The Untimely Death Of NBC’s “Constantine”

A Mourning for TV Shows Lost Too Soon. By Konstanze Faust

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It is always a sad thing when a series with great potential is cancelled by their network before its time, mostly because of financial reasons. You enjoy a season or, in an even sadder case, a pilot film of well-made television, you begin to explore the universe the writers are building and befriend the characters, just to be brutally pulled out of the story by a big fat “Cancelled”. It’s almost as if a beloved book you’re reading is suddenly filled with nothing but blank pages after the first chapter.

Such an abrupt loss seems especially hard to bear when the series is an original, like the queen of shows that have been cancelled too soon, Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” (axed after the pilot by FOX). Even though the huge amount of DVD sales helped Whedon to produce the fantastic “Serenity” movie some years afterwards, the Browncoat universe refuses to die and lives on in the “Serenity” comic book series (co-written by Whedon himself), an RPG-system, a board game and, of course, the fans’ passion. And there’s no biggest fan than Nathan Fillion himself, Captain Malcolm Reynolds of mentioned “Serenity”, who ironically refers to his own “Firefly” self in his recent TV show “Castle” and others like “The Big Bang Theory” and “The Guild” and even tried to save Firefly with an online petition not too long ago. A passion like this adds a layer of compassion for the creative team – those people have worked for weeks, months or even years on a show; they now lose their current job and the project they’re passionate about (because the good shows most often have this kind of passion from the makers’ side): how may they feel about it?

Yes, there’s always the fans and their creations, be it in cosplay, writing or art, and there’s always other media, but it is never the same thing.  One of TV’s latest losses, NBC’s “Constantine”, really shocked me because it was so well-written, so well-acted and so damn-well composed that I did not have any doubt of its further TV survival, until I heard about the rumours in April when creator Daniel Cerone twittered “NBC a “no” for Season 2. Warner Bros working hard to find #Constantine new home. Stay active. Stream. Tweet. #SaveConstantine #Hellblazers”. We streamed, we stayed active and we tweeted but all was in vain:

“I promised I’d share news when I had it – sadly, that news is not good. The cast and writers of Constantine are being released from their contracts. The studio tried to find a new home for the show, for which we’re forever grateful, but those efforts didn’t pan out. I’m sorry, I wasn’t provided any information on the attempts to sell the show elsewhere. All I can report is that the show is over.”

The “Constantine” series is based on the Hellblazer comic series by writer Jamie Delano and artist Jon Ridgway, so one might say that a lot of stories are waiting for the disappointed fan in the comic books which runs since the 1980s (which is true) and therefore the break may not be as hard as the “Firefly” cancellation, but the “Constantine” TV show was a case of something really special to the cast, especially creator Daniel Cerone who is sad to have disappointed the comic book fan base with the cancellation (not his fault), calls “Constantine” a “writer’s dream” and himself the “caretaker” of the material.

And did they take good care of it: aside from the script – which is well written and closer to the original than the Keanu Reeves movie was – like a good series dealing about the topic, “Constantine” makes the supernatural believable and palpable for the viewer through the characters’ conflicts (Chas’ resurrections and his on-going conflict between the fight against demons with Constantine and his family’s safety; Zed’s telepathic-artistic abilities and the vulnerability that comes along with it). Furthermore, the show features a fantastic score (the haunting and powerful opening) and sets, but it also stands out because of its hugely talented actors including Matt Ryan’s energetic portrayal of John Constantine. All of this makes the show truly special.

imageIn Ryan’s case, they call it *embodiment* as he acts out the demon-hunter so intensely, not only by Constantine’s characteristic far-more-than-average smoking, drinking and swearing, but through his whole body, where no muscle ever seems to really relax, making Constantine seem always agitated and angry while never allowing himself to subdue to that anger – much like a volcano that constantly tries to subdue the increasing pressure that rages below the surface. Ryan’s mimics, however, are changing between Constantine’s guilt-ridden sadness caused by his past, and a constant tiredness and strong vulnerability, all of which he tries to compensate with British cockiness and black humour.

Constantine can be extremely amusing and charming at times, but Matt Ryan takes his character seriously. This becomes clear within the more dramatic moments that can seem cheesy or over-acted all too easily, especially since Constantine is far from being a subtle character, like the various incantations. Instead of seeming slightly exaggerated, the viewer almost feels the dangerousness of the powers summoned in the rituals. Ryan stated in an interview for blazr.com that it was important for him to know the meaning of the formulas so he could give the right emphases to them. It shows, as, particularly in those scenes, there is not a moment of ludicrousness in Ryan’s Constantine. Ryan is all the danger, hurt and cockiness that is John Constantine in every minute of the show.

Like Fillion with Captain Reynolds, it is not surprising that Matt Ryan’s vivid acting mirrors his own passion and dedication to the series and his character as he stated in an interview for blazr.com: “I’m a fan of the comics, and … I’m not done with this character. I don’t feel like I’ve fleshed him out completely yet.” And he’s far from alone in that hope as the show has fans in and outside the crew like Harold Perrineau, Michael James Shaw, Joseph Morgan (“The Vampire Diaries”) and even William Shatner who asked for CW Network’s attention on the show via Twitter. CW Network suggests itself fitting as, besides another demon-and-angel-filled show and long-time-runner “Supernatural”, it hosts “Arrow”, also a DC Comics adaptation.

imageAt least, Ryan’s Constantine might live on in some way, as Marc Guggenheim, co-creator of the “Arrow” series, recently stated that there was “a lot of desire on everyone’s part” to include Constantine in his show and that he’d find it “wonderful”. And there’s also Guillermo Del Toro’s “Justice League Dark” in the waiting… So stay active, stream (the whole of season 1 is still available on NBC.com) and tweet, to show that, although chances seem to have dwindled down right now to #SaveConstantine as a TV series, you want it live on the big or small screen in some way. The passions on the “Constantine” fans’ part seems at least equal to the “Firefly/Serenity” lovers, as a fan called Shane Hubbard tweeted shortly after the show’s official death at NBC was announced: “Take my love, take my land, take me where I cannot stand. I don’t care, I’m still free. You can’t take #Constantine from me! #SaveConstantine”.

Personally, I am compensating the news by going down the route of the comic books and I strongly suspect that I’m not the only new “Hellblazer” reader out there the show has created – am I?


KonstanzeFaust2Konstanze Faust lives in Marburg, Germany, where she studied English Literature, Celtic Studies and Art & Painting. For the last four years, she has been selling books (or as Clementine from “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” would call it, a book slave). She loves books, especially those that fall between classic categories like Neil Gaiman and Marissa Pessl. A huge anglophile and a full-blooded geek, she’s a TV series junkie,  as long as they’re done well and authentically; a comic book fan, cosplayer and LARPer, dipping into P&P and RPG. konstanzefaust.deviantart.com

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