Well, the "most awaited show of the season" premiered Friday night at 10/9 central on NBC in the U.S. Was it worth the wait? Or is it just another disposable Friday night series on a major network?
First of all, for those just tuning in, 'Constantine' is based on a long-running DC comic book character, very loosely tied in to the superheroes like Superman and Batman. Although he's been changed and retconned over the years, he's basically a snarky low-level British conjuror and summoner with a snarky attitude and a ready wit. Constantine wears a dirty yellow trenchcoat, has a shock of blonde hair, smokes constantly even though it will probably kill him, is disliked by both Heaven and Hell, and has a habit of getting the people around him killed while he keeps going.
And yes, there was a 'Constantine' movie starring Keanu Reeve in 2005. Where Constantine was a brunette chain-smoking American who was a great deal more courteous and liked slamming his forearms together for some reason. And looked a great deal like... well, Keanu Reeves. Enough said. It's not a bad movie, but Keanu Reeves playing a blonde-haired British guy is such an odd casting choice that it's kind of distracting. Let's forget the movie for the purposes of this review.
'Constantine' starts with one of the standard TV pilot tropes: the good guy who has sealed himself away from the world, but gets the call to battle and sallies forth once more. Constantine has had himself committed and is undergoing electroshock to forget a botched exorcism at Newcastle. But when a dead friend sends him a vague message ("Liv dies") via a possessed painter, Constantine knows that it's from his dead friend Jasper and refers to Jasper's psychic daughter, Liv. So it's off to Atlanta, Georgia (??), where Liv (Lucy Griffiths) is under attack by a demon who can control electricity, a demon that her father pissed off and is back for revenge.
After Constantine rescues Liv the first time or two and dumps a load of exposition on her (she's a newbie/audience POV character: another standard trope), and explains that she's a scryer who can sniff out trouble. Constantine takes her to her father's conveniently placed mill house which has a basement bunker filled with Easter eggs... I mean mystical artifacts from the DC comic books. Along the way, an angel named Manny (Harold Perrineau Jr. – 'Lost') tries to recruit Constantine to Heaven's forces with the promise of redemption, and we meet Constantine's buddy Chas (Charles Halford – 'True Detective').
The first impression about the show is that it's oddly un-NBC like, for a NBC series. There's a level of humor and sarcasm here that you don't typically see in NBC shows. Constantine is rude, obnoxious, sarcastic, manipulative, and full of himself. Not as much as in the comics, but we knew that they'd tone down the right bastard from the source material and clean him up a little for mainstream TV. Constantine doesn't smoke, but he flicks a lighter constantly.
The second thing is that the pilot episode moves. Within five minutes Constantine is violently exorcising a demon from a fellow patient and the body flies around the room, slamming into walls. Then it's off to Atlanta and Liv is faced with the bloody corpse of her neighbor after a series of supernatural events. Manny pops in, Constantine goes on the run with Liv after showing her that she can see other planes of reality. All while dropping hints about the Newcastle exorcism, his connection to Liv's father, and explaining her mystical abilities. And shoving Liv in front of a ghost train.
Matt Ryan makes a great Constantine, and Lucy Griffiths is likeable as the heroine. Which is a shame, since her character didn't make the pilot cut and is being dropped for another female lead in the second episode, played by Angelica Celaya.
The premiere episode is filled with snark and humor, which is also different from most NBC dramas. 'Grimm' has the occasional moments of humor, usually compliments of resident Blutbud ally Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell). But that show's Nick Burkhardt is rather the straight-laced hero type. Constantine comes across more as a cross between Dean Winchester and the demon Crowley on 'Supernatural'.
It's not clear if 'Constantine' will keep up the pace of its premiere episode. But at least for October 24, it was a welcome change of supernatural pace from the moribund dramas of 'Haven' and 'Supernatural', which seem pretty lethargic by comparison. At the same time, 'Constantine' avoids the frenetic ripping off of 'Walking Dead' that 'Z Nation' brings to the table on Syfy Fridays.
And like 'The Flash' and 'Arrow' on The CW, 'Constantine' tosses in lots of Easter eggs to its comic book origins. The Helmet of Fate and the Ibis Stick show up in one brief scene. The Medusa Mask, Pandora's Box, and some Zatanna-style backward writing show up in others. Whether they will toss in some actual comic book villains remains to be seen. Constantine in the comics has always been on the outskirts of the mainstream DC continuity, so it seems unlikely. Still, it would be nice to see Wotan or Zatanna or the Phantom Stranger stop by some time.
The series does seem reminiscent of the Hell/Heaven battles of 'Supernatural', or the more recent 'Dominion'. But there seems to be enough here to satisfy both purists and those looking for a casual supernatural genre show to occupy their time.
So check it out: In the U.S. it's on Fridays at 10/9 central.