Monday, February 16, 2015

Penny Thoughts ‘15—Constantine, season 1 (2014-2015) ***

TV-14, 13 45-min. episodes
Developer: Daniel Cerone, David S. Goyer

Directors: Romeo Tirone, Neil Marshall, John Badham, Nick Gomez, T.J. Scott, Steve Shill, John F. Showalter, David Boyd, Mary Harron, Sam Hill, Thomas J. Wright

Writers: Daniel Cerone, David S. Goyer, Sneha Koorse, Brian Anthony, Christine Boylan, Jerry Siegel, Mark Verheiden, Cameron Walsh, Rockne S. O’Bannon, Carly Wray, Davita Scarlett, Jamie Delano (characters/graphic novel “Hellblazer”), Garth Ennis (characters/graphic novel “Hellblazer”), Alan Moore (characters/graphic novel “Swamp Thing”)

Starring: Matt Ryan, Harold Perrineau, Angélica Celaya, Charles Halford

Guest starring: Michael James Shaw, Mann Alfonso, Jonjo O’Neill, Jeremy Davies, Claire van der Boom, Emmett J. Scanlon, David A. Gregory, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Lucy Griffiths, Mark Margolis, James Le Gross, William Mapother

NBC very quietly entered the growing market of television series based on comic books this year with one of DC’s more obscure characters, the dark arts magician John Constantine. Although Constantine may not be as well known as many of DC’s tight-wearing superheroes, he’s long been popular with the more mature readers of the company’s Vertigo line of adult-targeted comic books. When DC revamped their entire lineup a few years ago Constantine jumped to the company’s regular line of superheroes, captaining the supernatural-based supergroup “Justice League Dark” and headlining his own title “Constantine”.

The makers of the television show seem to have culled most of their material from older adventures of the mystical sleuth and his days headlining one of the titles predating even Vertigo. The show contains strains of integral storylines from the “Hellblazer” days penned by series writers Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis. Like the film incarnation starring Keanu Reeves, “Constantine” relocates the setting to America. Unlike that failed film, the show keeps the title character decidedly British, with Matt Ryan perfectly recreating the abrasive attitude of Constantine.

It almost feels like NBC tried to keep this series a secret. I’ll admit, I was surprised to see the series on NBC’s schedule, as it’s subject matter really called out for a less restrictive content environment than one of the broadcast networks. Its very adult and graphic nature seems like it might fit better on FX, AMC or Netflix. However, NBC does a pretty good job of recreating the atmosphere of the comic book. They feel the need to use some more traditional television structure to the show by providing Constantine with a supporting cast, when in “Hellblazer” he was very much a loner. One character, Zee, seemed to be based heavily on current Constantine love interest, fellow dark arts magician Zatanna, although her powers are slightly different here.

It’s too bad NBC seems to have been less able than other networks to tap into that secure comic book fan base, because the series should please fans of the original incarnation of this particular comic book character. It also holds the potential to universalize, which seems to be where the genre is headed. They did introduce the character of Jim Corrigan, who in the comics becomes the supernatural anti-hero “The Spectre”, plus there’s the entire magic universe encapsulated by the “Justice League Dark” characters from which to cull future material.

NBC has kept their future plans for the series pretty close to their vest, but most analysts agree that the series is doomed because it has been unable to retain the network’s viewership of their popular supernatiural Friday night series, “Grimm” no mater which shows leads the night. With no full order of episodes and the fact that the network will be filling its spot for the rest of the season with their once summertime medical drama “The Night Shift” does not bode well. I’m holding out hope that they will hold onto the series despite ratings the way the have with the remarkable “Hannibal”, which has held fairly similar viewership numbers.

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