Saturday, October 25, 2014

Pilot Talk 2014: Constantine

Every TV season, networks bring out a new crop of shows, in hopes that they'll be the next big hit.  Pilot Talk is devoted to figuring out whether these shows are worth your time based on the first episode.

Thursdays at 10:00 PM on NBC

No, not that Constantine.  NBC's Constantine is the latest in the line of new network dramas this fall that are based on comic books, but unlike Gotham or The Flash, its source material doesn't have anything to do with superheroes.  That source material is Hellblazer, the long-running series that follows occult detective John Constantine.  I've never read the comic, nor have I seen the 2005 Keanu Reeves film, so I don't have much of the built-in affection for the character that NBC was surely hoping for.  But while I'm not outraged about the fact that he can't smoke cigarettes or won't be bisexual the way that diehards are, it's not hard not to feel like this is Diet John Constantine.  Matt Ryan plays him with a suitably gruff roguishness, but the writing never really takes him any further.  Constantine just isn't much of a character at this point, and any attempt to deepen him in the pilot comes off as clumsy or ineffective.

Many flaws at the script level are made up for with the show's production values.  Neil Marshall, best known these days for his excellent work on the big battle episodes of Game of Thrones, directs the pilot and imbues it with a slick and cinematic style.  There are some genuinely creepy moments throughout the episode, mostly thanks to the way Marshall stages sequences and builds momentum.  The majority of the visual effects are solid for a TV budget, but even when the quality does flag a little bit, the handsome direction saves it.

It's very difficult to give a grade to Constantine, because many elements in the pilot -- both good and bad -- won't appear in the second episode.  The bulk of the plot in this first episode revolves around Liv Aberdeen (Lucy Griffiths), a character who was meant to be a regular until David Goyer and Daniel Cerone decided to go in a different direction with the show.  All of that backstory and exposition for her character goes down the drain as soon as the awkward re-shot scene that explains why she won't be joining Constantine's mission comes along at the end.  And of course, future episodes won't have the benefit of Neil Marshall behind the camera.  So who knows if the new character introduced in episode two will improve the show, or if the production values can maintain a high quality with other directors, but for now Constantine isn't the worst way to spend a Friday night.

Grade: B-

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