So, the pilot for Constantine–NBC’s live-action adaption of DC Comics’ HellBlazer—leaked to the internet, as was bound to happen, and it isâ€¦certainly a pilot. The bad notes aren’t insurmountable, and the good will hopefully be built-upon, because the sooner they recognise and correct their issues as well as reinforce their strengths, the better off we’ll all be.
Story starts with John Constantine having checked himself into Ravenscar Sanitarium after having caused the gruesome death of a young girl named Astra. He’s ranting and railing at the head psych there, talking about a girl’s soul being damned to Hell and dragged off by a demon. And so of course the lead doctor tells him “There’s no such thing as demons!” Our John’s reply?
“So you keep telling me. Now make me believe it!”
But John’s dreams to escape the world of the occult are short-lived. Weirdly short-lived. Like, “What was that, a week?” short-lived. Because, before you can say “from beyond the grave,” a woman at the sanitarium gets possessed by something. In the process of a very Christian exorcism, John realises that the whole debacle was a message for him. He checks himself out of Ravenscar and thenâ€¦
We’re in Atlanta. Or just outside of. Woman in a car rental office has spooooky experience, and is kind-of sort-of saved by John. Then there’s some demon possession and some weird shit, and then…Chaz Chandler knows about occult stuff? And survives being imapaled? And there’s angels talking about “something big coming,” and blah blah blah.
Look, it’s all pretty much right here in the trailers:
Now, if you want a rundown of the Hellblazer comics and why you should read them, look here.
Now, we could try to write-up something elegant that would encompass my impressions, or I could just give you them, point-by-point, in order, recorded while I was watching. So here’s the list. Keep them handy for when you can follow along. Note: they are, by definition, spoilery. You have been warned.
- Since we’re starting off in England, the 404 area code is even weirder. That’s not even the right phone code FORMAT. The only way it even sort-of works is as a wink-nod foreshadow.
- The cocky-yet-self-deprecating swagger still feels a little forced.
- Not loving John as “Exorcist.”
- Harold Perrineau as the angel Manny is pretty okay.
- “Rhymes with ‘FINE,'” damn it!
- Hey buddy, if you’re the only one in your coroner van besides the body-bagged corpse, and then it starts throwing itself around, pro tip: do not pull off under a dark-assed bridge to check it out.
- Not a fan of Chaz-as-occultist-sidekick.
- Too many “OMG WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ME” tropes to bother listing.
- Astra as a little black girl is a nice change.
- I REALLY want them to move away from Christo-centric occultism as the touchstone. It’s a good introduction, but they need to move fast and hard to expand the view–hopefully by doing a lot of research and bringing in some practitioners to consult, and showing said on the show, rather that JUST having John appropriate (which, y’know, he DOES, but we can cushion that, or show his bastardry at it)–or I’m going to get annoyed.
- Hello again, Jeremy Davies. You make a very good Ritchie. So good luck with that.
- VERY good job on the home-brewed demon seal.
- Oh dear god…please don’t try to make Liz into Kit.
- Could’ve done without the cheesy skull effect on the lightning flash.
- Good job on both the Astra turn around AND the Nergal namedrop.
- Really, with the “it’s his gift and his curse” bullshit?
- So are we only ever going to see John putting out his cigarettes? That’s going to be a lot of jump cuts to stubbing.
- Literal demon-of-the-week setup.
Like I said: The good can get better, and the bad can be easily corrected. Right now, the pilot seems to suffer from the same kind of stilted awkwardness that plagued science fiction films and shows until, say, The Matrix. There’s not a lot of shows out there taking the occult seriously these days, and I’d like to see Constantine do Hellblazer proud, sure, but also join the ranks of Buffy and Millennium, in terms of horror shows with an actually functional knowledge of magic and the occult.
If they can cut out the “spooooOOOooky” schtick and aim to do some genuinely terrifying and unsettling work with the material at hand–and there is So. Damn. Much of it in the source material (and elsewhere) to choose from–then we’ll be good.