The John Wick films are interesting not just because of Wick himself and Keanu Reeves’ intensely-watchable portrayal of the character, but because of the mysterious world established around him – one filled with assassins and centered on a hotel called The Continental. And now, a television show named after the hotel is in the works with Reeves himself executive-producing the whole affair. We love John Wick, so we’re nervous. Let’s talk about what Starz has to do to get this show right…
Here’s how to make the John Wick TV show work!
Let’s make a comparison to the legendary sitcom Parks & Recreation. In one particularly amazing recurring bit, the show’s resident nerd Ben Wyatt creates his own game, the Cones of Dunshire. It’s an absurd concept with complicated rules, including a player who serves as the Ledgerman, a person who wears a sea captain’s hat and keeps score.
Part of what makes the bit work each time it’s referenced in the show is that, try as you might, you can’t connect all the dots. You get details here and there, enough to imagine the silly game he’s built, but never enough to take it home and play it.
That’s what makes The Continental work in John Wick.
We know some important things about this strange hotel and the world in which it exists, like the fact that there are enough assassins in the world to have a chain of hotels specifically catering to them. They even have their own specific form of currency: a gold coin that will buy you a room, a drink, a gun, or clean-up for one dead henchman. The hotel has certain rules, the main one being that assassins are not allowed to engage in work on hotel grounds.
But aside from scant details like these, the Wick movies keep the info light and the implications high. We get hints, but rarely much more. The thing is, with The Continental being a television show, this is going to be hard to maintain. It’s easy to use light sketches for a 90-minute movie or three, but a television show is going to end up being 10 or more episodes, providing plenty of room for exposition and lots of clearly spelled-out detail. Give us too much detail about this world and the mystery of it all could fall apart – with the fallout even affecting the movies.
Let’s say the writers nail it and the directors get it and we end up with a compelling story that does John Wick’s world of hidden assassins justice. There’s still another element crucial to the series that the showrunners will have to nail, and that’s the series’ trademark action.
If you watch John Wick and then watch anything but John Wick, it’s readily apparent that this is not just another action movie. It’s an extremely-well-executed action movie with a unique sense of style and motion. Wick doesn’t move like anyone else. Reeves’ commitment to training with his body and firearms means that he moves like you’d imagine an assassin would, and he fires his weapons like that too. It’s a sight to behold. He’s not just a professional – he’s the professional.
No other actors and no television budget are going to be able to quite move like that, and they shouldn’t even try, but the show needs to somehow capture what makes its assassins special. There will be a temptation to flesh them out like video game characters, with each having their own flashy style and special outfit, and that might work to some degree, but it’s a short trip to cheeseville from there. It’s a small target that’s going to take an assassin’s precision to hit just right.
No one but Keanu Reeves is John Wick right now. When the movies get remade in 2046 there will be another actor ready to step into the role. But right now, Reeves is John Wick. He’s also going to demand a higher salary than a TV show could afford, and any of his appearances could easily overshadow the entire cast.
Reeves will be an executive producer on the show, but hopefully he’ll keep his butt in the seat and off the screen for everything but the shortest guest appearance.
On the other hand, Lance Reddick and Ian McShane shouldn’t be overlooked. In the films, McShane plays Winston, the manager of the Continental’s New York branch. Lance Reddick plays the hotel’s concierge (and part-time dog-sitter), Charon. While the show will take place at the Continental’s Los Angeles location, there’s no reason one or both characters couldn’t take a field trip out to visit one of the other locations.
In the John Wick films, these two actors play a big role in establishing the Continental as a place. A fancy hotel is just a fancy hotel, but when you see Charon waiting, you know you’re somewhere special. The same goes for when you step down into the hotel bar. When Winston is in attendance, you’re on your best behavior. The two should be present early on to perform sort of a spiritual hand-off of the Continental space; to let the viewers know that this isn’t some knock-off, but rather an official, endorsed member of the Continental family.
The Continental is about this strange place John Wick visits, and these actors are that place.
There are a lot of ways a show like this could stumble, and the showrunner and writers have to get much right to make it work. But if they keep things properly mysterious, deliver the action we expect, get the right supporting characters involved, and don’t let Keanu overshadow things, we’ll be starting from a good place.
There’s no word yet on when The Continental might air. John Wick: Chapter Three, however, lands in the spring of 2019.