Even though John Constantine may not look like most heroes in the DC Universe — his costume is nothing more than a yellow trenchcoat and his constant smoking (at least in the comics) is something Superman would tsk-tsk — he’s still one of the most popular. Unfortunately, while “Constantine,” which premieres Friday on NBC, gets a lot of little things right, overall it feels too much like a mishmash.
As the title character, Matt Ryan is great as the world-weary, faintly sleazy, self-proclaimed exorcist, demonologist and master of the dark arts. Unlike Keanu Reeves, who played the character on the big screen in 2005, Ryan exudes the kind of low-key working-class Britishness that the character requires, making him a grounded presence when facing off against demons and angels and all kinds of freaky possessed people. However, the chain smoking and the original character’s bisexuality are nowhere to be seen.
And many images in the pilot episode, directed by Neil Marshall, are appropriately unsettling. They range from an asylum hallway swarming with cockroaches in the show’s opening moments to a staring eye opening unexpectedly on a woman’s laptop screen.
Less successful is the story, from David S. Goyer and Daniel Cerone, which involves a lot of demonic entities chasing after a seemingly innocent car rental company employee, played by Lucy Griffiths, whose father was an old friend of Constantine’s. Along the way, there’s a lot of talk of a big supernatural war in the offing, a failed exorcism in Constantine’s past, and explanations about “parallel planes of existence.” In short, nothing that isn’t instantly familiar to anyone who’s caught an episode of “Supernatural” or “Grimm” in the last few months.
The demon creature doing battle with Constantine in a brief flashback looks as if it could easily have stepped through its glowing portal and into any episode of “Sleepy Hollow.” If only we didn’t already know that the barriers between the TV networks is far more impenetrable than the wall between heaven and hell.
We’re also introduced to various support staff from Constantine’s world, including a hacker played by Jeremy Davies who can shut down a city’s power grid using a few clicks on his laptop (magic couldn’t get the trick done?) and Chas, played by “True Detective’s” Charles Halford, Constantine’s ever-faithful cab driver.
However, they are secondary to one of “Constantine’s” biggest question marks: his female companion. In the first episode, Griffiths is clearly being set up as the outsider through whose eyes we are educated about this unseen world.
However, Griffith’s performance is unconvincing, a sentiment apparently shared by others because after the series was picked up, a new ending was shot that hurriedly packed her off to California and out of the story.
Instead, we are given only a glimpse of Zed, played by Angelica Celaya, the artist who will be joining Constantine more permanently moving forward. What is their dynamic? And will it seriously alter the feel of the series?
Genre devotees may choose to stick around to find out. But everyone else may want to swivel their heads elsewhere.
When: 10 p.m. Friday
Rating: TV-14-V (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with an advisory for violence)