NBC’s cancelled supernatural horror show Constantine, based on a DC Comic series, will not be picked up by another network. The news comes as no shock to this viewer.
I was excited to check out the new series when it premiered last fall. The film version starring Keanu Reeves was serviceable and entertaining despite departing substantially from the source material. The television show stuck closer to the comic book portrayal, with a blonde Brit in the title role.
Unfortunately, it was clear after two episodes that this show was doomed. Why? Because it failed to do the one thing which all science fiction, fantasy, and horror must – establish and adhere to plausible rules.
The problem with Constantine was that his world was completely random. Threats were too easily overcome by convenient supernatural talismans. There’s no sense of drama in a show which can pull a deus ex machina rabbit out of a hat at any moment.
A show which suffers from the same problem, yet has proven more successful, is Fox’s Sleepy Hollow. Another show I really wanted to like, Sleepy Hollow became boring in its second season, hemorrhaging millions of viewers. Like Constantine, the ongoing feud between the Headless Horsemen and Ichabod Crane became too contrived, too convenient, and thus lost all its dramatic tension.
Shows which have succeeded in this genre, like Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, have done so by rooting their fantastical elements in strict narrative rules. Viewers must know, understand, and trust in the limitations of both characters and their world. Otherwise, it just becomes the threat of the week overcome by the talisman of the week. That gets boring real fast.