Why Fox’s Lucifer isn’t the new Constantine
Ivan Radford | On 25, Jan 2016
FOX’s new TV series, Lucifer, premieres this week. It joins a long line of comic book adaptations for the small screen – but this isn’t like the ones you’ve seen on Netflix or The CW. The main character of Lucifer? You guessed it: Satan himself.
It offers a refreshingly dark side to the superhero-stuffed universe that has so far graced our screens, partly thanks to it hailing from the DC Comics Vertigo label. In fact, the character of Lucifer originally comes from The Sandman by none other than Neil Gaiman, with Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg helping to bring him to life.
One comic book series that Lucifer does bear a similarity too, though, is Constantine. Constantine, an NBC show, was based on the character created by Alan Moore, Stephen R. Bissette and John Totleben. Constantine was a Vertigo hero as well. He, too, first appeared in another comic (The Saga of the Swamp Thing), before getting his own Hellblazer run. He also dabbled in the dark arts and the supernatural. And Constantine the series was produced by Warner Bros Television, who handle all of DC’s screen adaptations, including Lucifer, Arrow and The Flash. The two shows even share a witty protagonist played by a Welsh actor: Constantine starred Swansea’s Matt Ryan, while Lucifer stars Bangor’s Tom Ellis.
Like Constantine, Lucifer has been snapped up by Amazon for an exclusive release in the UK: Fox’s series will premiere on Amazon Prime Video tomorrow (Tuesday 26th January), with episodes arriving every week the day after their US broadcast.
Amazon and Fox, though, will be hoping Lucifer will not be like Constantine in every regard. Why? Because Constantine was cancelled by NBC last year, following poor ratings.
But this new series, which is Exec Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Jonathan Littman and created by Californication’s Tom Kapinos, has a secret up its sleeve.
Lucifer finds our fallen angel bored of being Lord of Hell. And so, Lucifer Morningstar has resigned his throne and retired to the City of Angels, where he owns an upscale piano bar called Lux. So far, so faithful to the comic books.
But Lucifer makes a departure from the page that could prove crucial. Constantine was accused by fans of doing the same thing, partly thanks to NBC’s policy on not showing him smoking on-screen, but as the show evolved, it became a surprisingly accurate take on the graphic novels, with episodes such as A Feast of Friends directly based on original issues. The damage was done, though, with the show caught in a limbo between potentially disinterested fans and a sea of newcomers not prepared to embrace the programme’s magical weirdness.
Now, as Marvel prepares to unleash Doctor Strange upon cinemas, audiences tastes for supernatural comic book entertainment may well have altered slightly. But Lucifer’s changes are more substantial that Constantine’s: Fox’s show sees Lucifer compelled to work LAPD homicide detective Chloe Dancer (Lauren German, Chicago Fire) to solve the mystery of a pop star’s murder outside his club.
God’s emissary on Earth, the angel Amenadiel (D.B. Woodside, Suits), is sent to L.A. to convince Lucifer to return to Hell, but (to his surprise and that of his best friend, Mazikeen, a fierce demon in the form of beautiful young woman) he finds himself having too much fun working with Dancer to bother listening to the man upstairs – and so he continues to hang in Los Angeles.
The comic books’ notions of free will and redemption are still present and correct, but forget the novels’ array of other realms. Those themes have been wrapped up in another form: a crime drama.
That Jerry Bruckheimer credit begins to make more sense now: JB’s TV arm has produced a range of TV shows in the past, from Cold Case and Without a Trace to CSI and its various spin-offs. The thing they have in common? They’re all crime procedurals.
“If you’re coming to Lucifer to see the comic book, you are not going to see it. Let it go,” Woodside told HitFix at Comic-Con. Neil Gaiman, meanwhile, has given the show’s version of his and Mike Carey’s characters his full blessing.
— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) May 9, 2015
While some hardcore fans may be disappointed, though – the pilot received applause at Comic-Con when it screened – there is a logic to Fox’s adaptation. Network TV isn’t really the home for dark, twisted comic book creations, not in their truest, most disturbing form. NBC found that one out. But what they are? The perfect place for good old cop shows.
Some of the longest-running TV shows of all time have been procedurals. Law & Order went for 20 seasons, behind only a 1950s Western, Gunsmoker, and The Simpsons. CSI enjoyed 15 seasons, the same as ER. NCIS has enjoyed 13 seasons on CBS and is still going, while Criminal Minds has clocked up 11 seasons and is still running too. In the UK scripted TV stakes, Taggart ran for a whopping 27 years, topped only by Casualty (28) and Last of the Summer Wine (37).
Even in 2015, mainstream audiences can’t get enough of them: Broadchurch has been a huge hit, but is essential still a procedural drama, while True Detective’s success built upon its genre foundations. Even Serial (and, post-Serial, Making a Murderer) tap into that same fascination we have with seeing people solve cases.
Lucifer, then, may not be the show some will expect, but it has the potential to connect with a hell of a lot more viewers than its damned DC Comics brother. One of them got the axe. Fox and Amazon will be praying this one’s got wings.
Lucifer premieres exclusively in the UK on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription, which also includes TV shows such as Black Sails, Vikings and The X-Files.