— Daniel Cerone (@DanielVCerone) April 27, 2015
That’s the tweet that Daniel Cerone, co-creator and one of the Executive Producers on NBC’s Constantine, sent out after finishing the 2nd Season pitch meeting that will factor heavily into whether or not there is a 2nd Season of Constantine. He went in armed with some pretty serious fan response to the series, a recent push for new viewers by streaming the entire 1st Season on Hulu, and the show trending on Twitter at #2.
And sometime in early May, he and the fans will find out if Constantine comes back to television.
When I heard that there was going to be a new NBC series about John Constantine, I was both thrilled, and pretty skeptical. Network TV is a curious place to put the adventures of a chain-smoking, manipulative con-man/street-wizard, who aged in real-time throughout the 300 issues of Hellblazer that were published between January 1988 and February 2013. Part of DC Comic’s Vertigo line, Hellblazer drew such writers as Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison, along with many others, and had an impact on the supernatural horror genre that can only be described as huge.
How huge, you ask? Well…
You ever see a little show called Supernatural? Read the adventures of Hellboy or Harry Dresden? Seen that Grimm show, or The Originals over on the CW? All of them and so many more TV shows and books and comics have John Constantine’s DNA running through them, which is not surprising really, considering that he sprung from the fertile mind of Alan Moore, waaaaay back in 1985, in the pages of Swamp Thing. The shadow of John Constantine on the popular occult detective and horror genres is long and broad. As a teenager, I was on the ground floor for the “American Gothic” run of Swamp Thing, and eagerly snapped up the first issue of Hellblazer, because I wanted more of the glorious bastard that was John Constantine.
And we’re back to the skeptical part again.
If you haven’t watched the show, or read the comics, or if your only exposure to John is the Keanu film, then that’s the one thing you need to know about John Constantine: He’s a bastard. He’s a lying, manipulative con-man who gets his friends killed by putting them in positions that they can’t possibly survive in order to save the world, and his enemies killed by… well… putting them in positions that they can’t possibly survive in order to save the world. He hates Heaven and Hell equally, because They just can’t keep their damned mitts off Humanity, and he once tricked the rulers of Hell Itself into saving his life by selling his soul to all of them.
He smokes constantly, drinks heavily, sleeps with the wrong women and the occasional man. He damned an innocent girl to Hell by being a cocky idiot as a teenager, and strangled his twin brother in the womb. He is the very opposite of a nice man, and he is one of the most interesting characters in comics, and the one man you want at your back when the legions of the damned are at the door.
Well, best to have him in front of you, where you can see him. Just in case.
Not the most Network Friendly character.
And early word from the creators gave us a few reasons to be worried. The smoking would be downplayed, if it was there at all. The sexual ambiguity, while never a prominent part of the character, was said to be gone. And we kept coming back to asking why this show wasn’t on Showtime or HBO or Netflix, where things like the sex and blood and violence of horror wouldn’t be toned down for the advertisers.
But there were reasons to be optimistic as well: Matt Ryan as Constantine and looking the part to a T – hell, he was even from the British Isles – and sounding juuuuust about perfect in the promotional clips. A Chas who, if not the working class Brit of the comics, was not remotely the silly child of the movie. (Hey, remember when Shia LeBeouf was a thing?) And NBC had this little program on their schedule called Hannibal… Hmmmm.
It started off rocky. No question about it. The Pilot felt like a fairly standard model of the genre, and the creative staff saw they needed to change things, so gone was the character of Liv, who was to be the audience surrogate, and hello Zed. We saw smoke rising, and a lighter, but few instances of the trademark cigarette. The format felt a little too monster-of-the-week, and John was a little, OK a LOT, too much the hero-on-a-redemption-quest. But there were moments to be had, and enough of John Constantine on display to keep you coming back for more, if you were a fan. The overarching story of the Rising Darkness might have put John in the odd place of essentially playing both himself and Swamp Thing in a riff on the comic “American Gothic” arc, and John’s being more of the standard hero was questionable, but by the fourth episode, “A Feast of Friends”, the show was finding its rhythm and a tone that wasn’t quite where it should have been to be the TV version of Hellblazer, but closer.
“A Feast of Friends”, by the way, was pretty much a straight adaptation of one of stories from the “Original Sins” arc from the comic, with one significant twist. On the show, John traps the demon inside his old friend Gary Lester, and Gary is ultimately accepting of his fate, feeling he deserves it, and John stays by his side to support him as the demon eats him up from the inside. In the comic, John sets Gary up to be the trap for the demon, and betrays and sacrifices him for the greater good. Gary is… not as understanding, and becomes one of the legion of ghosts of those that John has killed or betrayed to save others, and when I say ghosts, I mean literal ghosts who follow John around and haunt him.
But the tone, the language, the feel, was so much like the comic there, that the moderately happier ending could be forgiven. The reveal of the back story of Angélica Celaya’s Zed that hewed quite close to the comic, and promised at least the idea of one of the best “@#$$ you’s” of the comic’s run, was another bright spot in the second half of the season. The family life of Charles Halford‘s Chas, and an explanation for his curious condition that fit the character, even if he bore only a passing resemblance to his comic origins. The dark fun of Michael James Shaw’s Papa Midnite and, of course, the sardonic and vague “support” of Harold Perrineau’s Manny, the Angel who has secrets of His own…
Is the show still a little too much the Monster/Magic-Item-of-the-Week? Yeah, it kinda is, even if we’re fair and point out that riffing on “American Gothic” the way the show is lends itself to that structure. Is John still too much a hero, and too little the bastard? Yeah, although it’s showing more and more, especially with the appearance of his old friend Anne Marie and their shared history and the exploration of the death of Astra in “The Saint of Last Resorts”. And points always go to a show that handles the subject of faith and the good and ill of Christianity like it does in “Blessed Are the Damned”.
And the cigarettes even started showing up more and more, and that actually is important, because you can’t do a show about John Constantine and not build towards the “Dangerous Habits” storyline and for that, well, you need the smokes. In fact, if they keep going where they ended with Zed, Jim Corrigan and Manny, then there are wonderfully dark days ahead, and that… leads me back to the pitch meeting that Daniel Cerone had yesterday.
Obviously I can’t know what went on there, or how Cerone sold the ideas for Season 2, but I’d like to think that he pitched a darker season, one full of more pure horror, and taking John & Co. into that horror in a bold way. That he pointed to the success of shows like Hannibal and Penny Dreadful, and called for a recognition that there is an audience for supernatural horror on network television, and shows like The Blacklist prove that audiences like anti-heroes. That a full-bore run into dark places on Constantine opens the door for characters like the Spectre and Doctor Fate, and why should Netflix have all the fun, and c’mon, did you see Daredevil?
That the pieces are already in place, and all they have to do is let Matt Ryan be John Constantine.