NBC's New 'Constantine': The Devil Made 'Em Do It

What possessed NBC to make this new series about an exorcist?

A couple of things: The series, titled “Constantine,” is adapted from a comic book series called “Hellblazer,” which an NBC press release ballyhoos as “wildly popular.” And everyone knows that comic-book adaptations make for popular (if not "wildly popular") movies and sometimes TV shows.

NBC also must have believed that “Constantine” -- in which a modern-day exorcist named John Constantine is locked in a more or less constant battle with the spawn of Satan -- would make for an attractive or at least logical companion to “Grimm,” the other series NBC airs on Friday nights that is a modern-day take on the old Brothers Grimm fairy tales.



“Grimm” has proven to be reasonably popular (although not “wildly” so -- at least not yet) and returns this Friday night (Oct. 24) for its fourth season at 9 p.m. Eastern. “Constantine” will then have its series premiere following “Grimm” at 10 o’clock.

New shows such as “Constantine” can be a challenge for me to review because there is a built-in handicap here, which is: This kind of thing is not my cup of tea. I am not a comic-book fan, and I have rarely been interested in fantastic stories about the unseen world -- in this case, the world of murderous demons who seem to arrive out of nowhere to antagonize John Constantine.

It’s true that he’s on a benign quest -- which is to save ordinary people from demonic possession, eternal damnation and death (usually in a very violent form). There are many people who like this sort of thing, and they are welcome to give “Constantine” a look and judge it for themselves.

These kinds of people might possess a fundamental understanding of “Constantine” and the demonic world it conjures that will help them enjoy it more than I did. Unfortunately, much of “Constantine” was beyond my comprehension, including this basic question that occurred to me often: Why are these demons doing all of these evil things in the first place? When you find yourself questioning the “motivation” of demon characters in a TV show, then you know the cause is lost.

As a TV critic, however, I am always on the alert for flaws in any TV show, regardless of whether I might be personally interested in the subject matter. And I found much to be puzzled by in “Constantine.”

I read portions of the book NBC sent to TV critics -- a bound volume of “Hellblazer” comics. And from what I could tell, Constantine lived in New York in the comic books, and he may or may not have been British originally.

In the TV show, he lives in Atlanta, of all places, though he drives a New York-style Checker cab (which gets wrecked in the premiere anyway). As played by actor Matt Ryan (who happens to be Welsh), Constantine is an Englishman whose accent is so cockney that you half expect him to greet men he meets with a sunny “ ‘ello, GUV-nah!” or to be joined at any moment by a group of black-clad chimney sweeps for a dance number. 

I also had to laugh when Constantine drove up to the entrance of a college and the sign for this institution said “Ivy University.”  Really? Is that the best name they could up with for a fictional college? 

On “Constantine,” life is cheap, especially if it’s the life of a character not contracted to recur. Thus, you have a young woman murdered horribly by a demon in her apartment directly across the hall from the show’s heroine, and everyone breathes a sigh of relief that this principal female character wasn’t killed, but no tears for the woman who was. The same kind of thing occurred when a night watchman was killed and Constantine could hardly be bothered to comment on it, although he bore some responsibility for putting this poor man in harm’s way.

In this show, there’s a character who has become ubiquitous on shows like this: The reclusive, socially inept “genius” who is a whiz with computers. So at one point in the story when Constantine needs the entire Atlanta power grid to be shut down in seconds, he phones this friend who then uses a laptop computer to switch off the city’s electricity in less time than it just took me to type this sentence (and I’m a pretty fast typist).

It’s possible these complaints will be meaningless to those who love demonic-possession stories -- but for me, the devil is always in the details.

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