Fox’s Lucifer proves that despite their ubiquity, comic book adaptations far from a guaranteed success.
Like most DC Comics shows, Lucifer was rewritten to fit the formula of episodic crime drama. This strategy worked well for The Flash (starring a forensic investigator), Supergirl (whose monster-of-the-week storylines are executed with textbook efficiency), and even Gotham (America’s craziest cop show). Less so for Lucifer, which turned the all-powerful Lord of Hell into yet another charming-but-amoral crimefighter, one of the most overcrowded subgenres on TV.
Following the premise of the comics, Lucifer hangs up his pitchfork and retires to L.A., where he runs a piano bar full of bored supermodels in vaguely gothic minidresses. Lead actor Tom Ellis brings a sleazy kind of charisma to the role, although his drawling English accent makes him sound less like a demonic overlord and more like he’s on a “gap yah” away from Daddy’s country estate.
Thanks to its supposedly Satanic content, Lucifer has already inspired backlash from conservative Christian groups. But watching the first episode, it’s hard to spot anything remotely transgressive—even by the standards of network TV. Aside from his superhuman ability to reveal people’s darkest desires, Lucifer is just a rich white guy who bribes and charms his way out of being arrested for minor crimes. Here are some of the dastardly and salacious acts he commits in episode one:
- Bribing a traffic cop to avoid a speeding ticket.
- Lighting a cigarette in an elementary school.
- Ostentatiously hitting on every woman he meets.
- Using the word “hooker” in front of a 7-year-old.
- Picking the lock on a pair of handcuffs.
Admittedly, he also hangs a guy over a balcony during an interrogation. But aside from that, Lucifer is about as Satanic as a rebellious middle-schooler.
Like so many antiheroes before him, Lucifer is motivated by the death of a woman. When his former employee Delilah gets shot outside his nightclub, he decides to help the police track down her killer. This creates the perfect setup for a classic odd-couple partnership, although his attachment to Delilah is a little hard to swallow. He is, after all, the former Lord of Hell.
Lucifer partners up with LAPD detective Chloe Decker (Lauren German), a beautiful, no-nonsense cop who may well have been drawn directly from the TV Tropes archive. Their relationship is where the show really begins to strain credulity, because there’s no clear explanation for why Decker tolerates Lucifer’s presence at all. She’s immune to his powers (which Lucifer finds fascinating, of course), yet still allows him to tag along while investigating Delilah’s murder—even though from her perspective, Lucifer must seem like an annoying pervert at best and a delusional criminal at worst.
Based purely on Lauren German’s performance, Decker warms to Lucifer over the course of the episode. Unfortunately, this makes no sense whatsoever in the context of the story—much like NBC’s Constantine, another DC Comics antihero who is meant to be a solo act.
As a dark fantasy series that drew its inspiration from Paradise Lost, the original Lucifer comics would have been a hard sell for network TV. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with turning Lucifer into a cop show, especially given the lead character’s obvious obsession with justice and punishment. The problem is that it’s not a good cop show, and the whole thing is filmed through a smog of lowkey misogyny, far less self-aware than showrunner Tom Kapinos’s previous project, Californication.
This is Lie To Me without the showboating; Castle without the emotional warmth; Sherlock without the smarts or the aesthetic appeal. And after Constantine opened on a similar note last year, it’s hard to feel optimistic about improvement later in the season.
Photo via Lucifer/Fox