This Lucifer review contains spoilers.
Lucifer: Season 1, Episode 1
Fox’s new show, Lucifer, has a lot going for it. Who wouldn’t want to see the devil as a vigilante detective sleuthing his way around Los Angeles, tempting the guilty and innocent alike with his smarmy charisma? It’s a great idea on paper, but the premise falls a bit flat in its execution. While there’s a lot to love about the premiere — Tom Ellis in the titular role being the first reason — there’s a lot more that holds this show back from greatness, at least in its first episode.
I appreciate the notion that Lucifer simply grew tired of Hell and decided to open an L.A. nightclub. I mean, sure, why the hell not. And sure he drives a nice car and dresses well and speaks with an English accent, because, again, why not. And much like Miracle on 34th Street’s Kris Kringle, Lucifer makes no bones about hiding who he really is — it’s up to those around him to accept who he claims to be at face value. But he’s not evil in the traditional sense; his time among humans isn’t to torment them so much as to seduce them into revealing (and often indulging) their basest desires. Occasionally he can coax people into revealing ugly truths about themselves. Again, not very evil, but Lucifer’s intent is not to be evil — otherwise he would have remained in Hell, making short work of weak-minded sinners.
One could argue he’s caught between two worlds — a being who is neither truly quite evil nor truly good. Whatever hell he resides in is one of his own devising, an existential one that plagues him with self-doubt. In other words, he’s more human now than not, and more humane, too. Why else would the devil care one whit about a troubled singer named Delilah, encouraging her to turn her life around before it’s too late. Delilah agrees, only to be gunned down minutes later in a drive-by shooting. It’s at this point that Lucifer Morningstar finds his new purpose in this life — to track down those responsible for Delilah’s murder. And it’s also here that the show begins to lose its way.
The issue here is not that Lucifer should be the embodiment of pure malevolence. He wasn’t portrayed that way in the Vertigo comics the character is drawn from, first appearing in the Neil Gaiman-penned The Sandman before getting his own spinoff series, written by Mike Carey. Indeed, this Lucifer is more of a spoiled, entitled child who no longer wants to play by his father’s rules. That being said, the issue here is while Lucifer may be charismatic to the nth degree, he doesn’t strike me as intelligent. This isn’t to say he’s not clever, because he most certainly is. But he’s not smart. And by that I mean he’s not smart enough. As I watched the pilot, I kept thinking of Dr. Gregory House, another unconventional detective of sorts.
During the run of his series, Hugh Laurie’s House demonstrated time and again that he possessed a keen understanding of what made people tick — or not tick, as was often the case. And in my mind, that’s the key to a good devil — not only should he understand the inner workings of the human heart, he should strive to undermine earnest desires even as he exploits them. Gregory House excelled at getting under people’s skin — it didn’t matter if he was rankling coworkers or patients. His Hippocratic Oath compelled him to save others, even if he could barely stand to be around them. He was a misanthrope who healed people by revealing the worst of them in the process.
One thing Lucifer gets right is making its protagonist flawed. He suffers from moments of existential crisis, questioning his place in the world, caring for those he would have just as soon as oppressed. We also get to see brief moments of the fire and brimstone lurking beneath Tom Ellis’s sleek, handsome exterior. He’s not above threatening a child, or getting a vapid, two-timing A-lister to reveal his infidelity.
Another thing the show gets right is throwing Mr. Morningstar up against someone who can’t be taken in by his charms, namely LAPD officer Chloe Decker. A former actress known for baring too much in a lowbrow comedy, Chloe is now a cop with something to prove. On the face of it, this is a trope that begs us not to care for her character, and yet Lauren German brings a taut resolve to Chloe that pairs well with Lucifer’s devil-may-care attitude. They both want to solve Delilah’s murder, but they have different ways of going about it. And here, again, is where the show stumbles.
Lucifer and Chloe cross paths several times throughout the episode, more out of convenience than anything else. While the show is not called Chloe for a reason, I still wanted to know about her — as a person and as a cop. We do get glimpses into her life — she has an irresponsible ex-husband and a preternaturally cute seven-year-old. Chloe also has a motive for delving deeper into what is perceived as an open-and-shut homicide, namely, she wants to win back her department’s respect for a case gone wrong.
For viewers to understand that she is, in fact, a good detective, we need to see her thought process as she slowly connects the dots that lead to Delilah’s true killer. That’s the bread and butter of any good procedural show — the sussing out of facts, the parsing of evidence. But we really don’t get that with Chloe. We really don’t get that with Lucifer, either. He just barges his way from one scene to the next.
One thing I liked about Chloe was how she simply did not buy into Lucifer’s string of B.S. But just like Natalie Wood’s Susan Walker in Miracle on 34th Street, her lingering skepticism finally gives way to wide-eyed acceptance of the truth. I’m not quite as ready to acquiesce to this show’s glitzy charms just yet. I need to see more of Chloe’s resilience and more of the devil’s failings before Lucifer completely wins me over.
Some closing thoughts:
The Matrix had its Bullet Time and this show has what I might describe as Angel Time. I liked the time dilation every time the angel Amenadiel showed up to reprimand his wayward brother. We got to see Amenadiel flex his wings, a sight that made me long for the now-cancelled Syfy series Dominion.
I like Maze, a demon who followed Lucifer out of Hell and who is now tending bar in his nightclub. She is the devil on his shoulder, reminding him of his former glory and making sure he doesn’t become too much like the humans he’s so fond of mingling with.