Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Pilot watch: Fox's LUCIFER

Wednesday, 12 August 2015


What's the premise? The Devil, 'Lucifer Morningstar' (Tom Ellis), abandons his responsibilities in Hell to run a nightclub in Los Angeles, before deciding to punish city criminals with the help of LAPD detective Chloe Dancer (Lauren German).

Who's behind it? Tom Kapinos (Californication) has developed the series, which is executive produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean) and Len Wiseman (Underworld)—who also directs this pilot. Lucifer is a very loose adaptation of the DC comic-books created by Neil Gaiman and Mike Carey, but only shares the basic setup.

Who's in it? Britain's own Tom Ellis (Miranda, Merlin) gets a second chance of Hollywood stardom, after the failure of his U.S medical drama Rush last year. Lauren German (Hostel: Part II) plays his mortal love interest with a badge and gun, with support from Lesley-Ann Brandt (Spartacus) as Lucifer's hellish confidant Maze, Kevin Alejandro (True Blood) as a homicide detective, D.B Woodside (24) as the angel Amenadiel sent to persuade The Devil into returning to Hell, and Rachael Harris (The Hangover) as Lucifer's therapist Linda.

What are your first impressions? The problem with most U.S pilots on the big mainstream networks is they're so ludicrously slavish to formula. Lucifer takes an ambitious idea from the febrile imagination of Neil Gaiman and reduces it to yet another cop show procedural—full of swooping cityscapes, loud Rn'B interstitial music, and two ridiculously attractive investigators whose sexual chemistry is intended to delight the masses. You could insert this episode's plot into any number of generic cop shows (past or present) and, beyond a few trailer-bait sequences designed to play up the gimmick of having The Devil incarnate solving crimes, it would work perfectly well.

It genuinely feels like there's a filing cabinet full of story templates in Hollywood somewhere, and every pilot season a writer just adjusts the conceptual framework around them.

Tom Ellis is as handsome and suave as this enticing part demands (exaggerating his own accent to heart-melting or irritating effect, depending on your taste), but I was hoping for an undercurrent of malevolence and mischief that's sorely lacking.

He's playing Beelzebub, so how can that have been overlooked? In this first hour, The Prince of Lies is already starting to care about people and has befriended a cute little girl. It would have been more interesting if we were uncertain about Lucifer's rationale for solving earthly crimes, and he was a more complex and untrustworthy figure. Instead, the show goes to great lengths to paint The Devil as just an irresponsible playboy type, whose dad (um, God) is upset about his extended vacation on Earth and rapidly running out of patience. So much so that he occasionally sends winged angel Amenadiel (essentially the same character Harold Perrineau played on Constantine) to try and coax Lucifer back to his job in the underworld. The sinful dead aren't being punished in the afterlife during Lucifer's absence from his throne, which is one of the few intriguing ramifications of the Devil's absence this pilot manages to communicate.

Another odd decision is making Lucifer immortal, and thus impervious to physical violence and pain. That removes the tension of every scene when he's putting himself in danger. And while there's a certain pleasure from seeing Lucifer confidently stroll into a gangster's home and openly disrespect him with relish, or walk in front of an oncoming car crash without flinching, I'd rather feel like he was putting himself at risk whilst being blasé in perilous situations. Why not make him immortal but not invulnerable? Or mortal like everyone else, frankly?

A little better is Lucifer's innate ability to make people tell him their darkest desires and secrets, which is a talent vague enough to make his investigations trickier than just compelling various suspects to speak "the truth". But it's still a clear shortcut for whenever the writers get themselves in a knot and need a 'break in the case' to take the story to the next phase.

What's the prognosis? There's an audience for silly shows like this, which is why they keep getting made in slightly different guises every few years. Lucifer is basically Sleepy Hollow (debonair Englishman partnered with gutsy female cop) with a dose of Angel (a supernatural creature solves L.A crime while driving around in a swanky convertible). The camera clearly loves Ellis, who keeps this pilot simmering despite its strict adherence to the process, but he's more 'the new Ioan Gruffudd' than 'the next Hugh Laurie'.

When does it premiere? Lucifer isn't expected to air on Fox until mid-season in the U.S. There's no UK broadcaster yet, but it feels like something Sky1 or E4 would buy.