Constantine, Season 1 Episode 1 Review: “Non Est Asylum”

(Beware, spoilers below!)

Welsh actor Matt Ryan manages to charmingly pull off his portrayal as DC’s best resident hellraiser, John Constantine. The show debuts quite appropriately around Halloween, and the first episode is full of skin crawlingย creepy moments.

When we first meet Constantine, he is self admitted in a mental asylum, trying to confront his involvement in demons and exorcism. He has a predictably dark and troubled past (who out of us was nicknamed ‘Killer’ by their father?!ย You can’t help but feel a little sorry for him). Before long, we’re treated to a sense of what actual, real demons he’sย had to face – why do demons have to be ugly?

The pilot also introduces us to Liv Aberdeen, played by Lucy Griffiths. She’s an ordinary woman until for some reason an unknown force tries to kill her. I’m bad with horror, and I’m not the most experienced with the genre, but I’ve yet to see such a scary moment with a car. The show is full of jump scares like that – there’s a red eye one which scared the beejesus out of me and only the most experienced of horror viewers will see coming.

We’re balanced between discovering more about Constantine and learning about Liv’s past. She is meant to be our window into this new world of shadows, spirit trains etc. However, her character is fleshed unrealistically and no entirely convincing, though this is not the fault of the actress. As of the next episode, she’s omitted in favour of Contantine’s traditional sidekick, Zed. Much as I enjoyed watching Lucy Griffiths act, I don’t see this as a loss.

Harold Perrineau stars as Manny, an angel (complete with wings, those these don’t feature too heavily past the odd occasion). Most famous for playing Mercutio in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, he uses his theatrical skills to pull off the otherwise ludicrous character successfully.

If I’m honest, the general plot is not actually that interesting. A demon called Furcifer is out to kill Liv, John has his soul damned to hell, and by helping the angels confront this oncoming evil, he can potentially redeem his otherwise eternally damned soul. We’re meanwhile introduced to the supernatural world via these creepy happenings. That’s pretty much it. As someone who enjoys and can wholeheartedly embrace the crazy world of superheroes, I was struck by how uninteresting I found in this episode in particular.

That’s rather an important point. I’m genuinely interested in where the show goes from here – What was Doctor Fate’s helmet doing in Jasper’s secret house? Will Constantine find his mother’s spirit? How much worse does this ‘darkness’ get? Will the show crossover with The Flash or Arrow (probably not?)? – and I think the show has some potential for sure. The tone is gritty, the writers aren’t afraid to play for jump scares and both Ryan and Perrineau do an admirable job with their characters, making them potentially complex characters we can get interested in. The show can easily become accessible to those less inclined to comic book adaptations, though perhaps to a different market than that of Gotham or Arrow. But before it reaches these heights, the show has some straightening up to do. It’s not good that I only managed to stay relatively engaged with the episode, and I hope the writers get their act together by the first half dozen episodes.

If not, we may just have to relegate Constantine to hell, no matter how reluctantly.

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