You can probably count the number of British superheroes on the fingers of one hand. You can certainly count the number of British superhero television shows on one stump. Seemingly not content with dominating multiplexes around the globe with Avengers, Guardians and whatnot and flooding various networks and streaming services with their high-quality brethren, sprightly 93 year old Stan Lee has now turned his attention to little old Blighty with Lucky Man. Or rather Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, to give it it’s full title.
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Episode One of Stan Lee’s Lucky Man
Harry Clayton, Detective Inspector for ‘London Police’, is a man under pressure. With a serious gambling habit, a recent and painful separation from his barrister wife and having an utter bastard as his superior officer, D.I. Clayton is not a happy man. Especially when his debt of £150k is called in by Mr Yang, boss of the underground Chinese gambling den he frequents. So Clayton does what any worthwhile tv detective in his position would do; he drinks some whiskey, frowns a lot and sets about trying to clear his gambling debts – by gambling. It’s then that his luck begins to change. A young and beautiful femme fatal sidles up, works as a lucky charm and Clayton is quickly £75k up. Then just as quickly, he’s in bed with her. Smash cut to the morning, the girl has gone, Clayton is wearing an odd looking bangle (cue a serious 1980’s sound jingle at it’s every sight), Yang is found murdered, thus cancelling his debt, and a black cat saves him from being crushed by a pile of bricks. Yes really.
How much Stan Lee does it take to make a Stan Lee show? Not much it seems. Series show-runner and writer Neil Biswas has said in interviews that Lee‘s involvement was:
“…basically just a one pager, setting out the idea, setting out a very simple form of the idea of this character – Harry Clayton – a homicide detective in London. He’s a compulsive gambler who’s falling apart – his family have left him, he’s losing a lot of his personal life, his professional life is under threat as well. And he’s suddenly given a lucky charm one night and it changes his luck.”
Lee himself has stated that, “They [Sky’s production team] went back to England to do the work. I stayed here (in L.A.) to take the credit.” Nice work if you can get it. But without Marvel Godfather Lee‘s name in the title, the whole premise could seem a trifle silly. A magic piece of jewellery? Luck as a superpower? It’s testament to the sprightly 93 year old Lee that his involvement and name above the door can make such a show seem appealing, at least at first.
Any show of this kind should has to follow some clichés for it to be accepted by the viewing masses, but Lucky Man takes every single one and then some. So Clayton is washed-up, a maverick, indulged by his colleagues and almost-ex wife, drives a mint classic car (here it’s a BMW), works in a police station that looks like a hipster’s spa and gets lucky with women half his age and four times as good looking. London is shot to look glassy and glossy and very American but the end result feels cheap and shiny. For some reason, London always looks better gloomy and grimy and wet; Luthor‘s city always feels right, and Luthor drives a knackered old boat of a Volvo, which seems very fitting.
That’s not to say Lucky Man isn’t without it’s charms. James Nesbitt is excellent casting, a true everyman who’s lilting Irish brogue has always been warm and comforting. He has some good lines as well, notably, “You’d be a smartarse if you were smart” and the couldn’t-be-more-British response to the news that his magic bracelet bestows luck on the wearer – “Well, that’s shite”. The supporting cast, especially in Britsh tv stalwart Steven Mackintosh, shines and enough plot is laid out to make a compelling case to keep watching.
Yet it can’t help but feel exactly what it is; A Brit tv show trying it’s best to look and feel like one of the big boys from across the pond. That’s a failing, and never more so than in the pointless speedboat chase across the River Thames that closes episode one; it feels tacked on and looks like a sub-Bond action scene filmed on an iPhone. But it’s got enough going for it, chiefly Nesbitt and is a somewhat welcome relief from the hard, dark and moody output of the likes of Jessica Jones, Daredevil and their ilk. What’s more, this is a completely original premise that doesn’t stem from a comic book or any other property, a rare thing these days, and you’ve got to admit that the superpower of luck is very a very intriguing one.
Next week’s episode promises chases, bad guys after the bracelet and more luck coming the way of D.I. Clayton. Just remember there’s bad luck as well as good.
Stan Lee’s Lucky Man airs on Sky One, Fridays, 9pm GMT.