This Constantine, starring Matt Ryan and Harold Perrineau is a damn sight better than the Keanu Reeves movie. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the movie and Keanu is cool and all but that movie wasn’t Constantine.
At Ravenscar in Northern England , John Constantine is about to receive some shock treatment. His voice-over states his name and his profession, Exorcist. His therapist, of course doesn’t believe in demons and the best line of the show is John’s remark, that he’s a petty dabbler who hates to put on airs. Needless to say, his therapy is going no and where. He is wracked with guilt over a little girl named Astra, whose exorcism he botched and damned to Hell.
During a group session, a swarm of bugs leads him to a painting studio, where a woman is painting on the wall of bugs. She is possessed and John reluctantly starts an exorcism. The reaction is explosive and destroys the entire studio, but he succeeds in dispatching the spirit, which was there to give him the message that’s it’s time to leave. He’s got work to do.
We meet a nice young girl at an office park. Our everywoman, Liv, is about to encounter the paranormal in the parking lot. The ground shakes and buckles and a crater opens under her feet. John, conveniently, shows up in a taxi to explain she’s being hunted by a demon and that she’ll be dead by morning. He gives her his card which says: Master of the Dark Arts. That’s a lot of paranormal to be meeting on such short notice.
While investigating the crater, John meets an Angel named Manny, (the lovely Harold Perrineau , who is wearing bright yellow contacts and who was just in Z Nation, wearing his regular eyeballs. How many shows is he going to star in this year?) He claims he’s there to watch over John. We get more recriminations about John’s failed exorcism, his pending damnation and a warning that something is coming.
And this is just the first ten minutes of the show.
Liv goes home, where she receives cryptic messages about John in her fortune cookies. Later that same night, her next door neighbor is killed and a strange symbol is found on the door, but the neighbor isn’t quite as dead as she seems and one of the EMTs finds that out the hard way. (Black guy, emergency worker, random side character…the grand trifecta of death, right there. I should’ve seen it coming.)
The next day the police drop Liv at work, where John is waiting for her. It turns out that the Eye of Horus was carved on her door, to keep her alive, by none other than Chaz, a mysterious taxi driver, who is not much of a talker. John says he knew her father, Jasper Winters, and that she’s special. Jasper died last year and left her a mcguffin…err, I mean pendant. She gets attacked again in the middle of their conversation. This time by a van driven by the assumed to be dead but possessed neighbor. John questions the demon but gets nothing.
Okay, now we get some mother/daughter drama with Liv trying to act dramatic, I guess. I’d like to tune it out but this conversation may be important later. Or not. Apparently, the pendant allows Liv to see trapped souls and spectral trains. I don’t care for this actress. She’s too young and trying too hard to act. A friend of mine calls this “Schmacting” The special effects, on the other hand, are cool beans.
And…Road Trip! with John and some more exposition and angst which, thankfully, is cut short when the taxi is broadsided by yet another truck. This demon isn’t even trying for subtle, I guess. John gets thrown from the vehicle and loses consciousness. He flashbacks to the little girl whose soul he lost during his last exorcism and I’m starting to sense a theme, maybe. He wakes just in time to stop another assassination attempt on Liv via electrical line. He saves her but Chaz gets zapped.
John explains that they need to find the demon that wants her dead. They visit a safe house, full of objects of the occult. John explains scrying and some of Liv’s blood marks a spot on a special map. John decides to use her as bait for his next scheme. Now, that’s the John we know and love.
John goes out to finish his plans and meets Manny. They argue about his past, his purpose and his future. Manny suggests it may not be too late for John to save his soul. A beautiful special effects sequence involving raindrops ensues, taking us all completely out of the story to admire it. Literally! The show stops just for this one scene. And no, it was not my pause button.
John is on his way to visit Ritchie Simpson, PhD, who is not happy to see John. He claims he needs Ritchie’s help. More mentions of Astra and the events at Newcastle. Must everyone mention this event? Ritchie has the most incredible hair. It looks like sharp spikes sticking out of his head. That guy needs some product.
Chaz shows up again. Neither John nor he explain what Chaz is or how he and the taxi came back uninjured and intact. John’s next scheme involves rooftops, Enochian script and summoning the demon that’s trying to kill Liv. She wants to have a heartfelt conversation instead. Her timing is incredible. John tells her about a dead mother, an abusive father and how he got into the occult. The man has got some serious issues.
The demon shows up and he and John face off. Some spell casting from John only results in some shape shifting from the demon, who confronts John with his future demonic self. And some lightning. John counters with a citywide blackout, attempting to deprive the demon of power. The demon strikes a low blow by summoning Astra, the little girl John damned to Hell,and uses her to bait him. But John is totally badass and and throws some more spell casting at the demon until it goes back home or something. I got so caught up in the special effects, that I still have no idea why the demon was after Liv, in the first place.
John wins this fight and sends Liz home. On the way back, they stop at the street that was marked earlier on the map at the safe house. Liv sees yet another bad death and decides she’s retiring to somewhere else. She leaves town. Later, John confesses to Manny that he set it up for her to see the crime scene, to scare her away and makes a pledge to Manny to help his side.
CODA: An artist sits in a darkened room, drawing endless pictures of John.
MY TWO CENTS:
I really liked this episode, but I’m not a fan yet. It went by so fast and a lot of exposition gets thrown at you. You feel like you have to pay close attention but it turns out that a lot of it is just repeated conversations and once you’ve heard what’s said, it’s not important to the plot anymore. Outside of a couple of special effects scenes, the show didn’t WOW me. It’s definitely more faithful to the books than the movie ever was, right down to the story of how John damned his soul, which the movie thoroughly botched. And the most important thing, Shia The Beef is not in it.
Matt Ryan must have read these books because the attitude, accent, and appearance are spot on right down to the trenchcoat and that last shot of John standing in an alley with his hands on fire, was one of my favorite moments. Classic trickster move by John. ( And yeah, I get why he doesn’t smoke. I don’t actually miss that part.) The writers need to hone the snark a bit, give it much sharper edge, but the show gets a pass because it’s just the pilot.
And this is NBC. I don’t expect it to get too edgy, so as not to cause any pearl clutching among any of the geriatric set, who may happen across it during their evening channel surfing.
I do expect better in the future, though. And some Papa Midnight too.