UK TV review: Constantine Episode 1
James R | On 26, Oct 2014
Constantine is being released in the UK straight to Amazon Prime Instant Video – with a new episode available every Saturday, within 24 hours of US broadcast.
“My name is John Constantine. And I’m an exorcist.”
The TV series Constantine doesn’t shy away from what it is. We’re told everything we need to know almost immediately: John Constantine is an occult detective. And he’s as messed up as you’d expect.
We first meet him in an asylum, where he’s checked himself in to forget the death of an innocent girl, Astra, which happened when a recent exorcism went wrong. The staff at the institution are predictably skeptical when he tells them her soul was dispatched by a demon. “By demon, you mean a murderer?” says a doctor. John glares. “By demon, I mean a bloody demon.” “And you’re a Master of the Dark Arts?” adds the medic, looking at Constantine’s business card. John replies: “I should really change that to ‘Petty Dabbler’.”
Matt Ryan is a fantastic choice to play the magician-turned-supernatural-investigator. All trench coat and arrogance, he’s as British as he is blonde – and a brash b*stard to boot. Those three qualities are vital to bringing the star of the Hellblazer graphic novels to the screen: in 2005, a movie adaptation starred Keanu Reeves as an American brunette Constantine, which never quite worked. Here, though, Ryan’s gruff voice and rude edge are a perfect fit for the darkly funny outsider – even if he doesn’t chain-smoke on screen, as in the novels, because this is an NBC production.
That casting makes the show stand out from the crowd of superhero series flying onto our TV screens. Which, undoubtedly, is the intention. While Arrow and The Flash are crossing over on The CW in the US (both are on Sky here), the world of Hellblazer is far darker than the masked vigilante outings of DC Comics. Constantine barely even qualifies as a hero, despite having special abilities. What other comic book TV series would see a wall covered in beetles and someone impaled with an electric cable? And what other hero would react by dropping that most British of words: bollocks.
The shadows are brought beautifully to life by director Neil Marshall, who, before his graduation to Game of Thrones, showed off his chops with wonderfully twisted horror flicks The Descent and Dog Soldiers. Within five minutes, he’s blown out all the windows of a building in a one-mile radius: a statement of intent for the season.
It’s not long until Constantine is back on the prowl, trying to save another innocent – Liv Aberdeen (Lucy Griffiths) – from the forces of darkness. Liv, it turns out, has developed the ability see the underworld, haunted by ghosts, ghouls and other nasties. He’s helped on his quest by Chas (Charles Halford), who’s as sardonic as you’d expect John’s only friend to be, and Manny (Harold Perrineau), a guardian angel who watches over Constantine.
Manny pops in and out of scenes in the guise of other people, a trick that soon starts to wear thin. He’s also given some incredibly cheesy dialogue to establish Constantine’s character and the show’s themes. “You may never be able to forgive yourself,” Perrineau warns, with an enigmatic smile, as John downs booze, “but if you want to give her death some meaning, do something about it.”
If there are a number of heavy-handed moments, though, Ryan pulls them off with his appropriately in-your-face charisma. Griffiths, meanwhile, does a good job as the naive sidekick, asking enough questions to let John explain what’s going on. It soon becomes apparent, though, (from reshot scenes) that she will soon be replaced by another female character: Zed (Angélica Celaya). It’s a concerning thought that a TV show could suddenly realise one of its main characters is a mistake, but it’s a decision best made now rather than later.
The rest of the show, on the other hand, impresses with its confidence: from Constantine’s red tie and beige jacket to the fiery climax, it’s a vibrant, colourful production that feels refreshingly different from all the other TV fare around at the moment – especially as Batman prequel Gotham begins its exploration of a familiar franchise. “I drive demons away and kick ’em in the bollocks,” explains John in his suitably deadpan voiceover. Messed up and amusing, he swaggers through DC Comics’ previously unseen universe, never shying away from who he is. The show may veer close to Petty Dabbler at times, but who knows? Constantine could prove a Master of the Dark Arts yet.
Constantine is currently available to buy and download on Google Play.