Everybody loves a bad boy, and they don’t come worse than the devil himself, Lucifer Morningstar, bored with his position as the Lord of Hell and come to Earth to seek entertainment – after all, idle hands do the devil’s work, and where better than the City of Angels for find eager sinners and all their complications…
Developed by Californication‘s Tom Kapinos and based on the character created by Neil Gaiman in Sandman and developed by Mike Carey for his own comic book series, the pilot episode has been written by Kapinos and is directed by Len Wiseman, known primarily for the Underworld series but also Live Free or Die Hard and the poorly received 2012 remake of Total Recall.
As played by Doctor Who and The Secret of Crickley Hall’s Tom Ellis, Lucifer is terribly British, flirtatious, occasionally badly behaved and utterly accustomed to getting away with being naughty because people assume he’s from out of town.
What he’s not so good at is keeping a low profile, rolling along in his classic car with the top down, music blaring and pursued by a police officer on his motorbike who pulls him over, prompting Lucifer to immediately try to bribe him. The police officer indignantly refuses, but Lucifer persists.
“You people are funny about your laws, aren’t you?” he asks and presses his advantage. Like Ignatius Perrish of Horns, people confess to him, “Those deep, dark naughty little desires that are on their mind.” Revealed, the police officer accepts the bribe and lets Lucifer go on his way…
While the television gold standard has become the prestige productions of HBO and the subscription offerings of Netflix and Amazon where it is understood that the audience will be making an investment which allows the showrunners to tease and slowly unveil their premise, initially broadcasting on Fox this is an “old school” pilot which lays out the backstory and characters, their relationships and the style in which the show will roll with the urgency of one who has an eye on the clock.
As a consequence, the episode is frontloaded with exposition; arriving at his nightclub, Lux, Lucifer is less than enthusiastic about a visitation from his surly brother, Amenadiel (Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s D B Woodside). Playing messenger boy may not be a role which the angel enjoys, but that resentment won’t stop him throwing his weight around and commanding Lucifer to return to his place in Hell.
The man upstairs wants balance to be maintained and for everyone to play by his rules and not rock the boat; unfortunately that kind of disruptive behaviour is exactly what got Lucifer thrown out of the pearly gates in the first place, but with history very much having been written by the victors, Lucifer is not what his reputation in the good book would suggest.
While he may be mischievous and is certainly not a fallen angel to be crossed, he genuinely cares about many of the humans around him, and when a friend to whom he gave a first foot on the steep ladder of fame is gunned down in his arms, he is determined to find out why, much to the consternation of the lead detective on the case, Chloe Dancer (Chicago Fire’s Lauren German) and her senior officer/ex-husband Dan (True Blood’s Kevin Alejandro).
A simple investigation where the lead has a supernatural skill to extract the truth but whose power has defined limitations, there are aspects to Lucifer which remind of Pushing Daisies but without the glorious surrealism and verbal acrobatics of that much missed show, and while Ellis is charming and pretty it feels frothy and inconsequential so far, especially considering the recent adaptations offered by Netflix of Marvel properties Daredevil and Jessica Jones.
Based on a single episode, there are indications of at least two potential ongoing storylines: that of Chloe, her bad reputation within the department and her immunity to Lucifer, and the reasons why Amenadiel is so adamant that Lucifer must come to heel, but beyond developing these it will also need to find its own voice if it is to be heard.
Chloe is also curious for another reason: her name. With a reference to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a character who used the pseudonym Penny Lane and of course Chloe Dancer herself, it seems one of the production team is a fan of the work of Cameron Crowe, scriptwriter of Fast Times and writer/director of both Almost Famous featuring Kate Hudson’s “band aid” Penny Lane and Singles, which prominently featured the Mother Love Bone song Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns.
The soundtrack is always key to a Crowe film, and that sensibility is also apparent with Lucifer where David Bowie and Beck are featured prominently, the latter conspicuously cutting out before the chorus so only the cool kids who already know the song are in on the joke, and when Lucifer visits the crib of a rap artist and calls his music “Godwaful” he means it in the literal sense.
Originally modelled on Bowie’s appearance at the request of Gaiman, the direct approach of the dark and stubbled Tom Ellis could not be further from the pale charms and abstract ambiguity of the Thin White Duke, but it is he who drives the episode and so far he is only matched by the joy of Rachael Harris as the uninhibited therapist Linda Martin whose requests for remuneration from her new client are far from professional.
Ellis’ performance is much more mannered than that of the rest of the cast, but originating from a different plane of existence, that’s only to be expected, and with little regard for social norms and wildly inappropriate with children he is so far entertaining but the show is yet to distinguish itself as special.
There’s no hard edge, and so far getting the truth is too easy for the Prince of Lies, less of an investigation than a join-the-dots. While a full season of twelve episodes has been confirmed a serious question is how Lucifer will fare on the notoriously demanding Fox network considering that Constantine, a stylistically and thematically similar comic book adaptation, died a death after only one season on NBC.
Lucifer premieres on Monday 25th January and will be available in the UK via Amazon Prime the following day, Tuesday 26th January