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Constantine on Television: Was That a Cigarette?



At long last, Constantine has been, sort of, returned to his British roots with the show’s appearance on American television but thus far, this chain smoking Liverpudlian has played with his lighter more than he has puffed on any tobacco laden products although towards the end of episode two, that was a cigarette he popped into his mouth before being disturbed by Zed. It was, in fact, one from an entire packet of cigarettes that Constantine had in his possession, presumably, over the first two episodes of the series on NBC.

News about the show thus far has been that John Constantine will not smoke, exactly. Whatever the heck that means. Network producers are eager to point out that while Constantine will not be a “non-smoker” he won’t be seen smoking very often. Something about television guidelines being fairly strict about smoking, which may be true for the “mainstream” networks, although these obviously do not apply to FX with its chain smoking Elsa Mars in American Horror Story.

The whole not smoking thing seems nonsensical. After all Constantine puffed away for years in the Hellblazer comic books, even getting cancer at one point. It should be pointed out that the lambasted Keanu Reeves 2005 film version utilized this particular plot point very well and Reeves, as Constantine, puffed away in the film. With the dark edgy feel of this character and the stories, it is surprising that FX, HBO or Showtime did not opt to produce the series.

Certainly there are a lot less restrictions as to what can be shown, such as the question of Constantine’s “bisexuality” in the comic book verse and what about that cigarette in the most recent episode. Of course one of these issues can be construed as a dirty, and very unhealthy habit, while the other is a matter of something not related to an addiction. Complaints from the LGBT community and the anti-smoking lobby aside, it should be pointed out that any show put on by a major network is going to have its metaphorical hands tied to a degree.

Leaving all the negatives about the new show behind, there are some things which bode well for this new show based on a British comic book series with a huge fan base. The choice of Welsh actor Matt Ryan (Armistice, Collision) to play Constantine is a good one. He has a rugged charm, even if he does seem to resemble the late Roddy McDowall somewhat, and he somehow “feels” right. The actor is comfortable with the English dialogue, as he should be, and if his character is ever allowed to smoke, it will be interesting to find out if the offending cigarettes will be referred to as “fags.” A slang term for tobacco cigarettes in the United Kingdom which most likely will not be used on the show, no matter how accurate due to the possibility of upsetting the LGBT community even further, after leaving out Constantine’s bisexuality.

In terms of casting, using Harold Perrineau (Lost, Blade) as Manny is sublime and Angélica Celaya (Burn Notice, Dallas) works very well as Zed although her name makes this viewer believe the character’s may really be “Z” as that letter is called “Zed” in the U.K. On a side note, it is nice to see that this actress’s appearance in the execrable 2010 film Cowboys and Vampires has not irreparably damaged her career.

The first two episodes of Constantine on television have not done too badly and while John was not allowed to smoke that cigarette, he at least has kept his innate Englishness and this will hopefully carry the first season through to the end. The show’s producers do need to take into account the character’s comic book origins and make sure they try to stay faithful, regardless of who they may offend. Time will tell whether or not Matt Ryan will continue to resemble a blond haired Roddy McDowall, but thus far, the actor has certainly brought the character to life despite not being allowed to have a puff or two.

By Michael Smith