NBC’s Constantine, an adaptation of the popular Hellblazer series from DC Comics, is television’s most underrated comicbook property. Hell, it’s underrated for late-night TV dramas in general, somehow managing to layer insane comicbook storylines within a weekly procedural format with supernatural elements and the occasional big tug on the heartstrings. It’s been my surprise of the season so far, but with the network halting the show’s production and staying mum on a possible second season, you should probably enjoy it while it lasts. If you’re just getting caught up now, I’ve put together a handy list of essential info.
My Constantine recap follows after the jump, along with all the things you need to know before the mid-season premiere this Friday at 8pm on NBC.
Who is John Constantine?
This is as good a place to start as any. The title antihero is a blue-collar magician, occult scholar, and down-and-dirty conman. The cynical and sarcastic (sometimes) do-gooder was a creation of Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, and John Totleben for DC Comics’ The Saga of the Swamp Thing run, before he headlined his own popular series in Hellblazer and Constantine. In the NBC television iteration, Constantine is played to fantastic effect by Matt Ryan. Ryan really seems to embody this character, not just in his haggard look and Londoner accent, but with the restless energy and intellectually superior swagger Constantine has become known for.
Wait, it’s another comicbook TV show?
Yep, they’re all the rage right now. While Marvel is pushing its television properties through Disney’s ABC network and will eventually roll some projects to Netflix, DC adaptations have been doing quite well on The CW (Arrow and newcomer The Flash). NBC picked up Constantine for a first season run, but trimmed its episode order to 13 before stopping production. No word on if a second season is going to happen, but I, for one, would be disappointed if the show didn’t get a chance to at least finish out its first season arc to completion. It’s been quite the nice surprise so far; it deserves that much.
Some folks seem upset about him not smoking cigarettes on the show. What’s the deal?
Yeah, so executive producer David S. Goyer had previously talked openly about the character’s smoking habit being a topic of negotiation. Ryan himself addressed it head on:
Are you surprised about how big of a deal everyone has made over the whole smoking thing?
RYAN: I’m not surprised. In the original character description of John Constantine, it’s the third thing that’s mentioned, so something like that is fundamental to the character. He has to be a smoker. There’s no question about it. You can’t take that away from him because that’s who he is. It’s just a matter of us not dwelling on it, in terms of us showing it too much. But, he’s a smoker. He still has that addiction. That’s still what he does. That’s essential to who he is. He’s a drinker. He’s a smoker. He’s a rough, raw British bloke. That’s who he is. Smoking is not a good thing. It’s not good to condone it. As a character, you don’t want to say, “Hey, it’s cool to smoke.” But at the same time, it’s such a huge part of the character. He is a smoker and we will be able to show him holding cigarettes. He is still a smoker, but we’re just not going to dwell on it. We’re not going to do any close-up shots of him taking a long drag.
There’s a bit more to the character than that, including the comic’s plot events that have Constantine succumbing to terminal lung cancer at one point, only to make a deal with some devils that gets him back on his feet. Perhaps Constantine would go that route in the long run, but it looks like we’ll only see hints of it in the meantime.
And I heard he’s supposed to be bisexual?
Yet another taboo subject on network TV that might be too hot for NBC to fully embrace. As Paste Magazine reports, Brian Azzarello’s run on the series, the Ashes & Dust in the City of Angels story arc, found the antihero in a provocative relationship with a gay lover. We’ve certainly seen Constantine shack up with a number of ladies over the first few episodes. We’ve also seen women from his past come back to help him (or haunt him, really), and his romantic entanglement with the prophetic Zed remains an important part of the show’s humor and its ability to let some light into the dark spaces. Will we see any glimpses of Constantine’s rather sexually progressive adventures? Your guess is as good as mine.
Who are those people he hangs out with sometimes?
Oh, right! That would be Zed Martin (Angélica Celaya) and Chas Chandler (Charles Halford). Constantine and Chas go way back to when they were just kids, with Chas offering Constantine not just shelter but also his lifelong friendship. (That particular friendship was forged in a very odd exchange that involved an obese amateur magician and her chimpanzee familiar. If that’s got you interested, check out the Hellblazer comics.) In Constantine the series, Constantine and Chas appear on screen already set in their fully fledged friendship. Chas’ strengths include his brawn, his taxi-driver knowledge of city streets, and a very stubborn resistance to dying.
Zed, however, meets Constantine early on in the series. Much like the comic’s version of the character, Zed is a psychic artist who takes a rather quick liking to Constantine and joins him on his adventures. He helps her to control and strengthen her abilities, which he then uses to track down supernatural events and put upstart demons back in their place. There’s a tenuous sort of romance going on between these two in the show, but it’s nothing forced (which is refreshing). Their sexual attraction formed a major part of a plot arc in the comics which involved an extremist Christian cult known as The Resurrection Crusade. This group showed up in the most recent episode of Constantine in order to stir up some trouble and kidnap Zed herself. Expect part two of season one to focus heavily on this.