dial it down just a bit, but that’s just me. The character works immediately.
Alex: This isn’t to say that the supporting cast doesn’t have a strength of its own. John has already racked up a decent amount of sidekicks by the time the pilot concludes, and all of them have a distinct voice (by voice I mean their dialogue and presence, not their actual voice). Also, unlike some, this supporting cast actually supports – each character brings out a new facet to the titular character. Whether he has to be the rival, the protector, or the best mate, everything about this pilot seems to be designed to make John an instantly-complex character, and it absolutely succeeds.
Paul: It’s not just the writing of the supporting characters that works so well. The casting is pretty solid, with True Detective’s Reggie Ledoux himself, Charles Halford as the long-suffering taxi-driver Chas has a lot of potential, and I’m always happy to see Jeremy Davies (Lost, Justified, Hannibal) show up. I want the Iggy Pop action figure he had on his desk.
Lucy Griffiths also does a good job with what she’s given, but doesn’t really get a lot of chances to do anything but react to the weirdness around her. That should improve going forward, but it was a little distracting for the pilot. The same can be said for Harold Perrineau as Manny the angel with a hidden agenda.
Alex: While the scenes can sometimes feel a little bit cluttered (either that or I was just blown away by the awesome), Constantine has great dialogue, great effects, a stunning overall atmosphere, and can be totally terrifying when it decides to be.
Paul: That’s true. When it works, it works really well. But for me it all felt a bit rushed. It was almost like they had 60 minutes of script but had to squeeze it into the 45 minute runtime. The show would have benefitted from having more time to let things play out more naturally instead of frantically jumping around from scene to scene. While it does keep a brisk tempo going, I would have liked to see more time spent fleshing out the characters and really getting an idea for what’s going on, especially since this was directed by Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent, Doomsday, and Game of Thrones).
The way this was cut up kind of removed a lot of Marshall’s personality from the work. I wouldn’t have known he directed it at all, if it hadn’t been mentioned in all the press leading up to the pilot.
Since this is the “Not-for-air” Pilot, I wonder if these things will be addressed before the actual premiere in October? I hope so. Constantine has the potential to be a really strong series (despite being scheduled in the Friday death slot) and it’s the first DC TV property I’m actually invested in emotionally. I want this one to succeed.
So do you think you’re going to watch this in October?
Alex: You bet your ass I will. Hell – they even play a Social Distortion song in the car. If that doesn’t get a seal of approval, I can’t think of anything that will.
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