They say seeing is believing. In which case you have to see Lucifer to believe what it’s done to its lead character.
Fox’s new show, which premieres exclusively on Amazon Prime Video in the UK every Tuesday following its US broadcast, is based on the stories published under DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint, which originated with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. That graphic, novel source material is the kind of thing that can make any viewer sit up and pay attention – providing those things are actually present on screen. The problem with Lucifer is that they aren’t.
Here, the prince of darkness has gotten bored of being in Hell and decided to move to Los Angeles instead, where he runs a piano bar called Lux – a stylish place full of drink, dancing and thematically appropriate music, such as Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked. It’s a nice set-up, with director Len Wiseman’s camera channeling the club’s sass into some seductively glossy visuals. But while there are neat discussions about what will happen to Hell without Lucifer, the script (by Californication’s Tom Kapinos) doesn’t really seem to be that interested in the philosophical side of things.
The series arrives hot on the heels of Constantine, a similar, occult-oriented show based on another Vertigo comic (Hellblazer). Like NBC’s series, which starred Swansea’s own Matt Ryan, Lucifer also boasts a Welshman in the titular role: Bangor-born Tom Ellis. It even shares Amazon as its UK TV home. But where Constantine remained faithful to its dark, magical roots, Lucifer gives up the unholy ghost to become something else entirely: a police procedural.
That change is no accident: the excellent Constantine was, tragically, cancelled last year, after not building a large enough fanbase. Lucifer, while it may not win favour with all fans of the original comics, is a safer option for network TV, with its crime-of-the-week formula more likely to win over mainstream viewers.
That change aside, then, how does Lucifer fare as a generic cop drama?
It’s a mixed bag, mainly because the script struggles to build a compelling case for Satan to solve. After all, this is the lord of Hell. The anti-God. The big, red guy with the pitchfork and horns. He has a gift, we discover, for getting people to tell him the truth – a premise that proves invaluable for a police investigation, but also renders it completely redundant.
The cast bring a certain promise to proceedings. Lauren German is compelling as Chloe Dancer, the LAPD detective who turns out to be immune to his dark powers – despite a saucy past involving an adult movie that Lucifer (and everyone else) seems to have seen. Lesley-Ann Brandt is wasted as his friend Maze, although there are nine more episodes on the way in which that can easily change. D.B. Woodside, meanwhile, swoops in every now and then as angel Amenadiel to order Lucifer back home – a role that feels like a carbon copy of the Basil Exposition angel Harold Perrineau played in Constantine.
And so the show hangs, inevitably, on Ellis. He doesn’t disappoint, swanning around with all the confidence of evil incarnate; you can almost believe that his smile is enough to leave women (like Rachael Harris’ amusing therapist, Linda) almost literally gagging for it. He even sells the convenient chemistry with German’s Chloe.
Tom Ellis is so engaging that you’d watch him sitting around doing nothing. Which is fortunate, because aside from smouldering, sipping booze and venting his daddy issues, the script gives him nothing to do: he simply walks up to suspects, demands the truth from them, and moves on to the next. With such power, the idea of a crime procedural soon loses its edge – with that power on hand, why would the process take any other form?
There are the occasional glimpses of something more intriguing, as Lucifer delivers lines on how he shouldn’t be blamed for the sins people commit – it’s a neat piece of characterisation that he never lies to anyone, instead bluntly sticking to the truth. The most promising moment arrives when he interacts with Chloe’s daughter, Trixie, and interferes with a moment of classroom bullying – a rare demonstration of his demonic skills – but that only serves to remind how bland the rest of his environment is. Ellis makes Lucifer just about worth seeing, but you won’t believe in it just yet.
Lucifer is available exclusively in the UK on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription, with new episodes arriving every Tuesday.