5 Ways ‘Constantine’ Went Wrong
Constantine‘s first season has been officially cut off at 13 episodes. While the fate of the second season is still up in the air, it’s rare for a show to bounce back for another season without having its back nine episodes ordered on its first go around. As they are currently writing the 17th episode, it’s safe to say that the first 13 are essentially set in stone at this point. It’s possible that they could go back and shoot additional footage to change things, but that’s pretty rare for a show that’s already shot so much material. With all that said, I’d go out on a limb and say this show is pretty much done for at this point. It pains me to say that because I went into this show with high hopes. Modern horror/fantasy is one of my favorite genres and there’s a lot to love about the character they chose to explore it with. Unfortunately there have been just too many missteps and a lack of a strong fandom to fight for the show to survive.
Major Character Switch Out
One of the biggest flaws right off the bat was that they built the pilot around the introduction of Liv, then replaced her going forward with Zed. While I can understand the reasoning for wanting to introduce a character that was strong enough to go toe to toe with Constantine, this set the show back by several episodes in terms of character dynamics. It felt like the show had three separate pilots. The first set up Liv, the second set up Zed, and then third integrated Zed into the world Liv help build. It took until the fourth episode for the show to finally start to find its feet, but by then it may have been too late.
The late introduction of Zed and even later integration of her into the plot also means another potentially interesting character has been getting sidelined. Poor Chas has had hardly any time to develop on his own. I understand wanting to draw out the mystery of his regeneration, but we could have quality screen time with him that focused on character development. We’ve been so bogged down with trying to slot Zed into the show that he’s taken an backseat for much of what’s happened at this point.
Lack of Genre Awareness
In a recent interview with the press executive producer Daniel Cerone said:
“As a story teller you can’t pay attention to what other people are doing on similar shows. I think that’s where you’ll get into trouble, frankly, because if it’s in your head ‘oh they did this creature or they did this scare or did this sort legend or mythology’ then you start comparing yourself. We’re just trying to channel the character of John Constantine as pure as we can.”
On the one hand, I can see where this is coming from. If you’re running a show you want to be led by your own creativity and not constantly be compared to other shows. Unfortunately by ignoring other shows in the genre they’ve unintentionally repeated several major things from their competitors. Mysteries such as the legend of Robert Johnson and the Phantom Hitchhiker have been done repeatedly, most notably on Supernatural, which is the king of the genre TV as it heads into its 10th season. While Executive Producer David Goyer is correct in pointing out that the Hellblazer comics came out a long time before Supernatural or Grimm, that doesn’t really hold too much weight when you’re trying to attract new TV viewers. If you’re going to play in a genre for a specific medium, you need to know what’s been done before and try to set yourself apart. Having this much repetition of fairly recent genre in just five episodes shows an extreme lack of awareness of what this genre has been doing for the past decade. Viewers have stopped tuning in because these stories are things we’ve seen done before many times already.
The topic of Constantine’s sexuality has been looming over the show ever since the showrunners began brushing off questions and getting defensive at press events over the topic. The showrunners attempted to back track recently by acknowledging Constantine’s bisexuality in interviews, but the lack of a definitive answer has made many vow not to tune in until they make it explicitly clear. The vague “we never said he wasn’t bisexual” argument grows increasingly frustrating with each passing episode without even a casual mention of it.
We’ve talked about his sexuality to death on this blog, so if you’re going to make an argument against his representation I recommend reading Why We Want a Bisexual Constantine first. Most arguments are addressed there, including the ever important point that “waiting” for it to happen for as long as it took for it to be addressed in the comics is a bad battle plan in a world where genre television has a habit of getting cancelled at the drop of a hat. We might not get past 13 episodes, which means we’re going to lose the opportunity to get the representation we’ve been longing for. For everyone who wanted us to wait, look at what happened here. This is exactly what we were afraid of.
Lack of an Enthusiastic Fanbase
Hellblazer fans are an incredible group of people and I would never belittle their importance or enthusiasm, but you need more than just fans of the original work for any sort of adaptation to be successful in a new medium. The show and the creators have failed to court an enthusiastic crowd of TV viewers willing to fight on their behalf. Many of the people who take issue with the lack of representation or feel that the elements of the show are repetitive are the same people who vote in online polls, start campaigns and petitions to save their shows, and write extensive pieces to help spread the word to other people. By brushing off their concerns or growing defensive when asked about them, they’ve essentially killed a potentially large and social media savvy fanbase. As mentioned, they’ve already written through the 13 episodes that will be airing for the first season, so unless there’s a dramatic change already slated to take place it’s probably too late to win this crowd over.
The Friday Night Death Slot
As mentioned previously, Friday night has become known as the “Death Slot” to many TV fans, which is unfortunately exactly where they placed Constantine. It’s where networks either send their shows to die a quiet unnoticed death, or where they put their genre shows that have a large cult following. While Hellblazer definitely has a huge cult following in the comic book world, it hasn’t established itself in a similar way for the TV viewing audience. I don’t think NBC placed it here to die since it’s gone out of its way to promote it at conventions and to the press, but it’s clear they overestimated the crossover from the comics to TV. Other shows that have survived this slot (Supernatural, Grimm, Hannibal, Battlestar Galactica) all had large online fan bases and strong word of mouth. In fact, Grimm is still chugging along in this time slot just fine even now, but people aren’t sticking around for Constantine that comes on immediately after it. The word of mouth and cult following required to survive in this slot just aren’t there yet.
There’s a lot working against Constantine and I fear there’s no time left for the show to correct its course. I’m sad at the probable loss of what could have been an amazing piece of television. If this show gets granted a miracle and returns for a second season I hope they take the criticism to heart and blow us all out of the water with something truly amazing. Constantine deserves a TV adaptation that’s on par with comics and stirs the same amount of passion in its fanbase. Right now, its just not quite there.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.
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