UK TV review: Stan Lee’s Lucky Man (Episodes 1 and 2)
Ivan Radford | On 22, Jan 2016
Marvel is everywhere these days, from big cinema blockbusters to even your Netflix subscription. Is it sheer financial clout? Unbeatable quality? Pure good luck? One of the reasons is certainly Stan Lee, the guy who has helped create decades’ worth of characters sporting a variety of colourful spandex.
This year, though, he’s doing something entirely new: a TV show. Lucky Man, the 93-year-old’s first small-screen creation for the UK, asks a simple question: what if you could control luck?
That’s the conundrum facing DI Harry Clayton (James Nesbitt), a policeman in London’s Murder Investigation Squad who is on one heck of a losing run. A gambler who’s too used to seeing the wrong side of the coin, he’s already lost his home and family to a compulsive cards habit. And, to top it off, even his favourite casino won’t let him lose there anymore – he owes them too much money.
One night, though, Harry meets Eve (Sienna Guillory), and the tables turn – he wins big, only to find himself waking up in the morning with a bracelet stuck to his wrist. The Bangle of Destiny, as it isn’t called but probably should be just because of how ridiculous it is, keeps his serendipitous streak going. Suddenly, everything’s going his way. He becomes a natural at out-hustling street hustlers. CCTV footage cuts out at opportune moments. Even unwanted enemies turn up dead.
It’s a pattern that could get very old very quickly, as we see Harry escape from increasingly impossible situations, but if the contrived nature of coincidence irritates, it’s also at the heart of what makes the show work: Clayton has a power, but it’s not one that changes him; he’s not invincible, he’s not strong and he’s certainly not smart. Most importantly, he’s not a hero.
Nesbitt, who not too long ago played Jekyll and Hyde in Steven Moffat’s modern update of the tale, is perfect for the part, able to strut about like a fortuitous peacock but still bring the darker side of his character into play: it’s not long before we discover that Clayton’s also being eyed up by internal affairs over accusations of corruption, something not helped by his connection to the dead body sitting outside the local betting parlour. While we may not necessarily root for Harry, the fact that he’s a dodgy human being makes him far more interesting to watch than an invulnerable super soldier with a cape.
The rest of the cast are equally ambiguous, from Stephen Hagan as his charismatic, almost-but-not-quite-dodgy brother (he trades antiques), to Lily-Anne Lau as Jing, the daughter of the casino’s boss, with a enticing mix of noble loyalty and dangerous ambition. Even Clayton’s rival, DI Steve Orwell (played by the always-brilliant Darren Boyd), who is on the side of truth and justice, still comes across like a prick.
Those shades of grey suggest intriguing potential for future subplots, but they also ground the preposterous action, which proves essential as the first two episodes unfold; Sky’s big budget doesn’t cut any corners, allowing Lee’s action-packed drama to feature such set pieces as a boat chase along the River Thames, the kind of thing that would normally be reserved for a James Bond film. The direction, meanwhile, is as dynamic as you could want, keeping your eyeballs on their toes as much as Clayton has to run on his.
The running part stems from the fact that Harry’s also being hunted by shady-looking people – because no superhero story would be complete without shady-looking people interested in our hero’s superhuman ability. Those sinister figures may never feel fully threatening, but that’s ok: the threat is really coming from Clayton himself. As he tries to wriggle out of the spotlight of suspicion, it becomes clear that there’s no guarantee he will use the Bracelet of Destiny for good – no matter what we’re told by Eve (who makes a second appearance, hopefully putting her on track to be more than just a two-dimensional object of mystery).
That duality, combined with the sheer rate at which the stakes start to climb, leaves you second-guessing Clayton every step of the way – and when was the last time you said that about a comic book hero? Sooner or later, you suspect, Harry’s luck must run out. As Stan Lee makes his token cameo, though, it looks like this Marvel veteran’s good fortune hasn’t stopped just yet.
Lucky Man is available to watch on-demand through Sky Box Sets. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it live and on-demand on NOW, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription. A 7-day free trial is available for new subscribers.