The live action TV adaptation of DC’s Hellblazer series with protagonist John Constantine, shown on American network NBC, has not had an easy time of it, in fact its had a rather rocky start. From the dropping of Characters that didn’t test well in the pilot screenings, namely Lucy Griffith’s ‘Liv’ to Angelica Celaya’s ‘Zed Martin’. It’s late Friday night timeslot of 10pm. The fact it didn’t start until 4 weeks into the autumn American TV schedule, giving other new shows far more time to build up an audience. The lower than expected viewing numbers and the fact the show was also not picked up by any UK, or any other countries, TV network, the only place to currently see it for those of us outside the USA is on Amazon Prime’s online video streaming service.
With all these things in mind it’s not really very surprising to hear that on the 23rd of November it was announced that Constantine was going to be limited to a 13 episode run as opposed to the full season pick-up of 22 episodes. Is this a bad sign for the future of the TV series? If it is indeed a bad sign then why is the show failing to attract a large enough audience to merit a full season order?
Now before we go any further a quick review of the series up until episode 5 is needed (no spoilers ahead so if you haven’t seen it yet you can still read). Overall the show is OK. Like any new show it’s taken some time to pick up momentum and has been a little slow for the first few episodes, generally following the standard format of the “monster of the week”. So far the show has no real overall story arc, the constant mentions of “the rising darkness” does not a story arc make and is not enough for people to make people want to stay and find out what it is if they are not a fan of the individual episodes. Glimpses of Hell, a shadowy figure following John, anything actually visible would have helped establish to the audience that there was indeed something dark coming and that there was a big story coming. The reason for this is the producers of the show were clearly banking on getting that full season pick up and were content easing themselves and us into the show, getting the cast/crew settled and running smoothly and then making the last 8-9 episodes, that they are now not getting, the large story arc that may have defined the show. There are other problems with the show, Matt Ryan(John Constantine) is a little too cuddly and loveable as the title character, a problem caused primarily by the writers. The other characters in the show have still not really been fleshed out in any way and if it feels by episode 5 that you could just remove any of them and the show wouldn’t suffer/change very much, if at all, then the writing needs work.
The dark magic/ occult side of the DC universe is massive and it just feels like they aren’t making any use of it, while you do have to ease into things, new shows like The Flash managed to introduce us to proper DC villains and teased other heroes within just a few episodes, giving us a quick look at Dr Fate’s helmet and using Papa Midnite in the story in almost half the episodes so far just isn’t going to be enough to keep us going. Despite all these issues however the show does have it’s good points. Matt Ryan is really good in the title roll and the fact he really is based on the comic character this time also helps a lot. Also the possibilities for the show are vast and it could expand into a great show about the whole dark side of DC universe(most probably the creators’ Daniel Cerone and David S Goyer’s long term plan) centred around Constantine. The series is very watchable and enjoyable, even if currently a little generic as it is very well shot and looks visually great, with the CGI being of a high standard for TV and the sound and music is very well done.
Firstly lets address why, despite it’s teething problems which all shows have, it isn’t getting an audience. The main problem for Constantine without a doubt is the film adaptation.
The film starring Keanu Reeves made $230 million, which if you divide by average movie ticket prices means over 20 million people went to see the film. In a stark contrast the average number of people who purchased the final issue of the Hellblazer run(issue 300) in February 2013 was under 13,000. Even if we round that up to people who stopped buying before the end of the run, general comic fans who know the character and maybe bought the odd issue and are aware of him, that number at maximum is going to be no more than 100,000 people. This means that a tiny percentage of people know that John Constantine isn’t a dark, slow speaking, tall, toned, tanned, black haired American and think that the TV version of Constantine is “wrong”. Another problem with people not knowing the history is that they see this as a rip-off of the CW’s Supernatural Despite the Hellblazer series debuting in 1988, a full 17 years before ‘Supernatural’ first aired. When you combine these 2 big problems with the shows somewhat slow and generic start it is easy to see why, combined with its awful time-slot, that it didn’t attract a large and loyal audience.
Secondly lets address the 13 episode limited run. Whilst this seems like a big nail in Constantine’s coffin, generally in American TV if a show doesn’t receive a full season pick-up it ends up on the chopping block but thankfully with Constantine this might not be the case. Constantine premiered on October 24th while most other new shows starting airing 3-4 weeks before this giving their network heads a lot more viewing figures and ratings information to base series length and future plans on. This means it isn’t being restricted to 13 because of terrible numbers or reviews, just that the time in the year had come to make decisions and the network decided to play it safe. However this could be the best thing to happen to Constantine.
Generally with a full 22 episode season you get a lot of filler episodes, episodes that have no overall bearing on the series and are just there to fill up the numbers, you find these matter so little that they do things like let the main actor direct or write them. With Constantine being capped at 13 they can go back now and re-write and re-shoot some scenes to make the 13 episodes as story rich and as great as they should be, this would also allow them to try and introduce more dark DC comics characters or stories, even if they are just mentioned. They also hopefully introduce the start of a big story arc in the next episode or 2 and lead us into a big finale that for the sake of the show confidently ends on a high note leaving everyone wanting more. This show has the potential to grow into something amazing, well comic book lore and story lines beyond the likes of Supernatural so if you are a comic fan of any kind then please watch this show and give it the chance it deserves.
Constantine is on at 10pm on a Friday on NBC and on Saturdays on Amazon Prime Video for everyone else.