Why Aren’t you Watching This? Constantine
“Hey, wanna watch Constantine?” I asked my friend.
“The movie with Keanu Reeves?” He scratched the back of his neck, looking mystified.
“No, no, there’s a TV series.”
“Is it based on the Keanu Reeves movie?”
“No, it’s based on Hellblazer, the comics that the Keanu Reeves movie was based on.”
“Oh. Uh, sure.” He sounded doubtful, but by the time we were done watching the first episode he was hooked.
In point of fact, everyone I’ve shown that first episode to has become instantly hooked.
Constantine is one of those shows that legends are built on – dark, witty, scary, and touching in turns, the series is about a con man who happens to be an exorcist and petty dabbler in the dark arts who has drawn the attention of both heaven and hell.
It’s beautifully shot and incredibly well acted, with a protagonist who isn’t a hero so much as someone who’s fighting because he’s angry at both heaven and hell – he’s a worn down, pack-a-day smoker, bisexual borderline alcoholic who knows he’s damned and is continuing to fight anyway. He hates heaven only marginally less than he hates hell, and he has his reasons.
Everyone has reasons. The whole cast is given a chance to develop and build their characters, which is important in a show with a mythology like this – we’re dealing with the battle between heaven and hell, and approaching it from the viewpoint of someone who despises both. To say that this show courts controversy is something of an understatement.
We’re looking at heaven and hell, the two big teams in western mythology – drawing upon the religious doctrines that have informed about two thousand years of world history. Hell is certainly bad, but heaven is being shown with an unexpected amount of grey. That might just be John’s view of things, though, as his smoldering and scathing anger taints everything he comes in contact with.
Having clearly defined characters helps make sense of the show’s complexities – we have the burnt out John Constantine, the world weary and possibly immortal Chas, the bright-eyed and clairvoyant Zed, and an honest-to-heaven angel calling itself Manny.
The villain is nebulous but constant, a threat that is looming on the horizon and getting ever closer. Manny knows what it is – but can’t speak of it, bound by the edicts of heaven, while the humans of the cast scamper about and try to understand the larger threat while dealing with the other, smaller dangers that are still well above their capacity to understand, though not defeat.
Here’s the trick, though: for all his planning and knowledge and capability, John Constantine has failed. We know he’s failed and we know he’s damned to hell because of it. We establish that he failed right from the first moments of the show, so we know that he’s perfectly capable of failing again at any moment. No one is safe, least of all him, and it makes this show great.
So, why aren’t you watching this? It’s well acted, has an established amount of geek credibility, is beautifully shot with a good soundtrack, and on Friday nights. Traditionally, that’s the death slot for television programming – studios put things on Friday night when they want them to fail. This isn’t so much the case anymore, what with PVRs making television schedules mostly an afterthought, but there’s been a lot of rumbling about how the studio is not going to renew Constantine for a second season, despite it’s small but vocal cult following.
I’m gonna call this now: Constantine will be the next Firefly if it is cancelled, a show that grows in popularity as more people see it, and fans of the show will lament not knowing about it while it was on. Blu-Ray sets will be sold and poured over, conventions will be gone to where cast, crew, and fans will talk about how great the show was and how angry they are that the studio canned it before it had a chance to get started.
There’s a lot of mediocre television programming going on right now – White Collar, the Big Bang Theory, Fox News – and Constantine is anything but. Don’t take my word for it, though. Give it a watch and see for yourself, and let the studio know that you’d like them to save Constantine.