THE SHOW: Constantine
WHEN: Fridays 10/9 c
THE CAST: Matt Ryan, Charles Halford, Harold Perrineau, Angélica Celaya, and Lucy Griffiths.
THE SETUP: Constantine, a man troubled by his past, helps fight against demons as he fights to save his own soul in the process.
Dark, creepy, and gripping, NBC’s adaptation of Constantine is quite the thrilling ride. While typically I don’t love (at all) exorcist type plots, the show was executed in a way that held my interest (even if a few demonic possessions left me wanting to hit the fast forward button on my DVR). More than anything else, what sold Constantine, however, was the lead Matt Ryan in the title role. Charismatic, intense, and great line delivery with a side of dry wit, Ryan pulled me into this world with ease.
The world building of trapped souls, angels, and demons has all been done before, but done here in a way that still feels fresh to the genre. One intriguing character is the angel Manny played by Harold Perrineau who talks to Constantine in riddles, Perrineau’s eccentric performance more akin to his Mercutio role in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet than as Michael in Lost. Something sinister is on its way he warns, but what? Manny also works as a good way to further Constantine’s characterization. Damned to hell because he damned a girl to hell accidentally (the past sin meant to torture the anti-hero), he longs for redemption, for his soul to be saved.
As interesting as Constantine is, the other main character of the pilot I loved just as much. Liv (Robin Hood’s Lucy Griffiths) plays out like the beginning roots of a Doctor Who companion ready to go on an adventure. She’s likeable, easy to identify with (you know that average person who suddenly enters into the extraordinary), and compassionate, a trait needed in Constantine’s world where he prefers to walk alone. What some viewers may be unaware of, however, is that there were two versions of the Constantine Pilot. The final recut and altered version of the show changed the Liv character to a terrible degree, so much so that by the end of the episode they belittled this female character into a simpering runaway who doesn’t care about saving lives.
In the original pilot, Liv wants an adventure (a line deleted in the recut version of course because Liv’s characterization needed to be eliminated); she wants to do more than just work at a car rental place (even her fortune cookie was blank). As she leaves to go home, she kind of gets her wish when dark forces come after her. Luckily, Constantine arrives to save her. Mistrusting of him at first, she finally accepts his help when she realizes he knew her father, a father she never knew (her mother lied saying he died when she was a baby). It seems, that she has the same gift he did, to see dead souls in other planes of existence. Demons want her dead because she’s a threat. Only Constantine can help her and in turn (as she learns to control her psychic gifts), she can help save lives, lives that are in trouble. She has the power to find them after all with her scrying ability.
At the end of the original pilot, Liv feels called to help because she wants to save lives. In the new pilot on the other hand, in one of the worst rewrites in recent memory, Liv (after discovering a dead boy she could’ve helped save), runs off to California to be with a cousin, leaves her father’s pendant behind that helps control her gift, and a map of those who need help so Constantine can save them instead of her. Wow. Oh, and this all happened offscreen of course.
Why such a head scratching rewrite? Showrunner Daniel Cerone says it best in an interview with Collider:
“Liv was great as an origin story, but after the discovery of her powers, we were stuck with a young woman who doesn’t know anything about this world, and she’s not a peer. Constantine would have had to keep schooling her. We thought it would be interesting and compelling to have a potential romantic interest. We thought it might be a little creepy, if Constantine was hitting on the daughter of his former mentor, who also played very young. Also, Zed is a character who has more wherewithal. She’s stronger and she knows who she is. She comes from a very challenging background, and she’s lived with her powers a little bit longer. She’s also a character from the comic books, and we really do want to honor the fans of this property, as much as we can.”
I’m still imagining how poor the reboot of Doctor Who would have been if then showrunner Russell T. Davies cut Rose from the show because he only wanted the Doctor to have a peer, a peer that knew exactly who she was already and everything about the world. Didn’t hurt the Doctor and Rose’s romance either…My Doctor Who rant aside (as I do see some similarities I liked); my problem comes down to a great female character getting cut down to size because the writers didn’t know how to write her. It also seems they cut Liv because they needed to make room for a “stronger” female character. I’m sorry, but why can’t we have more than one female character in the midst of so many male characters in the show?
While the tacked on new ending felt contrived and sloppy and also a disservice to female characters, I still see potential for the show. The new female character Zed could turn out to be interesting. Maybe she even has good chemistry with Constantine. The jury is still out. For now, the show is worth taking a look at even with the problematic cuts because the writing is mostly strong and Constantine really draws you in with his cynical charm. The grim atmosphere and intriguing mythology is also enough to keep me coming back for the time being. Here’s to hoping the writers change their minds and bring Liv back and in the process more humanity, fix what they unfortunately broke, and go forward from there.
Overall Rating (would have been 5)
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