Updated! Today, April 27th, the Constantine showrunners make their case for Constantine season 2 to NBC. We present our original article calling for the show to get a second season. RT and share with hashtags #Constantine and #SaveConstantine to let NBC know that you want this to happen!
I feel like a bit of an idiot writing an article with a title like “Why Constantine Deserves to be Saved.” Perhaps that’s because John Constantine himself would make some crack about how “there’s no saving me, mate.” That’s John Constantine for you, making doomed fatalism look cool for the last thirty years.
The TV show bearing his name is in the kind of trouble that you can’t magic or smart-ass your way out of. Of the three (!) freshman dramas based on DC Comics (the other two, like you need me to tell you, are Gotham and The Flash), Constantine is the only one that has failed to secure a full season order. NBC has insisted that no deciscion has yet been made on the fate of the show, but with the season finale airing tonight, they’re going to have to move soon. You don’t have to read runes to know that this isn’t a good sign.
It’s a shame, because we’ve only just started to see hints of what this show is capable of.
Who is John Constantine, and why should you care? He’s an urban sorcerer, a “master of the dark arts,” a former punk rocker (who isn’t above using the Sex Pistols to get him out of a jam), and a tough sonofabitch. What if Gregory House were even less personable, drank heavily, and could cast spells and exorcise demons? That’s your man, brought brilliantly to life by Matt Ryan. He’s aided by a mysterious psychic and his seemingly immortal buddy/chauffeur Chas (Charles Halford). He’s also got a literal guardian angel (Harold Perrineau), although that’s a little less cheerful than it actually sounds. They find messy solutions to messier problems.
John Constantine was created by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, and John Totleben, and the character has been penned by writers like Garth Ennis, Neil Gaiman, and Jamie Delano. His TV pedigree is no joke, either. The show boasts Daniel Cerone (Dexter), Mark Verheiden (Battlestar Galactica), and David Goyer (ever heard of him?) as showrunners, with episodes having been directed by Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent, Game of Thrones), and John Badham (Saturday Night Fever, Dracula).
This sounds like a recipe for success on all fronts, so what’s the problem?
The majority of Constantine‘s first season was well-written and slickly directed, but several episodes fell into the trap of becoming a bit of a by-the-numbers supernatural procedural. What the show absolutely has is excellent production values and a charismatic lead who is the absolute embodiment of the source material. Constantine stumbled early, though, with a female lead who had to be hastily replaced after the first episode, forcing the second episode to function almost as another pilot to introduce the rather more interesting Zed (Angelica Celaya). Things have picked up from there, with the series reaching its high point with the fourth installment, “A Feast of Friends.”
If John Constantine’s sole legacy in live-action ends up being “A Feast of Friends,” it would still be considered a small victory. A loose adaptation of “Hunger” from John’s first solo adventure in Hellblazer #1, “A Feast of Friends” ditched many of the procedural elements and reminded us that John Constantine isn’t just a charming, sometimes tipsy, always disheveled rogue. He’s also a ruthless bastard who may not necessarily have a “heart of gold” underneath. All of the show’s potential is on display in this hour of TV, and if you’re looking for the absolute best place to start, give this one a look before you watch the others.
But even accepting the fact that Constantine has taken a few episodes to find its footing, what of it? Any veteran TV hound can tell you that even great shows can often take an entire season to really find their voice, a point we’ve argued at length in the past. Constantine has only had a small handful of truly exceptional episodes in its first season, but that’s a better track record than some of its contemporaries had early on…
Larger budget network shows, especially those featuring superheroes (and, like it or not, network and studio suits see no appreciable distinction between John Constantine and any caped member of the Warner Bros. stable in terms of their expectations) get a short leash. Constantine has yet to turn in anything as earnest and joyless as much of Arrow‘s first season, yet that show continued on and quickly established itself as a genuine fan favorite by early in season two. Agents of SHIELD rode Avengers‘ coattails to extraordinary debut numbers, before quickly spiraling into a banal unwatchability that took nearly every minute of its twenty-two episode first season to recover from. It did recover, though and is currently enjoying a much better sophomore year. Constantine‘s first five episodes are far stronger than those late bloomers’ early efforts, and without the benefit of a costume or an historic blockbuster to bolster it.
