The wait is finally over! But was it worth chanting "Arrive Constantine" over and over again while staring into candle flame every night for months? Probably not. Friday saw the premiere of DC's Constantine on NBC, and it was, sadly, underwhelming.
Pilot episodes are traditionally difficult to pull off well, as writers are often forced to rely on exposition and ham-fisted storytelling so as to appeal to the broadest range of viewers. It hurts, but writers need to convince producers that the show is marketable and thus worth money to keep their jobs. The facts of life, unfortunately. But, as us fanboys and -girls know, this fact more often than not leaves newcomers confused and fans disappointed. Constantine never truly bucks this pernicious trend, but it does offer a few worthwhile incentives to stay tuned.
The show begins on a high-note, despite voiceovers. (Quick complaint: voiceovers in a tv show are lazy.* You only do voiceovers when the writer can't figure out how to provide necessary background information to the audience in any other way. Voiceovers almost always say to me, "The actors just aren't capable of displaying emotional nuance, and, even if they were capable, we have no clue how to make any sense of this plot in 45 minutes without just telling you about it." Sigh.) John Constantine has checked himself into a psychiatric hospital, and is willingly undergoing electroshock therapy (don't cut yourself on all the EDGE this show has, viewers) so he can forget the worst error in judgment of his apparently long and seedy career as an occultist/demon hunter/badass. We find out later that involves the accidental damning-to-hell of a nine year old girl.
The show, instead of diving head first into John Constantine's shocking selfishness, starts Constantine as something of an altruist, showing regret over the death and damnation of the innocentest of innocents, a cute little girl. In fact, Constantine's trademark caustic misanthropy is nearly absent from this episode, leading viewers to wonder if we can expect the Hellblazer to get a little, well, meaner this season. Even when confronted by Manny, a guardian angel of sorts (and one of two 'Lost' alumni to appear on the show), Constantine gets frustrated, but delivers no delicious deadpan sarcasm.
The show's special effects are very impressive for network TV and lend an air of believability to this magical world of spirits, demons, angels, and scrying. We're offered fire-faced demons, streets cracking open and spewing fire, columns of fire...yeah, it's mostly fire, but it's still very cool. Despite the episode's central baddy generating power from the electricity around him, I confess my exasperation with the sheer number of times the lights cut out in an effort to scare me. The show's special effects are a huge draw, and I can't wait to see what else the show can do.
One thing that's vital to a successful fantasy franchise, whether books, film, or TV, is an adherence to a set of rules. The rules can be almost literally anything; it doesn't matter. For the audience to connect to and be convinced by a fictional world, writers must stick to the rules they establish. The villain of the episode, the electricity-hungry hell monster mentioned earlier, could possess dead people, power lines, absorb "power" from electricity, conjure convincing illusions, and punch the crap out of stuff, which left me wondering about this show's rules. Will every demon have a repertoire of powers that aren't merely convenient for the plot? Will there be more convenient artifacts with unspecific "enchantments" that end up saving the day? So far, I'm on board, and I really really hope the show sticks to whatever crazy rules it sets these first couple episodes. Liv's amulet, and the Eye of Horus protection spell have me chewing my nails just a tad..
I can see why Liv is being excised from future episodes of the show, but I can't see how the writers will pivot away from her without things being awkward. Liv seems absolutely shoe-horned into John's world, despite being the axis on which this episode turns, and since she seems to be "special" (because Constantine says so plainly so we, the audience, are 100% clear on that) the audience's attention is split. Who's the character with the biggest stakes here? Who's the main protagonist? John or Liv? TV shows can, and probably should, have multiple protagonists, of course, but we've only just met Constantine and he's enticing enough for me to want to know more about him and not the car insurance sales-person with an occultist dad. Especially knowing that Liv'll be shuffled off the show by next week, I found the "she's special" pill hard to swallow.
The show was wonderfully paced, I must say. The action was brisk, pleasing, and legitimately spooky on a few occasions. I could also feel the stakes in every demon encounter: there were no fodder demons for Constantine to mow down. Every demon posed a challenge, even to a seasoned veteren, which is extremely refreshing after week after week of leisurely zombie killing on 'The Walking Dead.'
In short, though there was much to improve upon, I'm definitely willing to give it a second try. With Liv, who was probably the least interesting character and, insanely, the center of the plot this week, going the way of the dodo in coming episodes, I have high hopes for the darkest magician on the block—even if the network won't let the man light up after some good ol' demon banishing.
*I'm sure there are decent voiceovers out there. Point them out to me!
Source: Point of Geeks