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Secretly Watching…


(The TV show, to be precise.)  But shusssshh!!  Don’t tell anyone.  Because of course, officially, I haven’t been.  Because technically, it’s not very good.  But also of course, I’m hooked, and need to know what happens next.  Just… need to know!

So, important contextual information!

For long-time readers of this blog, let me take this moment to say that I started watching Constantine AFTER I’d followed up on reader’s recommendations to watch Leverage, and yes, Leverage was loads of fun and for that I thank you.  I mean… possibly almost borderline too silly, and I am a woman who loves silly, but no, thinking about it, Leverage is a good show to watch after press night, when all you want to do is curl up in a corner and let your brain decompress like a diver after a long stint at the bottom of the sea.  For all who pointed me that way: my thanks.

There is no actual link between Leverage and Constantine, but as I’m here and about to talk about shameful TV viewing habits, I figured I’d just mention my gratitude there.  Now, back to the post…

I’ve read some of the Hellblazer comics.  Not all, because my comic reading is largely limited to whatever London library services have in stock, or what my Medic Mate lends me.  But based off this limited exposure I’d suggest that when they’re bad, they’re pretty bad.  Disjointed, gratuitous without the narrative pazzaz to make it work, and visually a bit all over the place.  And of course, when they’re brilliant, they’re absolutely fantastic and one of the best comics I have ever read.

There’s plenty about the setup that’s right down my street.  Git wizard with issues slogging through a modern landscape of sin and desperation, wise-cracking and chain smoking his way to morally ambivalent conclusions in a world saturated in magic and tawdry/epic evil?  Yes please, hello and thank you.  There’s a strong argument to be made for the Hellblazer books ticking that elusive box of ‘urban fantasy’ (when it’s not plain and simple horror) but as no one can really define what urban fantasy is I’d invite Hellblazer readers to mull that one in their own time.

Of course both Hellblazer and Constantine lose a few points in terms of their urban fantasy credentials by a) having a Heaven vs. Hell universe (therefore: God, therefore: omnipotent power letting innocent people get their brains eaten by demons, goblins, ghouls etc.. therefore: what’s the point really of trying, discuss?) and b) by making sure most of its magic is in unintelligible dead languages.  Because as we all know, magic is ancient timey-wimey, and everyone’s got a shrunken vampire head in the bottom of their toolbox.  Also, let’s face it, the words ‘get thee gone oh demon of the pit unto the blackest circle of damnation’ probably sound better when you can’t understand them.  I mean, you’d have to ask the actors – which is easier?  Shouting furiously at a wind machine and a strobe in English, or in squibbledegook?

All of which brings us to the adaptation of comic to film/TV.

There was a surprisingly-not-as-crap-as-it-should-have-been film version a few years ago which forsook the titular character’s vital trait of being Liverpudlian in favour of Keanu Reeves being… well… Keanu Reeves… but never-the-less ticked a lot of the right boxes, particularly in its execution of (spoiler) a white-suited Lucifer and a morally dubious angel with questionable views on the apocalypse.  However, being a movie, it was forced to do the whole epic-battle thing to justify its VFX budget, whereas a TV series, you’d hope, has a chance to do a quieter, more domestic-misery-meets-damnation that’s kinda in keeping with the Hellblazer vibe.

Enter: Constantine.  A workmanly bit of TV with not a huge range of discernible merits but not as many offensively stupidly flaws as you’d expect which tries, in its own blood-splattered way, to walk that fine line between loyalty to the text and the freedom the media brings.

I am not a huge graphics novel geek.  I love ’em, I read ’em, I would defend the genre to the hilt, but this does not a geek make.  Nor am I precious about a particular work.  When adapting a book for the screen, I’m all in favour of changing things to make the medium work for you, and Constantine I think does a reasonably respectable job of juggling the two requirements.  Moreover, kudos to it for making the lead character sorta-Liverpudlian-via-Wales-ish rather than going full-blown American.  Thank you for giving us a mostly-git, mostly-damned, mostly-tosser anti-hero that we can mostly cheer for.  Given that this is US broadcasting we’re talking about, let’s take what we can get in that regard and rejoice, hurrah!  I’m even, after a rocky start, learning to enjoy the British idioms that have been dropped into the script like a stick of dynamite into a duck pond.  ‘So yeah, mate, these tossers nabbed ten quid for a cuppa, and I had a wee barny with Beezelebub about a bird.’  Ah Liverpool me old mucker; never before did I figure that your linguistic traits encompassed Lewisham-via-Glasgow, what cobblers luv, me duck me Dickins me old steak and kidney pie, aye.

I am perfectly capable of looking away at grisly bits, and of switching off my critical faculties to just enjoy it.  I am kinda ignoring the ‘backstory’ in the main characters.  The psychic-with-a-sinister-past (gosh), the tortured-wizard-who-made-a-mistake (wow) and then thankfully, a fairly affable seeming character who I wasn’t interested in until the moment he didn’t die.  And technically, a character not dying isn’t hugely fascinating in and of itself, but the series hasn’t yet bothered to explain HOW he didn’t die and right there, hello, I am interested again.

And sneakily, without my knowing how, I discover that I am hooked.  I don’t understand why.  I don’t really care for anyone in it, I’m not hugely interested in the fact that darkness is coming (let’s hope it arrives before winter comes), and I sorta feel that we’re only a prom dress away from everything going a bit Buffy, and would that be a sadness?  Possibly not.

And yet… as of the time of writing this blog, one character’s been kidnapped in a manner hopefully indicative of emotional development, and another is bleeding out in a sewer and frankly I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.  I might be very angry when I find out, I might end up throwing the TV remote across the room in a fit of pique, BUT I NEED TO KNOW.

It might be the source material itself – with something as good as Hellblazer to draw on, you’d have to work really, really hard not to pull something fun from the bag.  It might be my inherent sympathy for git-wizards-in-an-urban environment.  It might just be that fun is fun, and epic battles between good and evil have always been entertaining.  Or perhaps it’s another case of cheering-for-the-expert-in-the-room, as John Constantine follows in a noble tradition of Sherlock Holmes and Dr House to exclaim, ‘I say, from this scratch in the floor I deduce that it was a gluttony demon called Bob!  Let’s hope I packed my magic ginger!’  Or maybe it’s a sympathy-for-the-underdog scenario, as you wait for the characters to turn round in the last five seconds and go ‘I know it looks disastrous and we’re all a bit emotionally drained by our flaws and failings, but behold!  A spell fixes all, tada!’

It might even be that the series has merits all of its own, and certainly I’d make an argument for this Constantine being a far better incarnation than anything I’d expected – not necessarily 100% from the comic books, but joyfully correct all on his own account.  Again: TV producers, I thank you.

I hear rumours that the series may not make it to a second season, and that’d be sad.  I mean, I’m not gonna be too gutted because frankly, life goes on, but if any lessons can be learned from my final bit of secret TV-watching, Agents of Shield, sometimes a thing needs a second series to get going.  (And my goodness, Agents of Shield has gone from being really very bad to practically acceptable with flashes of being almost good – whoopee!  Please continue upon this upward trend!)

But for now, I’m sitting tight twiddling my thumbs, utterly serene, completely calm in the knowledge that whatever happens, I’m not that emotionally invested.  Apart from the fact that I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!!  Arrggghh!