C Comic’s latest foray into prime time live action serial drama comes in the form of underground cult favorite; John Constantine and I gotta say I got mixed feelings about it. NBC’s Constantine is a nice little bit of Friday night fright to start your weekend off with a sold mix of horror, humor and CGI magic Constantine seems like it could be something to watch. Though being a hardcore fan of Vertigo’s long running Hellblazer imprint from which John Constantine was taken I have some gripes and this is not the jilted fanboy ranting on the internet about how NBC ruined my favorite character. I genuinely like the show but there’s room for improvement.
First off I know the show’s not aimed at the fans of the original series and that’s fine. DC is attempting to build a new audience for my favorite mage and that means less one to one story telling and more reinterpretation and Hellblazer had a strong history with that. Warren Ellis had his version which resembled more of the Constantine created by Alan Moore and was different from Garth Ennis’ version which is the “wise arse” con man that got by more on wits than magic which was the template Brian Azzarello when he added shades of noir and overt bisexuality to the character. Every writer who takes a crack at our man John puts their own spin on the character and now it’s NBC’s turn.With all the other live action DC shows out there being mostly superhero shows I think its time for something different but the stakes are high for Constantine. The “Constantine” property already has one failed project under it’s belt, the similarly eponymous Keanu Reeves vehicle and it’s unlikely that John Constantine will be coming back to any screen after failing on both. So for the protection of a good but flawed series, I offer up this list to the producers of Constantine:
The Top Five Things NBC’s Constantine Should Do To Stay on The Air:
No. 5 – Fix the Coat
Easiest fix on this list. John Constantine’s coat is a HUGE part of his mythology to the degree that it takes on it’s own dark properties. It was meant to be a full length Sam Spade-esque billowing sheath for a razor sharp badass made of mystery and murky intentions. This three quarter affair he’s currently rocking doesn’t say so much “occult detective” but rather it screams “fashion-hipster” and that is almost unforgivable. With a look modeled after the musician Sting, John Constantine at his best and most appealing is a sexy, sneering, don’t give a shit bastard. That and his entire disheveled but amiable, trying to look like he’s not trying outfit just screams of shits given. No Bueno.
No. 4 – Mind the Dialogue
This is not “Arrow” or “The Flash” and John Constantine is NOT Clark Kent by any stretch of the imagination so stop shoving superhero exposition down Constantine’s throat. Unlike everywhere else in the DCU, John Constantine’s world is one of noir. Stilted exchanges like the one between Constantine and Zed at the hotel front desk during “Danse Vaudou” need not apply. Constantine as a hero is more in line with Byron than Batman and when he’s written as some altruistic defender of justice with corny dialogue to match, you throw away what made him a unique and enduring character. I get you’re going for broad appeal but if you think there isn’t a market for noir-style discourse in prime time then why don’t go back and take a look at Matthew McConaughey’s monologues in “True Detective” or any Heisenberg scene in “Breaking Bad” and it is Walter White that brings me to my next point…
No. 3 – Make Him a Criminal
John Constantine is an unrepentant thief, a scoundrel, a self-titled “rake at the gates of hell” and a convicted felon. Most of his closest friends are dead and usually because of something he did and He’d sooner piss you off making jokes about something that matters to you than have a genuine moment expressing his feelings and this is while he’s saving your immortal soul mind you. So why are you trying to turn him into a spooky “The Doctor”? John Constantine is the epitome of the word “antihero” and it is that version of him that will have viewers glued to the couches come Friday night and not the semi-tortured Duddly Do-Right who is currently traipsing around with an unkillable American version Chaz.
The public loves an unabashed, died in the wool asshole: Gregory House, Sherlock Holmes, Rust Cole, Walter White, John Luther. All huge flaming assholes who are the morally compromised, well intentioned leads of critically-acclaimed, universally lauded television dramas. Why are you trying to change the “John Constantine” concept FROM that of a proven money maker? And another thing…
No. 2 – Keep Him More Con man than Magician
That’s an important balance. The thing that made Constantine work as a character in the books is that, while he was constantly out of his depth and facing overwhelming odds from more skilled adversaries, he always kept a cock-sure swagger and pulled out victories from his ass using equal parts luck and clever maneuvering. You know like John McClane the hero of the Die Hard franchise which has earned $1,435,186,362 in box office revenue worldwide. Yet instead of sticking to that time tested formula “Constantine” is shooting to be the scary British “Charmed”. The working class mage will put assess on couches and on top of that it’s gotta be cheaper to write clever plots than to rely so heavily on CGI, so why not do it? Give viewers that “ah-ha” moment like the BBC’s Sherlock does or even better like the end of “Ocean’s 11” and you will have a show people will make their friends watch with bated breath.
No. 1 – Make it Darker
The big one is tone. If there was one thing that the film version and the television show did not it was that one simple point. NBC’s Constantine got the tone of the program all wrong. You are dealing with demons and black magic and ritual sacrifices and by and large not supervillains. No one is looking to see an “Avengers” style action film. Constantine should be scary and you don’t just lay it all out there for us to see with scary. This is the unknown world of the occult and with the unknown, there is room to tease and create suspense. There’s room for the lurking shadow. There is room enough for unrepentant not cartoonish evil. If the producers of the show wanted to pull this off right they should be taking serious notes from all the other super successful dramas out there like “The Blacklist” or “The Walking Dead” and to that end NBC’s Constantine needs to be tackling the darker side of human nature as well as some controversial topics and how that may have explanations in the occult just like the comics did. Now I brought this exact point up to several people and they all said the same thing…
“You can’t have a super dark show like that on network television not cable.”
…and I always respond the same way, with one word: Hannibal.
Hannibal is very reasonably the darkest show on any television network. It is brilliant, it is artistic, it is well written and it is pitch black and for extra credit it runs on NBC during prime time. There is not a single person who can watch season 2 of Hannibal and then say with a straight face you can’t have a dark show on network television and if Hannibal can do it on NBC then why not Constantine. BTW if you’re doubting the success of Hannibal’s dark tone choices then know this: they’ve been picked up for at least four seasons. Constantine should be so lucky.
My point is this: if it ain’t broke don’t fix it and there was a lot right with Constantine to begin with. At least enough of it to warrant it getting another shot on network TV. Up until this point no comic book movie has been able to say that. Anyone ever catch that Howard the Duck series?No because it never happened. Any new plans to do anything with Blade after “Trinity” and that corny TV series? No! Hell, Daredevil was so bad can’t even come back to TV, he’s been relegated to Netflix.
The character John Constantine deserves a show that is as amazing as he is and if you can show the general public what Vertigo fans have known for years now then you will have a hit on your hands. Just imagine the kind of show you would have if DCI Luther had to contend with supernatural forces of evil using mostly his incredible mind.
Make it happen, NBC.
– Cameron Crump