Every now and then, a TV show needs a night off. An evening when it can slump on the sofa, gorge on pizza and slip on an old DVD. Episode 11 of Constantine is that episode. The DVD in question? A Nightmare on Elm Street.
The plot is as bare-bones as it gets: a bunch of college kids go to an old house near campus to experiment with entering another dimension. The good news? They succeed. The bad news? They find themselves face-to-face with a serial killer, Jacob Shaw, who then follows them around in the real world.
It sounds like your typical slasher B-movie and, in many ways, it is. Constantine’s a TV series with potential to be two things: a trashy horror-thriller with standalone mysteries and murders, or something bigger and more serious. It’s a dichotomy that loosely correlates with the sidekicks on show: last week saw Chas placed centre stage, with strong support from Zed, building up to a rounded, complex piece right at home within Hellraiser’s mythology; this week, both Chas and Zed are cast aside to focus solely on John. That revolving-door approach is handled well by the show’s writers, who almost make a joke of the excuses for why their characters are randomly absent. It fits the episodic nature of the comic book too, which frequently dealt with individual stories in individual issues, but it can also lead to a disjointed feel on screen.
Matt Ryan, it goes without saying, is superb – if anything, it’s great to see the poster boy for DC’s “other” superhero show hogging the spotlight no matter who else is in front of the camera. He’s joined here by Ritchie Simpson (Jeremy Davies), who briefly popped up in the pilot to lend a helping hand. He’s given a similar role here, as his skills just happen to be perfect for the story of the week: a university professor who’s an expert in parallel dimensions? How convenient.
That contrivance leaves Davies working his bespectacled butt off to avoid being a mere plot device – and, to his credit, he at least helps you swallow the rather silly story. It helps that William Mapother’s bad guy is so creepy. Shot by Supernatural director Tom Wright with an eye for the genre, Shaw’s sinister grin and appearance in almost every reflective surface imaginable makes for several solid jumps, while a nasty taste for gore keeps up Constantine’s uniquely dark tone.
Between the two out-of-body boffins, they manage to raise some interesting questions, from creation and God-like authority to the power of imagination to escape reality, but within the slim 45-minute runtime, the ideas (and the stakes) never fully bloom into the lush CGI landscapes that we are teased with come the final act. More importantly, though, they don’t feel quite at home with the rest of the season. That’s not because Constantine can’t do schlocky horror – it can, but those kind of escapades occurred in the first half of the run, when it was still setting the mood. Written by Davita Scarlett and Sneha Koorse, who haven’t penned any other entries in the series, A Whole World Out There sticks out from the pack, mainly because it doesn’t help to build the world within here: the Rising Darkness barely gets a look in, Zed’s Resurrection Crusade is swiftly forgotten, and – most telling of all – Manny’s increasingly intriguing presence simply seems out of place in Freddy Krueger’s universe.
With just two episodes to go in a season that needs to convince NBC to renew Constantine – and to convince audiences to keep tuning in – this is a point where all those loose strands should be building to a nog climax. Every now and then, a TV show needs a night off. Episode 11 of Constantine is enjoyable enough to slouch to while gorging on pizza. You just wish it happened 10 episodes ago.
Constantine is currently available to buy and download on Google Play.