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Ignore the critics: Peacock’s John Wick prequel The Continental is just fine

Published Sep 25th, 2023 6:44PM EDT
The Continental on Peacock
Image: Katalin Vermes/Starz Entertainment

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Ahead of the debut over the weekend of Peacock’s highly anticipated John Wick prequel series The Continental, I let curiosity get the better of me and did a dumb thing: I decided to check out the early reviews on Rotten Tomatoes before watching the first episode of the three-part series. “Yikes” was my first reaction. That’s because the $1 billion John Wick franchise that’s already spawned four feature films, plus a spinoff movie coming next year starring Ana de Armas, has apparently just released its first misfire. As of Monday morning, the show was stuck with a “rotten” 50% Tomatometer score on the review aggregation site (it’s since improved to “fresh” status, at 65%).

What happened? On paper, at least, it seemed like The Continental had everything going for it. The show is packed with High Table lore and dives deep into the origins of the John Wick universe’s hotel for assassins. Plot-wise, the series is built around the character of a young Winston Scott (the hotel proprietor played by Ian McShane in the movies). The action and gunplay, at least what I saw in the first feature-length episode, are adequate, bordering on satisfying. So far, so good, right? It’s when we move to a discussion of the cast, though, that things become a problem.

The Continental on Peaock
Mishel Prada as KD in Peacock’s “The Continental.” Image source: Katalin Vermes/Starz Entertainment
The Continental on Peacock
Marina Mazepa as Gretel, Mark Musashi as Hansel, and Colin Woodell as Winston in “The Continental.” Image source: Katalin Vermes/Starz Entertainment

For one thing, there’s no Keanu Reeves here — an understandable omission, given that The Continental is a prequel that’s set decades before the movies. Still, I can understand how some people think Keanu’s absence handicaps the show from the outset. He’s probably 95% of the reason why fans loved the John Wick movies in the first place. What’s more, a lack of Keanu isn’t even the only major issue with the cast of The Continental. For many of the critics I’ve seen who’ve been dumping on the show, their beef can be summed up with just two words: Mel Gibson, who plays a villain here named Cormac.

The disgraced actor’s presence alone makes the series “unwatchable,” snarls a Daily Beast review, which then proceeds to nitpick every single thing about the show in the service of an argument that it doesn’t live up to the movies. That the fight sequences, for example, aren’t good enough. That the needle drops insist upon themselves. That the lighting is too dreary. And on and on.

All of that leads us back to the show’s disappointing 65% score from Rotten Tomatoes critics. For comparison, Netflix’s exceedingly dumb Is it Cake? reality series, in which participants try to guess if objects are made out of (you guessed it) cake, has a nearly identical Tomatometer score of 67%. Go figure.

The Continental on PeacockImage source: Katalin Vermes/Starz Entertainment

Listen, I’m not going to blame anyone who decides not to watch this show because of the presence of Mel Gibson. There are very good reasons to go that route. Part of me, though, feels like when a critic is dumping on The Continental because the director (or whoever) cast Mel Gibson, the critic is almost reviewing … Mel Gibson, more so than they’re reviewing the show as an overall entity. That leads to a nuanced and kind of interesting discussion that I don’t think journalists ever sufficiently grapple with: Can a show be good enough to overcome the baggage of a cast member, particularly one who’s said and done some pretty heinous things?

On a related note, whenever a person watches something, is that person giving their tacit approval to each cast member’s life story and past deeds or statements simply on the basis of enjoying a show in its totality? Many viewers of The Continental, for what it’s worth, seem like they’ve already answered those questions: The show currently has an 83% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Continental on PeacockImage source: Starz Entertainment

It sort of feels like a number of critics ripped The Continental apart for reasons that really don’t make a lot of sense. At the end of the day, it’s a prequel series we’re talking about here. If you want a direct extension of the John Wick movies, all you need to do is just sit tight until John Wick 5. In the meantime, two things can be true at once. Mel Gibson is awful. And Peacock’s The Continental, so far, is entertaining and just fine for what it is.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.