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More comic bookery on NBC's wham, bam and oft-befuddling Constantine


Matt Ryan (not the Atlanta Falcons quarterback) stars in Constantine. NBC photo

Premiering: Friday, Oct. 24th at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Matt Ryan, Harold Perrineau, Charles Halford, Angelica Celaya
Produced by: Daniel Cerone, David S. Groyer, Mark Verheiden

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Anything can happen and an awful lot does in NBC’s first episode of Contantine. In this case, that’s a problem.

Friday’s crazily paced, head-spinning premiere may be elementary to those very intensely familiar with the Hellblazer DC Comics series on which it’s based. Most viewers won’t be so versed, though. Which makes it a considerable leap from “Dude, makes perfect sense to me” to “What the hell’s going on here?”

Title character John Constantine, energetically played by Welsh-born Matt Ryan, is a self-described exorcist beset by demons both within and without him. He’s first seen in a Northern England sanitarium, undergoing shock treatment. This doesn’t seem to help, causing him to blow up at his therapist before he subdues a possessed young woman who’s painting a bloody masterpiece amid thousands of creepy crawlies.

The words “LIV DIE” then appear on a wall, prompting Constantine to deduce, “I’ve got work to do.” He’s soon pulling up in a yellow cab next to a woman named Liv (guest star Lucy Griffiths), whose auto has mysteriously malfunctioned atop an Atlanta parking garage. “If you don’t listen to me, you’ll be dead by morning,” Constantine warns after a huge hole opens up, followed by an explosion.

Next comes Manny the angel (Harold Perrineau from Lost), who has super-sized wings and an overall disdain for Constantine. “You’re not OK, John,” he says with an imperious air. “You damned a woman to hell. And along with her, your soul.”

This is complicated. Constantine remains obsessed with rescuing young Astra (guest star Bailey Tippen), who’s been taken away by some sort of “inner circle” demon. Liv, whose late father, Jasper, was a fellow demon-chaser and mentor to Constantine, has left her with the same power to “see the world for what it really is.” Which is why the evil-doers want her dead. Which means that Constantine must use her as “bait.” Hey, my head’s hurting, too.

Liv originally was supposed to be a regular character in Constantine. But the producers decided to write her out after Friday’s first episode in favor of a more powerful ally named Zed (Angelica Celaya), who’s scheduled to show up in Episode 2.

All kinds of weird stuff is visited upon Liv before she hits the cutting room floor. A “ghost train” passes through both her and Constantine, prompting him to explain, “There are worlds beyond ours -- parallel planes of existence.” Liz’s girlfriend also is brutally murdered before she sees Constantine’s trusty pal, Chas (Charles Halford), seemingly die after being impaled. Then there’s the climactic “demon seal,” drawn by Constantine atop the parking garage because “there are millions of demons. We have to figure out which one of them has you marked for death.”

Ryan also gets to say “mate” on several occasions while adding a couple of “bollocks.” In other words, there’s no attempt to Americanize him or neuter his thick European accent. He also comes complete with a self-deprecating sense of humor. When Liv rather sarcastically recites the “Master of the Dark Arts” description on his business cards, Constantine shoots back, “I’m getting new ones made.” It’s a nice but very brief respite from the constant mayhem.

Constantine and Manny the opinionated angel will continue to spar as this series tries to take somewhat coherent form. “You’re a sideshow attraction, a peddler of shabby magic,” Manny sniffs.

Our hero -- or whatever he is -- will wind up in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania for the Halloween episode of Constantine. Until then, he makes a climactic narrative pledge: “I’ll drive your demons away. Kick ‘em in the bollocks and spit on ‘em when they’re down. Leavin’ only a nod and a wink and a wisecrack.”

Paired with NBC’s like-minded Grimm on Friday nights, Constantine doubles down on both shape-shifting and puzzlements. Its whiz-bang-boom special effects also might serve as ample enticements for viewers who don’t much care whether anything makes any real sense. Others can simply stick with the straight-from-the-shoulder story lines of CBS’ competing Blue Bloods. No danger of confusion there.


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