Struggling NBC supernatural drama Constantine returns on Friday, January 16 at 8 pm after its mid-season hiatus. The show debuted in October with an abysmal 10 pm timeslot, also on Fridays, arguably the worst time in the week for a primetime scripted program. Friday night is the Holy Grail of weekend partying and socializing for people tired of work and school who don’t want to stay home and watch TV, which is likely why another NBC late night Friday drama, Dracula, was canceled previously in the same time period.
Constantine follows the adventures of John Constantine, a magic-using paranormal investigator with questionable morals who fights demonic crime aided by Zed, a mysterious psychic, and Chas, a man with a healing factor. It’s based on the John Constantine character who debuted in DC Comics’s Hellblazer series in 1988 and has become a fan-favorite anti-hero for readers. Constantine’s part of the growing slate of DC Comics-inspired TV shows on multiple networks, which includes hits like Gotham and The Flash, but it hasn’t matched the other series’ level of success.
NBC has halted Constantine’s production at 13 episodes, far below the standard 22-episode season order, and the network’s uncertain if the show will return next fall. For most of its run, Constantine has averaged about 3 million viewers nightly, below the 5 million viewers its 9 pm lead-in Grimm commonly gets. Constantine also debuted October 24, relatively late in the 2014-2015 season, so NBC’s had less time to evaluate ratings data than if the show had started weeks earlier. Yet the show’s ratings have increased over time, and NBC’s moved it to an earlier timeslot when more people can see it, which may be a sign of good faith from the network.
The show’s plots are interesting, but in earlier episodes they didn’t usually go much deeper than the standard police-procedural format, where protagonists investigated evil deeds each week that they had little or no personal connections to. More recent plots have started exploring their pasts and character interplay, and the writers and directors should continue focusing on them to ensure that Constantine has a longer life on TV.
Here are 3 ways creators can keep the show in tip-top primetime shape:
1. Make it uncomfortable to watch—in a good way. Constantine’s a show about magic, ghosts, demons, and fallen angels, and the main character’s supposed to be a manipulative asshole, but the storylines have been surprisingly tame. The source material and 10 pm timeslot were ripe for gruesome, unsettling plots that ask uncomfortable questions about human nature and society, but the show often felt like it was just scratching the surface of these possibilities, or that no one was even trying to explore them. The X-Files episode “Arcadia,” for example, featured a cult that killed people who disobeyed residential community rules, a humorous and dark satire of restrictions that irritate homeowners in real-life. Constantine could totally take that route a lot more often with its monster-of-the-week plot lines. American Horror Story uses supernatural, sci-fi backdrops to make uncomfortable observations about racism and gender dynamics, and Constantine could also shed light on some ugly facet of life. A move to a more family-friendly 8 pm time period may threaten the creators’ ability to do so, however, since "serious" television plots usually fall in the domain of more adult-oriented material.
2. Make John Constantine a bastard. Constantine’s a con artist in the comics who plays his allies just as much as he does his adversaries. He’s led the Justice League Dark team of magical superheroes and keeps them in-line by deceiving them. We haven’t seen much of this side of him on TV except for the “Feast of Friends” episode where he manipulates Gary, an old associate, into sacrificing himself to stop a demonic attack. Zed chastised Constantine for being shady, but he felt he did what he had to do. His questionable actions caused drama and intriguing story beats.
3. Make it more personal. We’ve gotten some large bits of Constantine’s past connections with old friends and associates in the show, and creators should keep this up for other characters as well. We started to learn more about Zed’s backstory in the mid-season finale, so let’s continue that trend with Chas as well, and of course, more for Constantine, the show's star.
NBC may have cut Constantine's first season short, but it's earned the right to continue and find its place. It's certainly entertaining, but there've been sparks of greatness that we could see more of in the future. Creators should strive for more of this behind-the-scenes to guarantee that Constantine will get a full-length second season, and several more to come.