John’s ablaze but little else sparks
Half the battle when
launching a new supernatural procedural series is getting your lead right, both in terms of casting and characterisation. That’s made even trickier when the character is pre- existing, because then the TV version comes with the baggage of expectation.
In this respect, NBC’s stab at Constantine, based on the cocky, chain- smoking demon hunter from DC’s Hellblazer comics, has landed a winner. Welsh- born Matt Ryan gets his tongue round a passable Scouse accent but, more importantly, feels like gnarly, snarky, world- weary John Constantine of the comics. The hair may be a little Tintin, but the scowl is authentic ( certainly much more than Keanu Reeves’ confused frown in the film version).
Sadly, the rest of the show is less surefooted, as if showrunners David Goyer and Daniel Cerone haven’t quite worked out how to make it something other than a Supernatural spin- off with the Winchesters’ long- lost Liverpudlian cousin. They’ve even introduced an ongoing angel, Manny ( not a character from the comics), to make the parallels even closer, while stories about voodoo and urban myths feel so familiar in the TV landscape you can’t help groaning the first time you hear the word “Chupacabra”.
The regular supporting cast are decidedly humdrum too. Admittedly, rewrites and changed plans mean that Zeb ( vision- seeing female assistant) and Chas ( muscle with multiple lives) keep vanishing for entire episodes, but they never come alive as characters or have much chemistry with John.
The better episodes are inspired by charters or plots direct from the comics (“A Feast Of Friends”, “The Saint Of Last Resorts”, “Waiting For The Man”); others feel like formulaic Scooby- Doo- style spooky investigative filler. Some deliciously dark concepts in the scripts feel sanitised by a gaudy, glassy shooting style that looks more comic strippy than truly suits the subject matter.
But whenever Constantine is centre- stage and sarcastic, the show discovers its voodoo hoodoo.