Constantine drifts from comic foundation

Photo courtesy of NBC

Lannis, a disgruntled Pennsylvania miner, comes home one evening and asks his unnamed wife if dinner is ready. When she replies it is not, he gets rather annoyed and goes to wash off the grime from the mines.

The shower’s water turns muddy in a stereotypical fashion before it turns off completely only to be replaced with a geyser of fire. Lannis the ungracious is dead, cue insensitively fire-themed intro graphics. Thus began the second episode of television series Constantine.

NBC’s newest series is based on the misadventures of the comic book character John Constantine from, among others, DC’s Hellblazer series. While there is no shortage of comic book stories turned video, this is particularly noteworthy in that Constantine is known for being a chain-smoking, alcoholic magician possessed of a world view dark enough to make Batman desire a night light.

The television series immediately made their stance on keeping to the source material clear by pronouncing Constantine as though it ended with the word “teen” instead of how the British character in the comics pronounces it to rhyme with “vine.”

If they are going to change something as momentously trivial as the pronunciation of the main character’s name, it is probably a safe assumption that there will be little resemblance between the show and the comics beyond basic mythos and the main points of characters’ backstories.

This begs the question: why not simply change the names of the few overlapping characters, claim it was merely “inspired by” the comic books, and avoid angering fans of Hellblazer while still creating the intended show?

Sadly, the intended show has little going for it aside from its CGI, which goes far beyond that of most television series. The first episode showed potential, but the second proved this was merely a false hope.

In the first episode, the first time Constantine, played by Matt Ryan (Flypaper), is introduced, he has been a patient in a psychiatric facility for three months. During a therapy session, a doctor inundates the viewer with exposition to a degree that might leave audiences wondering if Constantine also suffers from amnesia.

Perhaps realizing that this is less than interesting, Constantine soon receives a message from a dead friend and travels to Atlanta in order to protect said friend’s daughter, Liv (Lucy Griffiths), who is being hunted by a demon named Furcifer. Once she realizes Constantine is there to help, Liv asks a lot of questions, which is understandable, considering she just came to know that demons and magic are real.

However, the inquisitiveness combined with Constantine’s forthcoming answers feel rather like thinly veiled attempts to inform the audience of relevant mythology.

Through the hour-long show, Constantine reunites with Chas, an old friend who appears to be immortal, speaks with an angel several times about the future, blackmails a professor and does several things besides.

All of this is, of course, is in addition to the main plot of fending off Furcifer. With such an overflowing amount of detail included in the episode, it would be hard-pressed to be uninteresting.

Unfortunately, this was not to be continued; the second episode had a linear plot revolving around the murder of Lannis the miner. The identity of the murderer was rather obvious (some could probably guess who did it given only the first paragraph of this article), though it was just as obviously supposed to be a grand reveal at the end when Constantine confronted the person.

One of the confusing points was that Liv was entirely missing, and a replacement character, Zed, was introduced. Apparently, this switch was made for real-life reasons, and the writers did not deem it worthwhile to come up with an in-show reason as well.

Constantine seems to be letting real world constraints make for a strange show. NBC has a policy against letting characters smoke, but the show still wanted Constantine to be the comic book chain smoker. In many scenes, he is shown just putting out a cigarette or about to smoke. It is rather ingenious how many ways the show has come up with to depict a smoker without ever showing Constantine enjoying his addiction in full view of the camera.

Even with two drastically different episodes as its only accomplishments so far, this show can probably best be summed up by its crowning moment. When Constantine is going to investigate the mine, he picks up a flashlight and turns it on while pointing it directly into his own eyes.

With this caliber of intelligence opposing them, demons and devils should be cautious as Constantine might be the next, albeit less lightheartedly comical, Inspector Clouseau.

Our Take: 3/5