Written by: Laura Hong-Tuason, CC2K Comics Editor
CC2K’s Laura Hong shares her thoughts on the recent announcement that NBC has halted production on TV series Constantine after its initial 13-episode order.
“Halted production.” Those are the two words that can stop a pop culture aficionado like me from breathing for a good few seconds. What could this possibly mean? Is Constantine being canceled? Will I be waving goodbye to my favorite exorcist, demonologist, and master of the dark arts already? No, I refuse! Because the show is NOT yet canceled and mark my words, it shouldn’t be.
Now I normally don’t share my thoughts and opinions about comic books and TV shows in great detail unless I’m asked about it. I can get pretty passionate, so I try to keep it on the down low. But this news about Constantine really struck a nerve. It made me sad, disappointed, and I admit, I’m a bit angry and annoyed. So instead of sulking, I’ve decided to talk about why I think Constantine should be saved.
Constantine is Unique
Ever since the promotional trailers of Constantine appeared, people have called it a rip-off, comparing it to many other shows. The most notable of them all being Supernatural and Grimm, with the latter being Constantine’s lead-in sister show on NBC. Now why is Constantine considered a rip-off? Well in Supernatural, the Winchester brothers are demon hunters who save people from, as the title suggests, a wide range of supernatural beings. They also spew Latin incantations to dispel spirits back to hell. In Grimm (and I’ve only watched a few episodes), homicide investigator Nick Burkhardt finds out he is descended from a line of guardians known as the Grimms. Learning that the creatures in fairy tales are real, he and his detective partner, Hank Griffin, battle these said creatures. Finally in Constantine, John is a jack-of-all-trades mage who fights mystical beings with spells, his knowledge of the occult, and his wit.
Okay, so they’re all a bit alike, but listen. Shows may start out in similar ways, but that doesn’t make them the same. As CC2K’s Big Ross has pointed out in his essay, The Comic Book Television Trope We Never Want to See Again, the problem with many shows is that they follow the villain or mystery of the week narrative formula. Supernatural, Grimm, and Constantine didn’t doing anything different from what has already been done before them in their first season. They’re just cop shows. Look at Bones, CSI, Law & Order, or Hawaii 5-0. They’re straight up cop shows with very little story or character development, yet we keep making these generic cop shows, and people love it anyways.
At least with Supernatural, Grimm, and Constantine, they are cop shows with a paranormal element. That’s what makes them unique. And if there can be so many generic cop shows, why must there only be one show with a supernatural premise? The way I see it, the paranormal just serves as a backdrop to tell very distinct stories. If you remember, people felt Grimm was a rip-off of Supernatural and it struggled its first season. But NBC gave it a chance and look at it thriving now! Hell, even Supernatural struggled its first season, but the point is both shows found their footing. Given time, Supernatural became themed around family, angels and demons, and heaven and hell. Grimm delved more into its fairy tale and folklore roots.
Therefore Constantine needs to be given this same opportunity to explore what it wants to be. It needs time to show that it can be unique because it is unique. Yes, it is a cop drama. Yes, it has supernatural elements. But what makes Constantine different (at least based on the comics) is that John is a modern day mage, well versed in demonology and the dark arts. Best of all, he is an eccentric conman. It’s not necessarily about the creatures he fights. As a man who walks the line of good and bad, it’s about the demons he fights within himself. He is an anti-hero, and what’s not unique about that?
Before the series premiered, we got a promotional image of Matt Ryan in his John Constantine dress attire. People were ecstatic. Ryan looked as if he had been ripped straight from the pages of Hellblazer. But while he may look the part, what’s even better is that Matt Ryan also acts the part. I haven’t read Hellblazer, but I have read New 52 Constantine. While hardcore Hellblazer fans will argue the New 52 version is not the same character, I believe the general embodiment of what makes Constantine, “Constantine,” is still there. And it’s this same embodiment that Matt Ryan brings to the screen so well. Characterization of comic characters is subjective, but there is always a common ground. Ryan’s acting and rendition is on par with this middle ground. He immediately gets down Constantine’s quick-witted and snarky persona. He captures Constantine’s conflicted nature in which he may appear selfish, but in actuality, is swallowed up by his guilt and fear of damning those who get too close to him. Matt Ryan is even reading Hellblazer, doing his utmost best to channel the character. That’s a bonus!
