CONSTANTINE - Season 1, Episode 1: "Non Est Asylum" TV Episode Review
Written by James Ferguson
Episode premieres on October 24th, 2014
Matt Ryan as John Constantine
Charles Halford as Chas Chandler
Harold Perrineau as Manny
Lucy Griffiths as Liv Aberdine
We are living in a golden age of comic book movies and television. The summer is dominated by blockbuster films based on assorted funny books and the small screen is getting more and more crowded by capes and other comic-inspired programs. NBC is about to join the party and this time not with a dud like Heroes. The network is set to premiere Constantine on October 24th, but I was able to check it out early at New York Comic Con. Although the pilot was leaked online some time ago, NBC went back and reshot some scenes, so this version is a brand new cut.
Although I spend an inordinate amount of time reading comics, I've had little to no exposure to the character of John Constantine or the comic that made him popular, Hellblazer. The gist of it is that he's a trench-coat-wearing, chain-smoking supernatural detective of sorts who has a problem with people close to him dying. That's probably why he doesn't have many friends.
The pilot kicks off with the title character (played by Matt Ryan) in an asylum. He's checked himself in after his actions led to the death and damnation of a young girl. John is at a point where he wants to forget about demons and ghosts and go back to living a normal life. Unfortunately, all the electroshock therapy in the world can't put that genie back in the bottle. He receives a message from a deceased old friend and heads out to protect the spirit's daughter, Liv (played by Lucy Griffiths).
What follows is an interesting and terrifying journey through the supernatural part of the DC Universe. Subtle nods are made to other characters such as Dr. Fate, but Constantine exists in its own creepy corner, away from the capes and super heroics of Metropolis and Star City. John's world is dark. It's filled with all sorts of terrors and things that go bump in the night. This is all second nature to him, but it's shocking to Liv. There are some scenes where John rattles off the rules of demons or spirits, but it feels organic. It never comes off like he's reading from a textbook for the sake of the reader.
There are many moments throughout the pilot episode that are legitimately scary. This isn't your generic monster-of-the-week show. It works like a small horror movie, establishing enough about the character without diving into a full-fledged origin tale. You get a good sense of the kind of dangers that John faces and the lengths they'll go to get what they want.
Ryan is a total natural in the role of John Constantine. He is an instantly likeable character who gets put through the ringer time and time again but keeps getting up for more. This rough and tumble exterior with a British accent reminded me of someone, and it took me awhile to put my finger on it. Then it hit me. Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They have an entirely different look, but the attitude is similar and both are definitely fan favorite characters.
Constantine starts off with a strong pilot that is filled with scares. You don't need to have read the Hellblazer comics to understand what's going on, but I suspect that longtime fans of the character will find a lot to enjoy. I'd love to see him have a meeting with the Winchester brothers from Supernatural. I can see the fan fiction brewing already.