Is Constantine the first victim of TV superhero backlash? If so, this would be a hell of a place for it to manifest. Despite a number of prominent DC Comics easter eggs in episodes one and five, Constantine has kept its overt comic book fan servicing to itself. As a guy who spends his Tuesdays and Wednesdays obsessively cataloguing every superhero reference squeezed into episodes of The Flash or Arrow, I’m certainly not against that sort of thing, but it’s nice to see Constantine trying to blaze its own path.
Perhaps Constantine is suffering from the first wave of antihero backlash. For the last decade or more, our TV heroes have been anything but heroic, the more morally ambiguous the better. We’ve seen ’em all, and I probably don’t have to name names. It’s possible that the antihero era died with [major spoilers for beloved antihero drama redacted] to the tune of Badfinger’s “Baby Blue.” Who knows? Maybe Matt Ryan’s John Constantine suddenly seems like a relic to viewers enjoying Grant Gustin’s perpetual nice guy, Barry Allen. Timing was never really John’s strong point, anyway.
So why hasn’t Constantine found its audience yet? Its initial timeslot of Friday night at 10 pm didn’t do it any favors, and after the midseason break, NBC moved it to a (theoretically) more viewer-friendly 8 pm slot. To NBC’s credit, it didn’t appear to tone down the show’s horror elements in the transition. There’s precious little horror on the big broadcast networks these days, and it’s nice that NBC is giving it a shot with this one, Hannibal, and even last year’s anemic Dracula. The show’s ratings haven’t benefited much from the switch so far, which isn’t encouraging, But Friday night is a tough place for a show to thrive.
Perhaps Constantine can continue in relatively short (by broadcast standards), thirteen episode increments. The twenty-two episode drama increasingly looks like a dinosaur, and most shows could benefit from a shortened season. It certainly hasn’t hurt NBC’s other late night horror show, Hannibal. Let me remind you that Hannibal‘s season two numbers weren’t anything to write home about, yet its thirteen episode season three will arrive this summer.
I would gladly accept Constantine in smaller doses in exchange for more seasons, perhaps taking less of a “demon of the week” approach in favor of more direct adaptations of Hellblazer story arcs. Cast and crew have heralded “Dangerous Habits” as a story they’d particularly like to tell, although I’d like to point out that “The Fear Machine” and “Fear and Loathing” would provide excellent fodder for future seasons, as well.
If you’re an old school Hellblazer fan worried about whether this is the John Constantine you remember, let this old school Vertigo reader assure you, it is. If you’re a more recent convert looking for another way to get your DC Comics fix, you’ll find plenty to love, as well. If you’re all still shaking your heads in confusion after that Keanu Reeves movie, I promise, they got it right this time.
But if we don’t make some noise, this show could vanish. I can definitively say that rumors about the show potentially headed to Syfy are false. Comics Beat has a terrific article detailing the logistics of a fan campaign actually working to get Constantine back for season two, and you should absolutely read it.
There’s a more practical way to do this, too. For starters, it’s good to remember that Constantine hasn’t been canceled yet. NBC will make their decision in May, after the producers have had a chance to pitch their season two ideas. Constantine executive producer made it clear via his Twitter how fans can help this show get another season. “Anyone putting money in studio coffers by purchasing #Constantine in any form will motivate studio to find a home for show,” said Cerrone. In other words, stream this show. DVR the re-runs. By it on iTunes.
“We’ll let you know if time comes for letter writing campaign.” SaveConstantine.com has an action plan, including a petition, and the places you should send letters to, should it come to that. Hopefully it doesn’t. We’ll keep you posted when we hear more.
Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally ran on November 25th, 2014.