During the pilot episode of Constantine, the eponymous character (Matt Ryan) says something about impatience being a 21st century disease. It’s an apt observation in comparing the two pilots screened last night at San Diego Comic-Con, The Flash and Constantine.
The two shows had more in common than just being derived from comic books. Themes of weather and dead parents recur, for example. I’m not analyzing them in terms of how faithful they are to their origin materials, or whether characters lived up to expectations, but only how each pilot functions as a pilot.
The Flash told its story as though to an audience sans patience. With so much build-up to this show’s premiere, including a not-quite-backdoor-pilot on fellow DC drama Arrow, die hard fans were undoubtedly chomping at the bit. It gushes information at us like a fire hose, starting with main character Barry’s action-packed childhood. Everything is explained. Love interest Iris clumsily monologues about how she and Barry are like brother and sister, in other words, he’s in something even more bleak than the Friend Zone.
Similarly, other character relationships and back stories emerge. The most awkward was Caitlin, the beautiful scientist who definitely does not in any way resemble Simmons from Agents of SHIELD. She’s presented as stand-offish, but then blurts out her personal tragedy — namely, her fiance was killed in the same accident that gave Barry his powers. “My once promising career…,” she begins. Who talks like that?
In usual CW fashion, the show also tries to remind us, through slang, how hip it is. It manages to squeeze in the words “twerking,” “cronuts,” and something about Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.”
Stuff happens at lightening speed, so to speak, but even with no knowledge of the comics, outcomes were predictable — who’s going to wind up in a love triangle with whom, who’s a bad guy masquerading as a good guy, etc.
It should be noted that the scene in which Barry meets with Arrow‘s Stephen Amell got a lot more cheers from the room than the scene in which The Flash actually vanquishes the villain-of-the-week. Which makes me wonder, in a show with a built-in audience from Arrow, why work so hard to win them?
In contrast, Constantine unwound slowly. It was action-packed, to be sure, opening with a scene that I had to watch between my fingers. Still, it didn’t spoon feed information to its audience.
It helps that Constantine himself is a sort of anti-hero. The black-and-white good-versus-evil of The Flash doesn’t exist here. It also helps that the character Liv spends most of the episode confused as hell, and the audience can identify with her. “I don’t understand half of what you’re saying,” she says. (I also enjoy that her name is Liv as in “live.”) We can’t look away, since we’re constantly trying to figure out what’s what.
We don’t need to see Constantine’s whole past — at least, not in the pilot — to grasp his dilemma. His situation can be boiled down to: he’s suffering from the guilt of damning a little girl to hell. We don’t need to be told that this is the worst mistake he’s ever made in his mastership of the dark arts. We get to wonder — why this girl? What went wrong?
It sounds like the creators have a plan to make the female lead stronger and more integral to the story, which I can appreciate, but will be sad never to get to know Lucy Griffiths, whose part has been recast. She’s kind of a more soulful Zooey Deschanel.
Constantine spent more time setting up its long arc than fussing with the villain-of-the-week, too. He vanquished some demon who was possessing a security guard. The battle gave a sense of Constantine’s tactics, and the rules of demonology. Meanwhile, The Flash can’t defeat every enemy in the same way he did a giant tornado. It could have been any enemy.
Go ahead and hate me. Most of the internet is raving about The Flash. It just didn’t work for me, but I’ll be watching Constantine come October.