Constantine: "Non Esa Asylum" (Season 1, Episode 1)



Hellblazer. It's a great play on words, and for those of a certain age, it recalls the sometimes quite memorable foundation stone to DC's Vertigo line of comics. Good writers wanted to do Hellblazer. It's iconic. So what are the odds it'll make an awful TV show?  

By the by, this review is totally fortuitous. I didn't even know this show existed until Friday morning. Still, the original Hellblazer made enough of an impression on me that I felt an obligation to give it a shot. My take in twenty-five words or less? It's got the look but not the soul.

As always, the devil is in the details, and the little things tip you off. Like the title not being Hellblazer. Constantine is so inferior, the kind of thing that hardened marketers do to anything with depth. John Constantine doesn't smoke, either. The focus groups would have frowned on that. Bollocks. That wreathe of smoke, the focal point of a faint ember, the twisted demon hunter doing damage to himself because he was damaged in so many fascinating ways. The man who conned the devil into being forced to cure his lung cancer. If you haven't got that, what's the point?

And the endless Latin. Stultus est sicut stultus facit. This show lazily spit outs Latin phrases like they're holy water. The original Hellblazer beat demons because part of him was a total bastard. He knew how demons thought, knew how to use their vanities and lusts and perverse sense of pleasure against them. He outsmarted them, and while he might be a good man to have in a pinch, woe be unto you if you got on the wrong side of the equation.

We start out decent enough. John has checked himself into Ravenswood Asylum. That's even true to the original storyline, with Constantine haunted by how a little too much exorcism arrogance on his part got an eight-year-old girl named Astrid dragged down to hell. A costly lesson. Then a trail of cockroaches leads him to a possessed woman with a message for him--get up off his dead ass and back into the world if he wants to save Liv, the daughter of a deceased friend. Time for some Latin phrases. At least the rainfall of shattering glass they provoke looks cool.

Flash to Liv leaving her nowhere job with Endeavor Car Rental. Her car dies, street lights go out, and before you know it a sinkhole filled with fire and brimstone opens up at her feet. John arrives to break the spell. He descends into the sinkhole, and that's all okay.

Now we meet an angel. An angel named... Manny. His job is to watch Constantine, whom he wants to help the forces of heaven against, wait for it, "What's on the way." We can begin to see the Americanization of Emily, as it were.

The next act gets worse when we realize we're in Atlanta. Nothing against Atlanta. It's just not the type of place where Constantine tends to hang out. I get that they don't want to do Britain in an American TV show, but how about Boston? It's got a bit of an older, neo-Gothic feel to it. From here thing go south in a hurry. Electric demon, seeing the dead, Liv has psychic gifts from her father, tedious conversations about fate with Manny. Most disappointing is the treatment of Constantine's old buddy, Chas. Chas is an English cabbie in the comic, a true blue collar everyman and the closest thing to grounding in reality that John has. Chas' wife hates John, and Chas has no problem calling him on his BS. The relationship always felt real. It also let us peek at the less brash and confident side of Constantine.

Here? Chas shows up to drive a cab in Atlanta, gets impaled in the chest, and shows up alive later because he has special gifts. Gag me.

Constantine defeats the demon and saves Liv. It involves lots of Latin phrases. Liv divines a map of all the evil in America before leaving. Think of an IHOP map with spots of blood strategically located. If the trailer for the next episode is to be believed, the show will consist of Constantine traipsing about America fighting a demon of the week, all under the watchful guise of Manny, whom the real Hellblazer would have dispensed with in a heartbeat. "Sod off. And what the hell kind of name is Manny for an angel anyway? Low on the blessed pecking order, are we?"

As always, the real episodes might be better than the pilot. I wouldn't count on it, though.