TV Review: Constantine S1E1 Non Est Asylum
Based on the wildly popular comic book series Hellblazer from DC Comics‘s imprint Vertigo, as well as the New 52 series Constantine, seasoned demon hunter and master of the occult John Constantine is armed with a ferocious knowledge of the dark arts and a wickedly naughty wit. He fights the good fight – or at least he did. With his soul already damned to hell, he’s decided to abandon his campaign against evil until a series of events thrusts him back into the fray when an old friend’s daughter becomes the target of supernatural forces.
It was only nine years ago that John Constantine made his mass media debut in the 2005 dreadful film Constantine, which starred Keanu Reeves in the title role. It’s interesting that nine years later the next attempt to bring the character to the masses shares the same title, but after seeing the first episode it sort of makes sense.
The visual aesthetic I think shares a lot with that film, something the movie got right. It has a bit of a cheesy horror film vibe about it all, just a step above the cheese though (though not much). The film and television show share the basics of the character, and a little of the attitude, and that’s where things generally end.
The greatest departure is Matt Ryan, who now embodies the role of John Constantine, sharing an impressive closeness in look to his comic depiction, and also playing off the borderline asshole personality of the character as well. The first episode rests on his shoulders, squarely on his shoulders, because that’s what there really is for the show.
Constantine the show is somewhat restrained by the fact its a network show, as opposed to being able to pull off an R adaptation. The comic has done some of its best work when it’s embraced its mature label. Mix that with some folks who know “horror” and you could have an amazing show. The debut though feels like “horror” light. It needs to go full “horror,” and dig in to what makes that genre succeed. Television lacks a solid horror show, and this could fill that niche nicely. As is, it dances around that, sanitizing the scares, and disturbing imagery, for the masses. It begins to go there, and it never quite crosses that moment that has me jump from my seat, or feel tense with anticipation and fear. There is definitely moments I was shocked NBC showed (don’t get me started on that pairing). There’s also a lot of religious themes, stories, and characters, that would probably get the masses up in arms if done correctly. The New 52 Constantine is a sanitized Hellblazer, and Constantine the show’s first episode is a further sanitized version of the New 52 Constantine.
The debut is a decent start, and should pair nicely with its lead in show Grimm. It shows promise in where it’ll go from here, but overall the debut episode didn’t blow me away. I’m nowhere near ready to render my verdict for the series as a whole. There’s a lot I like, Ryan being top of the list, and nothing I truly disliked. The show just kind of is. What it embraces from its comic roots will be a key to the season, and its willingness to go full horror and push what can be shown on television. There’s great potential in the series, we’ve seen what the character can do in the comics, crossing my fingers the series pulls off some magic and embraces a bit more of its dark side.
Overall rating: 7