Enigmatic, Complex Characters
Looking at just the trio, Constantine, Zed, and Chas make up a dynamic cast of interesting characters. They’re mysterious and after being introduced, you instantly know there is something charming about each and every one of them. Sure, the first few episodes have been slow on developing any of these characters, but the potential is written all over them. Thinking back to the first episode, the character of Liv left no impression. She was supposed to be part of Constantine’s supporting cast, but was scrapped and replaced by Zed. Zed is a strong female lead, something neither Supernatural, nor Grimm has. She is not just Constantine’s pupil or teammate. In a way, she’s also his equal and doesn’t take any crap from him. She creates her own destiny and her chemistry with Constantine is intriguing, as she can’t decide whether to punch him in the face or admire him. I’m excited to see where her psychic powers take her.
Chas is his own little box of mysteries. Described only as Constantine’s oldest friend thus far, he apparently can’t die. We know so little about him, yet there’s something alluring about that. As for Constantine, well I already talked about him. He’s a complex character with layers and layers of potential development. With most shows, there’s always a serious character and a comic relief one. With Constantine, we have the fun and the serious in all three characters.
Let’s not forget about the other supporting characters in the show as well. While Papa Midnite’s first appearance was uninspiring, his second appearance showed a character with a lot more depth and one that isn’t like your normal adversary. Manny the angel seems random at this point in time, but if given the chance, I think Constantine can create a cast of characters overall that work within the scope of Constantine’s world.
A Bazillion Bats, One Constantine
Batman is everywhere. There are at least 10 comic book titles dedicated to the Batman family and there are countless Batman films and cartoons. If Christopher Nolan’s recent Dark Knight trilogy starring Christian Bale wasn’t enough, we now have Ben Affleck as Batman in the upcoming Superman v Batman film. And as you may already know, there’s a new Gotham TV show. Batman is the poster child of DC Comics and therein lies part of the problem. There is nothing wrong with Batman. I like him as much as the next person, but there is definitely a saturation of him. When I heard Gotham would be on Fox, the network known for canceling the shows I love, I wasn’t worried. Despite my opinion that the show is mediocre at best, people love their Batman and so I am confident it will stand on its own two feet.
The Flash TV show is new too, but its viewership had help from Arrow, which it spun off from. The Flash is also well known. Constantine doesn’t have these advantages. To the comic book world, John Constantine is a legend. But to the world at large, he’s an obscure character. The last time Constantine was on screen, it was in the 2005 film with Keanu Reeves. I’m not saying there needs to be less Batman in the media. I’m saying that if we can have that many Batman-related shows, films, and comics, we can surely have one John Constantine show. It may be experiencing a rocky first season, but I rather the character be on TV than not at all.
It’s on Friday Nights
Constantine airs on Friday nights at 10/9c. That’s the Friday night death slot. What a terrible way to market an already obscure character on its first season. That’s just unfair. Sure, other shows have proven they can survive on Fridays. Look at Grimm! Still, it’s risky. What’s worst, it is the last comic book-based show to appear in the week. After your Walking Dead, Gotham, Arrow, The Flash and your Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (if you watch them all), is anybody really up for more television? Or it time to get some fresh air and/or shuteye? Yes, I’m getting old. I get tired by 7pm.
If Constantine does well on television, maybe it’s New 52 comic book counterpart will get better. This is more of a personal benefit for me and comic book readers than anything else. I like how Constantine is portrayed in the New 52. What I don’t like is how all the DC Universe tie-ins and crossovers are sidestepping his stories. Maybe if the show did well, the solo comic would focus on actual John Constantine-centric stories because boy, the comic has been annoying with all the time traveling and parallel universe jumping he’s been doing.
Bonus: Tie, Trench Coat, and Accent
TV is always better when there is a tie and trench coating wearing character with a Welsh accent. I’m a sucker for this. I’m a huge Supernatural fan, but I know full well that John Constantine was the inspiration for Castiel’s look. Why can’t we just love them both, people? Why?
While there are many more reasons why Constantine shouldn’t be canceled, I won’t bore you. I am crossing my fingers for NBC to grant Constantine a second season. The network did it for The Office, and it did it for Grimm. Still, I plead television viewers to not brush Constantine aside so quickly and resign to the idea that “it is now one more show I don’t need to watch because production has halted.”
Help me spare Constantine. Watch it when it airs on Fridays. If you can’t, then stream it legally. Give it another season. If not for me, if not for the show, then do it for your love of comic books. Let’s do this! #SaveConstantine
— Matt Ryan (@mattryanreal) November 24, 2014
Author: Laura Hong-Tuason, CC2K Comics Editor
Laura is a writer from the San Francisco Bay Area, but currently resides in Southern California. She drinks too much milk tea, talks too much about Green Lantern, and would marry Barry Allen if he were real.