November 1, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Pilot + 1 Review: “Constantine”



A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at SHOWBUZZDAILY, we look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on CONSTANTINE:  John Constantine (Matt Ryan), a character who originated in DC Comics, is a demon-hunter, trying to regain his own soul (which he lost by allowing a young woman to die) by saving humans from otherworldly attacks.  He has a magic map that tells him where hellish phenomena are occurring, and a pal in Chas (Charles Halford).  A shape-shifting angel named Manny (Harold Perrineau) sometimes helps him on his quests.

Episode 2:  The second hour of Constantine faced some challenges.  For one thing, it turned out to be an extreme example of what might be called Super Pilot Syndrome, where a studio, in this case Warners Television and its DC Television wing, pours money into a pilot as a selling tool for the series, even though the series itself will never be able to match those production values again.  The Constantine pilot was filled with impressive CG and design elements; the episode that followed tonight, directed by Steve Shill, was not.  More unusually, the female lead of the pilot was written out, both the actress and the character, but since Warners had sunk enough money into the pilot as it was, it aired with its defunct character more or less intact.  It wasn’t until tonight that the show’s new female protagonist, Zed Martin (Angelica Celaya) was introduced.

It wasn’t hard to see the reason for the change:  while the original character was a teen with whom Constantine would have had a mentoring relationship, Zed is a hot woman in her twenties–a clairvoyant who can see the demons Constantine is pursuing, and who’s had visions of Constantine himself–allowing for a sexual charge in their banter.  Nevertheless, it put the second episode, written by Consulting Producer Rockne S. O’Bannon (himself between showrunning assignments, having recently been at the helm of Revolution and Defiance), under a burden of exposition that would normally have been out of the way by now.

Perhaps that was why the hour’s actual plotline was so perfunctory.  Constantine follows a pattern that goes back at least to The X Files, with Constantine arriving in a new town every week that’s undergoing demonic attack, and tonight brought him to a coal mining town in Pennsylvania.  The evil mine owner was, of course, digging deeper into the earth than mortals should, and people were being killed by elements relating to the mine, like fire (spewing from a shower head) and mud (flowing into a car).  There were some good actors earning paychecks in the episode like James Le Gros as a former priest and Leisha Hailey (well remembered from The L Word) as the miner’s widow who turned out to have summoned the demons in the first place.  But there was little time for any atmosphere or characterization, and the demons themselves were dispensed with after a few seconds of shadowy battle and an incantation from Constantine.  Matt Ryan’s neo-noir Constantine, trenchcoated and equipped with cynical attitude, is likable, but so far there’s not much of interest surrounding him.

Constantine was picked up specifically to be a companion piece to Grimm, and it did what it was supposed to do in its premiere, holding its lead-in’s rating.  Unfortunately, neither of those numbers was particularly high.  Not much is expected on Fridays, though, so if Constantine can avoid collapsing the way Dracula did during the course of last fall, it’s likely to survive for awhile.  Whether it’ll make much of an impression while it does is a less clear.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  If Nothing Else Is On…

PILOT + 1:  Doesn’t Wake Up the Sleepy Friday 10PM Hour



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."