Constantine – Non Est Asylum Review
is the latest comic book adaptation, reimagining, retelling, whatever
to arrive to network television, and NBC is certainly hoping to cash in on the current trend. While Constantine
isn’t your average superhero story, it is a supernatural, horror drama, a prevalent genre that seems to be getting more and more popular with television audiences. The source material, the Hellblazer
comics, portray a gritty, dark world in which John Constantine battles demons and paranormal beings while struggling with his own existential issues, making for a potentially rich foundation on which to build a television series on.
The pilot episode, “Non Est Asylum” does an ok job in introducing us to the show’s world and leading man. We meet our hero in a northern England mental institution getting some electroshock therapy, “ Believe it or not I came here voluntarily…” he says in voice over as we see his body writhe and spasm in response to his treatment. It is a fun little introduction that promptly tells us who he is (albeit done through convenient voice over) but also the extremes he will go to in order to deal with (or run away from) significant, traumatic events. Of which we learn quite quickly in a subsequent scene. John is still reeling from an encounter with a demon gone terribly awry, in which an innocent soul was condemned to hell.
It isn’t exactly clear why he has checked himself into this institution. Does he just want to forget what has happened? Does he consider himself officially retired from his exorcist work? If so, why spend his time in such a miserable place? And why doesn’t he just lie to the doctors and tell them what they want to hear, he knows they would never believe the truth? I gt a feeling the writers just thought it would be fun to open the series in this setting (which is was) but didn’t give it much thought after the decision was made. Of course he doesn’t stay at the hospital for long. After a demon leaves an ominous message with the help of a patient and like, a bazillion cockroaches (blech), he makes his way to Atlanta where the majority of the action takes place. His quest to help Liv with her demon problem is not as engaging as it could be, there are a few fun, cheap scares and suspenseful moments, but the supposed threat doesn’t entirely come across at any point in the episode, really.
What the episode does do is provide a template for the season to come and some background information on our wisecracking hero and his network of friends/allies/reluctant helpers. This hour clearly sets up the structure of the show as a “monster of the week” narrative, which will have its titular character, along with Chaz, and that mysterious lady seen at the end of the episode, most likely, traveling the country defeating countless paranormal creatures. It should be noted that there was an original pilot, which established Liv as Constantine’s new partner. But the producers decided to take a different direction with the rest of the season and added those final scenes explaining her departure. So, even though the pilot does spend a lot of time establishing her character and her dynamic with John, it likely that we’ll never see her again (though they do leave a window open for her possible return later in the season, if need be).
While some might see that as a negative, (why bother with this relationship if there will be no follow through?) I commend the producers in recognizing that A) their dynamic wasn’t that interesting to begin with, and B) Lucy Griffiths, who played Liv, was just not doing well with the material given. She came off as bland and stilted, especially against Matt Ryan who is giving a fairly charming and playful performance. If anything, I think it would have been more effective if Liv had died in their confrontation with the demon. That would have raised the stakes in a dramatic way right off the bat, and given Constantine an even greater motivation to embark on his quest. Because they sure got away easy with that electricity demon dude, the bad guys should be tougher to beat than that if the series is to continue.
With this premiere episode, Constantine
emerges as an average fantasy/supernatural procedural, akin to its lead in Grimm
and the similar Supernatural
. For those hoping for NBC to bring in another darkly haunting and intense series like Hannibal
to the network, you will be disappointed. Constantine
is a sanitized, inoffensive adaptation of the source material that is capable, but doesn’t really leave much of an impact, it is painfully formulaic. For those of us who are unfamiliar to the history of the character and the comic books, there isn’t much that elevates this demon-hunting drama from the similar shows that have come before it. John Constantine is yet another troubled, glib, antihero begrudgingly taking on a perilous task, who as of yet has no real defining characteristics. This being the pilot episode, there is certainly room for improvement, hopefully there will be steps taken to raise Constantine
from generic to something worth looking forward to.
What did you think? Did the premiere make you want to tune back in next week And for you comic book readers, did this adaptation meet your expectations?
- Much has been said about the writers’ (and network’s?) decision to omit Constantine’s bisexuality and chain smoking from the show. Did these changes affect the way you saw the character? They do seem like very silly omissions, even for a network show, they are characteristics that certainly inform the character. Though he isn’t seen smoking, he does carry a nifty lighter that proves handy.
- The special effects are an uneven mix of visually striking (time stopping, freezing raindrops in mid air, Manny’s imposing wings) to outright silly (those whited-out eyes made me chuckle, clunky CGI). Things are not likely to improve drastically in coming episodes since pilot budgets are always substantially larger than regular episodes.
- I appreciate that the producers didn’t just go for an “origin story” pilot. We just kind of drop into the middle of John’s drama and learn things as we go along. Having the mythology unfold like that is always a much more intriguing narrative construction. However, I wish they didn’t do so much exposition about his background so early in the series. Some of that information could have been teased out throughout the series and would have had more of an impact since we would (presumably) have been starting to invest in the character and his journey.
- I want to know more about Chaz!
- Some of the action was seriously lacking, it is hard to build suspenseful/thrilling sequences when your hero’s superpower/special ability is to recite incantations in a forceful voice.