Take Me To The Pilots ’14: NBC’s ‘Constantine’

[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all “These are reviews.” If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]

Show: “Constantine” (NBC)
The Pitch: For most networks? “It's a DC Comics property with reasonably good name recognition.” For NBC? “Well, it's ghostbusting procedural that'll probably do better on Fridays than 'Dracula' and 'Hannibal.'”
Quick Response: Neil Marshall is a good director and, what's more important for this purpose, he's generally a very good TV director, which is a gig that's all about aiming big, while also understanding budget and production limitations and delivering bang-for-your-buck. [Starz' “Black Sails” pilot is the exception. As with David Slade on “Crossbones,” pirate dramas can render the best of TV helmers anonymous.] I appreciated what Marshall brought to the table in “Constantine.” There are creepy moments early on, a couple well-delivered action set pieces and there are effects sequences that made me say, “Huh. That's kinda cool,” which doesn't happen frequently with digital effects on TV. But if Marshall is doing so much of his job well, why does “Constantine” feel like such a slog? Welsh newcomer (I'm not acknowledging “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior”) Matt Ryan is closer to the comic version of the John Constantine character than Keanu Reeves was, meaning that he's got the right accent, he's got some snarky panache and he's not dead in his eyes (still no smoking, though, since this is network TV). However — and I've read VERY little of the “Hellblazer” line — there's something about this character that seems to translate very poorly to screens big or small. He's a bit of a pill and his reticence to discuss anything directly actually forces “Constantine” to double down on exposition as practically ever exchange is “Explain?” “Sarcastic response.” “Please?” “Fine… Wooden exposition.” So “Constantine” balances poorly between excessive explanation of some things and withholding information on others so that it can expositionally live another week. But while it explains what the week-to-week structure is (“Supernatural,” basically), the explanation for why it's necessary is weak at best. These are all script problems, rather than directing problems, and I just don't think Daniel Cerone and David Goyer use their 45+ minutes efficiently when it comes to both delivering character information, but also giving us a pilot adversary and confrontation who are worth the effort. Lucy Griffiths has almost no character to play as developing medium Liv — there's certainly no legitimate explanation for why Griffiths' couldn't use her charming native accent — so she's just playing the same wide-eyed one note. Harold Perrineau is all contact lenses and exposition. Jeremy Davies at least delivers an injection of Jeremy Davies' patented cocktail of twitch-and-accent, which you'll enjoy if you haven't tired of Jeremy Davies doing that thing he does.
Desire To Watch Again: Middling, sadly. It's just too dangerous to have a pilot where the bulk of the praise goes to the director, a transitory worker in this process. Neil Marshall was responsible for much of what I liked here, but very little else is enticing me going forward. Of the three DC Comics properties coming to TV this fall, “The Flash” and “Gotham” both have guaranteed DVR slots. “Constantine” will get two or three more episodes because it's on a slow night, but maybe not more.

Take Me To The Pilots '14: CBS' 'Scorpion'
Take Me To The Pilots '14: ABC's 'Black-ish'
Take Me To The Pilots '14: The CW's 'The Flash'
All of my 2013 Take Me To The Pilots Entries
All of my 2012 Take Me To The Pilots Entries
All of my 2011 Take Me To The Pilots Entries
All of my 2010 Take Me To The Pilots Entries