Photo: Quantrell Colbert / NBC

Turn Out The Lights

As Constantine goes dark indefinitely, we ask, did it ever really go dark enough?

The first season of Constantine is in the can, so now the question is whether the series is getting shitcanned. Myself, I'm fine either way. Which is probably not a good sign for the show's future.

We ended on something of a cliffhanger. Zed is suddenly in a kind of penciled-in love triangle, which is quite a feat for a show with a regular cast of between three and four. And she lets herself be kissed by Jim Corrigan, who is not only known to her to be doomed but also looks like the kind of cop who gets IAB sicced on him in his episode of Law & Order.* Chas is God knows where, because you don't get all four regulars in an episode unless it's a special occasion, and apparently sometimes not even then. John is…well, he's still doing his thing and stating his resolve. And Manny? It turns out he's a bad guy. Papa Midnite did say John would be betrayed by someone close to him, as the previouslies reminded us tonight. I'm pretty sure I had my own doubts about Manny earlier on, but it's not like there's a prize for getting it right.

To be honest, I'm still not convinced Manny is on the other side. Sure, he freed Papa Midnite, and canceled the bounty on John that he himself put out, and claims that the unseen, unpronounceable, and even more unspellable Big Bads for the season are in his pocket. But is he really the Rising Darkness? Or is he working in some mysterious way to bring out the best in John? More likely it's somewhere in between, and he's the kind of DC-Vertigo villain who's had his own agenda all along and a secret plan to save humanity, but by doing something totally heinous.

Of course there's a very good chance this is all academic, no matter how many angel tchotchkes sent by desperate fans flood NBC. Not that there are likely to be many of either. This season was underwhelming enough that it never even got finished, and it's up in the air as to whether a second will be picked up. Matt Ryan is certainly welcome to keep his hair blond and tell interviewers that he's hopeful, and more power to him. I can't promise it'll do him any good.

As for whether a second season of Constantine would do us any good, I remain unconvinced. The series has been maddeningly uneven. It very rarely fires on all cylinders; in fact, one to two of those cylinders is usually a cone. The average Constantine episode is pretty forgettable, if memory serves, and the bad ones are pretty irritating.

But when it's at its best, it's not bad at all. And that happens for a couple of reasons. First of all, judging from the comments every week, I am clearly not the only person who has figured out that the quality of any given episode of Constantine is directly proportional to the number of regulars who appear in it. I know it's supposed to be weird and mysterious, but the mystery shouldn't be why someone's always missing from the opening credits.

As I've mentioned before, it needs to stop going for witty, which it doesn't do well. And another thing, writers: there's no need to pack Constantine's every line with Britishisms. This isn't the comics, and we can hear his accent. The show's main strength is when it can pull off a dark and creepy tone. It's occasionally succeeded there, even after being moved to an earlier time zone. But we don't want it so dark that we can't see what's going on in the action scenes, which too often seem slapped together with the minimum number of shots. I would point out that better-known (if not just better) guest casts might also help, but this show apparently prints its call sheets on index cards as it is.

And either replace Zed or teach her to act. She's just so awkward that her every expression and line reading takes me out of the story. Time to move on. It wouldn't be that hard; we've already eighty-sixed one female lead, and that character didn't even have a brain tumor.

Unfortunately for Constantine's future, a lot of these fixes are going to cost money, and I suspect the show hasn't earned that kind of investment from the network. It's already been retooled once and taken a long break, both of which helped. But there may not be a long enough break to do what it needs to do.

As we leave John Constantine, he is acting on the hope that if he reaches enough souls, he'll save his own. His TV fans are hoping for something similar. Neither of them should hold their breath.

*The Jim Corrigan in the comics is quite a bit further along in his personal character arc than the one on TV, in the unlikely event you can't stand not knowing what happens to him.

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