Like most comic books, Constantine is best suited to a serial format like television (or the emerging streaming platforms). The book is dark, with a complex mythology and a rich cast of characters. Even without Keanu Reeves' leaden interpretation, the movie was doomed to be flawed.
Fortunately for us, NBC has embraced darkness in a way that would have been considered impossible in its 1980-90s glory days. Hannibal and The Blacklist have demonstrated its fearlessness in pushing boundaries and the [Constantine](movie:874314) pilot fits right into this space.
Of course, the casting of the title character is essential and the producers have made a good pick in Matt Ryan. From the opening line, which is delivered in a recognizably British accent, we're off to a good start. In a plot element taken from the comic books, Constantine is in an asylum following the loss of Astra to the demon Nergal. The loss of her soul, along with his own, has been tormenting him. Naturally, he'll have to snap out of it. That moment comes when a possessing spirit sends him a disturbing message (along with tens of thousands of roaches).
John is on a mission to save the daughter of another friend who is being targeted by a demonic antagonist. Through the episode, we're introduced to the supporting cast. Constantine's taxi driving chaffeur, Chas (Charles Halford); a guardian angel named Manny (Harold Perrineau); and Liv Aberdeen, the daughter in question (Lucy Griffiths, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Rachel Weisz, who played the protagonist/love interest in the movie adaptation). Liv has inherited her dad's talent for sniffing out evil, which is pretty handy in a show about tracking demons.
The episode plays out fairly routinely. We're introduced to a fair amount of magical runes and spells, though they dip into the exorcism incantations a few times too many in the 44 minute runtime. Constantine has some great story arcs in the comic book canon, but even without these, there are innumerable plots to be fashioned out of tracking and defeating hordes of demons. The set-up is "Law and Order" meets "The Exorcist." I'm good with that. Once Liv settles into her new role and Manny becomes more than an annoying presence, I can see this group delivering entertainment along the lines of "Angel" or "Buffy" minus the campy humor and strained love plots. Things should only get better once we're introduced to "The First of the Fallen" and Papa Midnite.
Lastly, much has been made of NBC's inability to show Constantine smoking. It's true that he never holds a cigarette in his mouth, but we do see him stubbing out a butt in a bar. I predict plenty of flicked, stepped on or otherwise dispatched ciggies during the run of the show.
This first episode was a nice taste of what's to come. A lot will depend on how dark they're willing to go, but it's a solid enough start. That's LOADS more satisfying than its cinematic predecessor.