What We're Watching: Constantine Pilot Review

Constantine
NBC

Starts Friday, October 24, 8PM Central

I don’t really know much about the character of Constantine, outside of the not-that-great Keanu Reeves movie from 2005 and his bit part in Neil Gaiman’s Books of Magic graphic novel. I know he’s a grey character that dabbles in magic and fights demons, so a television version of that should be right in my wheelhouse. We were lucky to see the pilot earlier this summer at Comic Con, while the rest of the world gets to see it this Friday, October 24 on NBC.

Knowing I have don’t have much of a background with Constantine or the Hellblazer comics, please forgive me any inaccuracies in cannon.

With that said, the powers-that-be try to cram what feels like a whole bunch of comic canon into 42 minutes of television. That alone bogs down what could have otherwise been a very fast-paced introduction to a darker comic book character. John Constantine has a checkered background and regularly gets taunted by both angels and demons. He’s a bit of a grumpy guy and doesn’t appreciate suddenly getting roped in to protecting the daughter of an old friend.

That’s basically the plot of the pilot – a demon wants the friend’s daughter, Constantine feels obligated to protect her from being dragged into hell. There are some toss ins about previous cases going horribly wrong, leaving Constantine with figurative (and a few literal) demons haunting him so that the only place he can get some rest is in an institution. An angel played by Lost’s Herold Perrineau regularly stops by and threatens Constantine with un-angelic things and hammers home that there’s a bigger mess of things happening than some demon wanting this 20-something year old girl.

Matt Ryan as John Constantine is some good casting. He has the look perfect and his grumpy standoffishness is well-balanced with a sense of humor, so that he doesn’t come out as a complete asshole. Lucy Griffiths (True Blood) plays Liv, the friend’s daughter, and she is equal parts whiney and useless, which is probably why the character is written out after the pilot to be replaced with a different female character. A few secondary characters show promise of building out an intriguing cast.

The special effects are hit or miss with a couple of scenes looking pretty dodgy. This is balanced out by some honestly surprising moments that continued to pique my interest at just the right moments. This pilot feels like it was made for fans of the comics, but there’s enough inside to leave the casual or new fan interested in seeing more. Matt Ryan is a charismatic lead and a fair number of Easter eggs are dropped throughout the pilot episode. If it realizes even half of the potential it hints at with this pilot, this should be a fun Friday night diversion, though I don’t know if it will have the staying power of some of the other comic book-based shows currently on the air.