For the first five minutes there, it looked like Lucifer was going to do something interesting. The new Fox series, tangentially based on the Neil Gaiman version of the character from Sandman, opens with the suave, literally devil-make-care Lucifier, played by Tom Ellis, whiling away his time in an L.A. nightclub having grown bored of his role as Hell’s grim tyrant. This Devil isn’t evil so much as practical, he just wants people to live up to their nature, like the pretty young singer/actress he “helped” to fame and fortune. But when she’s killed in a hail of bullets, Lucifer, figuratively, goes to Hell.
It’s my sad duty to report that Lucifer, like half the shows on TV, is about an insightful though idiosyncratic police consultant, and the tough, accomplished female cop that tolerates his insanity because he closes cases. If you’ve seen The Mentalist, Castle or Limitless, then you know where this is going, except the consultant is Satan. It’s a tribute to the versatility of the art form that you can plunk the Devil into a police procedural and just go with it, but because of that, Lucifer takes some serious hits on the grounds of inventiveness.
That’s not to say there isn’t some good stuff in Lucifer, and it mostly has to do with Ellis, who’s Lucifer is more of a Doc Martin-type curmudgeon than a demon plotting the downfall of civilization. More than that, this Devil is cynical; his ability to make people spill their secrets and deepest desires is the only thing that gives him amusement anymore. Ellis clearly relishes the chance to play a character that doesn’t feel bound by social niceties, evasions or politeness, and he looks good speeding down the Los Angeles freeways in a convertible. That was previously established in Ellis’ previous series’ Rush, in which he played a cynical doctor with poor social skills. He also like night clubs.
Lucifer meets his match though in Detective Chloe Dancer (Lauren German) who’s officially investigating the murder of the singer for the LAPD, and seems mysteriously immune to Lucifer’s gifts. Like all lead lady cops, she’s pretty, determined, and of above average skill as an investigator, which naturally turns off other cops, including her ex (played by Kevin Alejandro), forcing her to work alone. Although Ellis and German have good chemistry, it’s just sad that writer/creator Tom Kapinos (Californication) went full throttle with the tired and true procedural format, especially when the look and feel of the show, provided well by Underworld director Len Wiseman, has cable ambitions.
Still, is the show going to stick to that tired and true case-of-the-week format? It seems that there are other things going in the background, like the angel Amenadiel (D.B. Woodside) popping by to remind Lucifer that he’s got a job to do. Wiseman creates a pretty sweet effect when Amenadiel appears, slowing down all the surrounding action, as if he and Lucifer step out of time for a minute. On the other hand maybe it was just transference, listening to the slo-mo version of David Bowie’s “Fame” brought back nostalgic memories of listening to my Walkman as the batteries ran out.
Hopefully Woodside, who’s a decent supporting player when given something to chew on, will be allowed to do more each week than be Lucifer’s nag, doomed to show up once an episode to tell Lucifer to go back to Hell, only to be rebuffed with the promise to return next week because God’s only going to put up with his nonsense for so long… Not helping the case is that the pilot doesn’t allow Lucifer to articulate his reasons for vacating his post, nor does it explain why he’s fine basically doing the same job as a criminal consultant on Earth: punishing the guilty.
Unlike most supernatural shows, Lucifer doesn’t care about people knowing that he’s the Devil. He’s quite blatant about it in fact. Out of this are rare moments of life in the show, whether it’s Lucifer waving off an frightened priest crossing himself, or the quixotic looks on the face of Dancer when he talks to her about being immortal. Another weirdly engaging moment involved Dancer’s daughter Trixie (Scarlett Estevez) making friends with Lucifer, which sounds like it belongs in some stupid family sitcom from the 90s (“Everybody Loves Satan”?), but Ellis is so endearingly irritable in those scenes with the adorable Estevez. It’s almost like Dennis the Menace and Satanic Mr. Wilson.
Having said all that, I’m not particularly looking forward to checking out more Lucifer. I have no interest in watching the Devil solve crimes, I have no interest in seeing the Devil visit his horny therapist weekly, I have no interest in seeing some random angel “tsk, tsk” Lucifer weekly for not doing his job, and, most importantly, I have no interesting watching another cop show with a quirkily mismatched set of investigators. The X-Files is back, the modern prototype for these kinds of shows, and to team Lucifer up with it seems a little on the nose.