That’s right, I’m putting “season one” in the title even though there’s probably never going to be a second one. This NBC television adaptation of John Constantine, Hellblazer was cancelled after only 13 episodes. It’s a real shame, as there was some elements of the season that I really, really liked. But on the other hand it’s also quite flawed. Either way, when watching it knowing it got cancelled, that fact hangs over it like a curse, and becomes hard to separate when thinking on it. Especially as it ends in a fairly big cliff hanger, as all annoyingly cancelled TV shows do.
I see less point in drilling down deep into the season as I sometimes do. It’s kind of hard to actually, and maybe that’s one of the problems. Sure, the cancellation didn’t help, but Constantine rarely feels cohesive, which is probably one of its biggest flaws. The episodes just don’t really roll into one another very well, and it lacks some sense of identity. There are some season-wide plot elements, but they rarely seem to go anywhere. We see very little of any of the bigger plot elements, most of the time only being told about them. We see the members of the Resurrection Crusade a couple of times but it goes nowhere; La Brujería are meant to be pulling the strings of the “rising darkness” but have very little bearing over actually anything, only been told they are doing stuff; Constantine is berated for allowing himself to be possessed by a demon to get out of a scrape but any consequences of that are forgotten by the next episode.
In fact, a lot of those things happen in the “mid-season” (wasn’t actually very middle due to the cancellation) finale and comeback, “The Saint of Last Resorts” Part 1 and 2, one of the better stories and one that probably gave the show the best feeling of building an identity, before that got lost again. Part 1 ended on a cliffhanger, and maybe it’s something to do with that. Arrow and The Flash very rarely have actual cliffhangers or two-parters, but they’re very conscious to always be giving their shows hooks and changing up the status quo, having events that actually make it feel like their worlds are changing week on week. You could mix up the order a lot of the stories in Constantine and it’d be hard to notice.
It’s not to say there aren’t some great stories in Constantine. There very much are. It’s based on Hellblazer, one of the best comic series of all time, of course it’s going to have some great stories. But in most cases they stay pretty close to the source material, Americanizing the setting and supporting cast, and in most cases not being so dark. Which doesn’t mean I wanted it to be darker necessarily, but when you’re doing adaptations it takes some of the punch out to not go the whole way, not when you stick as close as they do.
There’s some great casting, though. Michael James Shaw is the perfect Papa Midnite, and realised the character for me in a way he’s never been before. Jeremy Davies plays Ritchie Simpson in a couple of non-sequential episodes where he’s an enormously watchable nervous wreck of a teacher. I last saw Davies in the second season of Hannibal, where he killed it with another small supporting role. He has a knack for making small characters really shine. Harold Perrineau, who most people will remember as Mercutio from Romeo + Juliet, plays the angel Manny in a way that is truly otherworldly and hard to wrap your head around, but incredibly charming at the same time. None of these three have massive roles. Maybe that’s a bit of a shame as neither Chas nor Zed, Constantine’s primary companions, are especially fantastic. This may be less to do with the acting than perhaps the roles that were written. John Constantine is pretty strong in this, but maybe it was hard to write around that in a meaningful way, as they both seem pretty flat most of the time, though not without their charms when the script lets them come out into focus for a bit.
Which brings us on to Matt Ryan as Constantine. It’s as if he was born to play the part, honestly. This version of Constantine is maybe a bit nicer than the one from the comics. But only just about. It seems pretty clear that Ryan just understands the character. His mannerisms, attitude — just everything about him works with the character so, so well. The greatest tragedy of its cancellation is having less Matt Ryan Constantine in the world, and that really is a shame. You might also remember him from Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag as swashbuckling lead Edward Kenway, where his performance saved an ailing video game series — and it’s not too dissimilar to how he plays Constantine at times. So good is his acting, that I’m even marginally more interested in watching Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, where Matt Ryans played a lead role. Unfortunately, this was also cancelled after 13 episodes. Cancelling Matt Ryan TV shows? Now THAT’S criminal… minds.
So yeah, there are elements of Constantine that are really good. I feel bad being quite critical of it here because I do like it deep down. No Constantine TV show was ever going to be too bad without them needing to put a lot of work into ruining it. There are great pockets of greatness, bubbling about in episodes that don’t feel very connected, in a season of plot point islands so many miles apart. It was great to see Constantine return in a recent episode of Arrow (one I hope to get a chance to write more about soon). Maybe there’s the chance it will get picked up again by the CW or something, but I dare not hope too much. It’s a shame, as it showed quite a lot of promise, and probably could have learned a lot from the structure of the leading CW superhero TV shows The Flash and Arrow. Constantine is a part of the Arrowverse now, though, and more impossible things have happened…