it seems like Lucy's the damsel in distress for most of the new arc

Guest Review - NBC's Constantine

This is a guest post by El Appleby.   El is a 22 year-old Bi-identifying human living and working in Norwich, England. When they aren’t creating nerdy clothing and accessories, they’re obsessing over science fiction, video games or comic books.

It’s with a heavy heart this evening that I put away my digital copies of Hellblazer in order to sit down and finally watch the pilot of NBC’s Constantine. After a heavy dose of nostalgia I’m enthusiastic for this new installment in the franchise, but I’m also concerned.

I, like many in the bi community, am fiercely protective of John Constantine. He was one of the first interactions I had with a bisexual character that wasn’t shamed or abused purely on the basis of their sexuality. Also a working-class kid from a northern English city with a troubled childhood, Constantine’s character really struck a chord with 15 year-old me, and 7 years later I find myself still thinking “what would Constantine do?” in times of anguish. It made me see that maybe I could be the hero too, and not just the minor character in someone else’s story. Constantine was one of few characters like me in a time of my life where the representation of bisexuality and biromanticism was incredibly scarce.

The episode begins with Constantine (Matt Ryan) setting the scene. He looks the part, and the visuals are striking throughout, with impressive special effects. The thing that bothers me most is not Ryan’s performance - he seems to capture the passion, frustration, wit, even occasional cool indifference of Constantine marvellously - but his accent. It’s just so wrong. American viewers probably won’t notice this, but Ryan’s Welsh twang permeates the largely indistinct midlands/northern English accent. Not the Scouse I’d imagined. It’s not as bad as it could have been, (at least he’s not American) but it niggles. I really have to hope this is something Ryan will be working on because it makes it difficult to immerse myself in the show when I want to strangle him.

Cut to Atlanta, Georgia, where we meet Liv Aberdine (Lucy Griffiths). A character who won’t be appearing after this episode, apparently, rendering the entire plot of the pilot mostly irrelevant. Instead, we’re set to see the stunning Angelica Celaya portray Zed, a character from the comics. And, from the first few minutes of having Griffiths on-screen, I can see why they made the decision to go back to the source material for inspiration. Zed, at least in the comics, had agency by the bucketload, and this just isn’t something I’m getting from Aberdine. 

There’s nothing really wrong with Liv Aberdine as a character, but she’s drastically underdeveloped, always reactive, and seems to fall flat in comparison to Constantine, Manny the Angel (Harold Perrineau) and even the reserved Chas Chandler (Charles Halford) who only has a handful of lines. In fact, Constantine seems out of character to me when interacting with Aberdine, just a little too arrogant and willing to throw her into harms way, especially since his main character motivation appears to be manpain and guilt over allowing a demon to carry off the soul of a young girl.

Out of the characters with speaking parts in the show so far, 2 of the 5 women are killed, 1 is possessed, 1 has repeated attempts made on her life and the other is present only briefly before Aberdine sees a ghost/demon supposedly attempt to kill her. There’s not a single conversation between female characters that isn’t about a male character, so that’s the Bechdel test failed. All in all, the plot has a damsel-in-distress vibe that would feel more at home in Supernatural than Hellblazer.

Surprisingly, my concerns over ‘straightwashing’ Constantine weren’t relevant, although this is likely to change once Aberdine is replaced by Zed.

All in all I’d give this episode a 3/5. It’s visually impressive and has a lot of potential as a series but the pilot episode seriously missed the mark. I’m hoping with the introduction of better-written female characters and more intriguing plot arcs that it’ll really pick up. Reserving judgement til the series really begins.

- El