[All photos courtesy Fox TV]
Season 1, episodes 2-4
I actually am quite enjoying Lucifer, and that makes it something of a very frustrating issue that the show is demonstrating a pretty clear indication that it may have no idea how to deal with its title character.
And my apologies, as life has conspired to make me late on these reviews, but that’s a good thing I think, perhaps, as it has given me the binge-watching of Lucifer that has both entertained and frustrated. In about equal degree, I’m afraid.
On the other hand, you get ruminations on “Lucifer, Stay. Good Devil”, “The Would-be Prince of Darkness”, and “Manly Whatnots” all at once, so … hooray?
First, let us all just admit and accept that the police-procedural part of the show is almost completely unimportant aside from the moments when Lucifer displays his inhuman attributes. The idea that Chloe is some sort of department pariah isn’t really holding up, as she keeps getting good cases and solving them. While we certainly can see this play out more in upcoming episodes, we’re four into a 13-episode season, and all we have are words to tell us that she’s on the outs with her fellow officers. Well, one bar confrontation, but even that was pretty minor. Detective Dan — separated from Chloe, and not divorced apparently — shows the requisite concern over her career, but still it’s all just words we’re hearing.
The cases themselves are all pretty slight, too, despite being murders and a supposed kidnapping. They exist as a means to move the character interaction between Lucifer and Chloe forward, to create a increasingly shallow conflict between Dan and Lucifer, and, of course, to be a framework to hang the series on. They work best when the crime affects Lucifer personally — the pop star in the pilot, the football player in “The Would-be Prince of Darkness” — and we see both the ego of the Angel and the anger at an innocent being hurt while the guilty go unpunished. Paparazzi and Men’s Rights leaders – while easy and often deserving targets by often being terrible people -don’t hit the Prince of Darkness anywhere near the same and that, actually, is part of the bigger problem I’m seeing here.
This show really doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up, or who Lucifer really is. Is he a sex-crazed hedonist? Sometimes: and that’s getting old quick, because about 25% of each episode is Lucifer leering at Chloe and oozing innuendo. Yes, Tom Ellis is a handsome man, yes he has great chemistry with Lauren German, but he’s The Devil, and while sex and Satan have a long history in literature, it’s all the time on this show.
Is he someone who doesn’t understand Humanity, giving us the Outsider View to show what fools these mortals be? Sometimes: and after an eternity watching us and punishing the Damned, is that believable at all? Is it believable that Lucifer Morningstar, First of the Fallen, Lord of Hell, would completely ignore Maze — his most loyal follower and arguably the closest thing he has to an actual friend — as she consistently points out that he’s acting completely out of character, compared to the Eternity before he came to L.A.?
Is he really that un-self-aware, that there is anything at all that a human psychiatrist can help him with?
Here’s the thing: in the Vertigo comic this show was inspired by, Lucifer does quit Hell and come to LA with Mazikeen; he does argue with his brother Angels about returning to Hell; he does find himself embroiled in human affairs. But what he never does is become human, or actually act human. He’s always warring against the predestination that his Father represents and against the artificial moral codes that humanity follows. He’s always planning and plotting to break free of the confines that God has placed upon him — whether Hell or anything else — and he is not kind or compassionate. He’s the First Angel, and humanity is beneath him. His biggest flaws are his arrogance and his failure to understand that he is part of his Father’s plan, even as he rebels against it. Over 75 issues, questions of Good, Evil, predestination and free will play out, often on a cosmic scale.
Of course, not much of that would make for good network TV, and even on cable would have a production budget that would be unworkable as a series. The realities of telling stories for a larger audience than the comic readers mean changes of pretty sweeping nature to bring the story of Lucifer to television. But what we’re left with is a Devil that acts like a human half the time, and that really doesn’t make a lot of sense.
The other half is the battle between the wills of Lucifer and Amenadiel, the rage that Lucifer feels towards those who deceive, and yes, the Outsider looking in at Humanity and our self-deceptions and self-imposed rules and morality. There are some great tense moments where the Angels spar with each other, and the anger and contempt they feel is palpable. Those moments where the horror elements of the show are allowed to peek out — when we see Jimmy Barnes bashing his head against the glass at the mention of Lucifer’s name, or when Lucifer hurls Joe Hanson through a plate-glass window — are far too few, but incredibly effective to show the power and effect of The Prince of Darkness. The curious feelings that Lucifer has for Chloe, where he finds himself actually liking her as a person and not a plaything.
The show is getting other things right, too, by playing against some standard tropes. Detective Dan initially appears to be just another “douche” of an ex — and casting Kevin Alejandro, who can play kind and compassionate and cruel and evil equally well only helps with that — but very quickly we see that he’s a loving father and a good cop, and that he loves Chloe. He wasn’t the best of husbands, but he’s not a bad man. His and Chloe’s daughter Trixie is not some wonder-child, but just a charming, normal mix of innocence and brattiness. Doctor Martin is seduced by Lucifer, but she’s still a doctor and even as he tries to play her, she’s making shrewd observations about what his behavior indicates about him. And of course, the petty desires and truths that Lucifer draws out of those around him, showing that Humanity is in no need of the Devil to be kinda awful and shallow.
I do like this show. I’m enjoying myself watching it. I like the chemistry between Lucifer and Chloe, and the beginnings of an odd friendship. I like the frustration Maze feels about Lucifer’s behavior, and her effect on Amenadiel. (Note to Angels: Sexy Demons are dangerous. Duh.) I like that, even though it’s hitting us over the head with it, the show treats sex like it’s a good and healthy thing and is meant to be enjoyed. I like the moments where Lucifer is discovering what it means to care about things other than himself and the vulnerability that causes.
I love the look on Tom Ellis’ face when Chloe tries to touch Lucifer’s scars and he is afraid.
There is good storytelling here, but it’s mostly in the character moments. It’s good that we’re getting those moments, and it’s great that they are so well done, but they’re surrounded by so many sex jokes and fluff. I care not a whit about Lucifer’s sex life or his (shudder) becoming human. Yes, there’s eye-candy galore for everyone, but there’s obviously more here than the sexy, and I’d hate to see Lucifer go the way of Constantine: hamstringing a story and character and holding back on the big ideas and a deeper story until it’s too late. We’re getting so many hints of those deeper things, but they’re not going anywhere yet.
Lucifer airs Mondays on Fox, and more information can be found on the Fox website.