This review contains spoilers.
1.2 Lucifer, Stay. Good Devil
They say that the devil is in the detail. See what I did there? Of course you did. Having watched episode 2 of Lucifer, you’ll be more than familiar with the self-referential style the show embraces. From the lead character’s cute quips (“it’s called a Devil’s Threesome for a reason”) to the soundtrack and even smart little visual gags such as the Apple of Temptation, Lucifer is all about making us aware of The Devil’s pervasiveness in the very heart of our world through throwaway pop culture punnery and clever iconography.
There’s no doubting that it’s clever… but does that make it wise? Finding ways to squeeze in references to ‘Old Scratch’ (his favourite handle, apparently) as a source of entertainment is effective enough now, just two episodes in, but stretch to two series when all the best allusions have been done and you have to wonder if it won’t begin to feel a trifle tired. That old maxim about the devil getting all the best lines? That only holds water if there are good lines left to have.
Of course, all of this won’t matter a jot (Tom Ellis’ unimprovable Englishness rubbing off on me there) if Lucifer is able to bring something else to the table. Pathos, laughs, drama: it matters not as long as the show has something else beyond the limited scope offered by finding a way to include a writer’s room laundry list of devil references.
Sadly, that’s where the jury is still very much out. The devil really is in the detail… or at least that’s where he should be. While Lucifer demonstrated an ability this week to begin to address some of the really interesting questions that lie at the heart of the show’s promising concept, it never fully engaged with these ‘existential dilemmas’. Instead, it opted to curtail their development in favour of retreating into simple salaciousness or fun little vignettes that placed the character into interesting contexts. While these little encounters (such as the battle of wills with the charlatan preacher) were entertaining enough, they can’t hide the core problem with Lucifer: its police procedural format is terribly banal, a problem perpetuated by the fact that there’s something much more interesting just below the surface. Sadly, as yet, the show seems unwilling to explore those intriguing hidden depths.
Tom Ellis continued to impress as the lead character; without his seemingly endless reserves of carefree charm, the show would be in very deep trouble so early in its run. One particularly sticky wicket however, is the sorry CG that they employ in an attempt to show his true nature. Ellis is clearly proving himself to be a fine Lucifer, so take a lead from best parts of Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate and let the guy chew some scenery to scare the living daylights out of us mere mortals. Anything’s better than the pitiful Red Skull impression or worse, those silly red eyes. The Simpsons’ Ned Flanders made a better Lord of Darkness in the scare stakes than Ellis so far, although that is clearly no fault of his own.
On the plus side, he does do humour exceptionally well: the moment where he threw Trixie’s doll and stood puzzled by the fact that she hadn’t scampered to retrieve it was pure gold. Lucifer has begun to show that it can deal with these recycled tropes in engaging if (as yet) unoriginal ways. The central problem continues to be the show’s reliance on a tired format when it has so much else to offer.
With the show seemingly content to glide along with a series of glibly scripted exchanges set amidst glossy, aspirational backdrops, it’s hard not to imagine how different things could have been had the character’s original creators been involved. I don’t say that to beat the show over the head with its source material: that wouldn’t be fair and it’s clear that Lucifer is setting itself up to be a very different beast to the comic book. The point though is still valid: involving Gaiman or Carey is just one avenue that the showrunners could have pursued to get a better read of the universe that Lucifer inhabits. That said, if early reports are to be believed, the show does begin to address some of the thorny theological questions that tantalisingly sit at its centre – but not it seems, until significantly further into the season. Whether viewers will still be around by then is anyone’s guess.
Read DC’s review of the previous episode, Pilot, here.