Given that I am the author of an urban fantasy series that casts a demon as its heroine, and the angels as the bad guys, it makes sense that I was crazy excited about the new Fox series “Lucifer.”
Note: I’ve heard the Neil Gaiman/Sandman comics referenced a lot when talking about this show–specifically how much the show has digressed from the source material. I’m not familiar with the comics–oversight on my part, I know–so I’m going to focus exclusively on the show, and how I think it could improve.
The premise is simple: Lucifer Moringstar (Tom Ellis), the devil himself, has gotten burned-out (no pun intended…okay, maybe a little pun intended) on the whole Hell thing. So he quits, moves to Los Angeles, and becomes a club owner. He ends up, through unbelievably contrived circumstances that I won’t bother to get into here, working as a civilian consultant for the LAPD, partnering with Chloe Decker (Lauren German), a former actress turned outcast detective.
The show’s got a charismatic leading man, oodles of sexual tension, plenty of humor, and a murder of the week. Problem is, I’ve seen this show before. It’s called “Castle.”
Now, don’t get me wrong: I love “Castle.” It’s one of my go-to comfort food shows, when I want to sit back and relax and not think about anything. But the “Castle”-like aspects of “Lucifer” are the show’s weakest. For some reason, the powers-that-be have decided to take a supernatural fantasy and try to shove it into a cop procedural. And, not surprisingly, it’s not working.
My thought is this: “Lucifer” needs to move away from the cop show device and embrace its supernatural side.
Last week’s episode was the best of the series, so far, because the murder of the week was more of an afterthought. A security guard at a self-storage company is killed, and a container is stolen–a container belonging to none other than Lucifer himself.
Lucifer won’t reveal the contents of the container to Chloe–who doesn’t believe Lucifer is who he says he is–and she struggles with her attraction, her urge to trust him, and her rational mind telling her she shouldn’t. Lauren German has always felt like the weakest link in the cast to me. As Chloe, her range of emotions seems limited to “mildly irritated” and “I just smelled a fart.” But after last week, I’m wondering if she just hasn’t been given good enough material to work with, because Chloe’s struggle between belief and disbelief added some nuances to the character that I hadn’t seen before. She’s still my least favorite part of the cast, but hopefully we’ll be seeing some development of the character soon.
We also got to see Amenadiel flirt with Lucifer’s therapist, Linda (Rachel Harris, making the best of a thankless role), trying to covertly worm his way into Lucifer’s head to get him to return to Hell. In the last couple of episodes, Amenadiel has gone from being a one-note character to someone I want to see more of, and I give most of the credit here to D.B. Woodside, who you may remember as Principal Wood in season 7 of “Buffy,” among other things. We know his flirtation with Linda is fake and calculated. But as Amenadiel has acted more human, he’s felt more human to me. And I want more of this. Is it all an act, or is Earth beginning to wear down the self-righteous angel, too.
But Lucifer is at its best when its squarely on the shoulders of its star, Tom Ellis. And in last week’s episode, we got to see him pivot from apathy to rage to joy to despair. And he was brilliant. The more the show focuses on Lucifer’s struggle between his King of Hell side and his emerging mortal conscience, the better it is. We’re also starting to get some hints about Lucifer’s backstory, about how God’s favorite son was exhiled to Hell.
And I love to see Lucifer’s conflict about his own role in the heavenly saga. He continually affirms that humans make their own choices to do good or evil, that he doesn’t influence them as often believed. He says he left Hell because he was tired of punishing people all the time, yet he seems to enjoy punishing the guilty. At the same time, he’s capable of showing mercy and restraint. It’s an interesting conflict, and I want to delve much, much deeper into this character than we have so far. Ellis is great when he’s playing arrogant, cocksure Lucifer, but I think he’s better when he’s playing enraged, despairing Lucifer.
And this is the interesting stuff, what I’m really tuning in to see. I don’t care about the murder of the week. If I wanted that, there are sixteen versions of “Law and Order” running in perpetuity on TNT. (Plus the aforementioned “Castle.”) But supernatural intrigue? An angel who may be playacting human a little too well? The burned-out King of Hell developing a conscience? That’s what I want to see!
(Not to mention that Amenadiel keeps warning Lucifer that bad things will happen if he doesn’t return to Hell. Lucifer has apparently been in Los Angeles long enough to be a fixture there. And so far…no bad things. No wonder Lucifer is having trouble taking Amenadiel seriously–so am I! If there genuinely are consequences to Lucifer’s abandonment of his post, we need to see them. Maybe this is the long game the writers are playing? Maybe this is end-of-season stuff? Either way, we need something that make Amenadiel’s warnings seem less like empty threats–not to mention that it will add higher stakes to the drama.)
“Lucifer” still seems to be coming into its own–like I said, last week’s episode was great, and this week looks like a continuation of that–but I hope, in doing so, it’ll jettison the cop show premise altogether. It’s just not necessary. Instead, “Lucifer” needs to embrace its supernatural side and let Lucifer really delve into his inner conflict: to reign in Hell or run a trendy nightclub on Earth. And it also needs to up the stakes, big time.
“Lucifer” is still a show worth watching…but it could be so much better.