Fans of Oh God, You Devil! will remember that Satan once spent 97 minutes investing deeply in the musical career of Ted Wass.
Keep that in mind when you’re watching Fox’s new drama Lucifer (premiering Monday), because somewhere along the way, you’re very likely to find yourself wondering if this is the least interesting thing Beelzebub has ever done while killing time on the mortal plane.
Lucifer (Tom Ellis), an angel cast out of Heaven and condemned to rule Hell, has decided to take a vacation and in Lucifer, he’s using that vacation to work as a civilian consultant to the LAPD — which is, I begrudgingly admit, better than that time that Death took a holiday and even though he looked like Brad Pitt, he spent three hours sampling peanut butter.
Adapted by Tom Kapinos from a Vertigo comic series in which Old Scratch similarly owns and operates a bar but doesn’t also solve mortal crimes, Lucifer arrives with all of the superficial flash you’d expect from a Len Wiseman-directed pilot. But after falling into the Fox “quirky civilian contractor(s) aid law enforcement” rut, this new drama doesn’t begin to show sparks of interest until at least the fifth episode.
See, Lucifer is bored. He’s bored in Hell, but he’s also bored in Los Angeles. But detective Chloe Decker (Lauren German) shows up investigating the murder of a semi-friend, Lucifer immediately senses something different about her — namely that she’s immune to his charms. He’s also at least curious about the dangerous world of detecting and soon he’s helping out, even though she initially can’t stand him and doesn’t believe that he’s the actual Devil. Lucifer’s gift is that he can trigger the hidden desires of anybody, other than Chloe Dancer, and he can compel the truth from any subject. He’s basically a more refined, slightly more supernatural version of Tim Roth’s character on Lie to Me, another of Fox’s beloved quirky civilian contractor(s) aiding law enforcement.
Lucifer annoys Chloe, captivates her young daughter Trixie (Scarlett Estevez) and threatens Chloe’s detective ex Dan (Kevin Alejandro) in exactly the way that any rational person would be threatened if their ex and their daughter started spending excessive amounts of time with Satan. Lucifer is also intriguing to therapist Linda (Rachael Harris), who soon enters into a counseling-for-sex deal with Lucifer.
Finally, Lucifer’s absence from Hell is concerning a few people, particularly faithful minion Maze (Lesley-Ann Brandt) and suave angel Amenadiel (D.B. Woodside), who wants Lucifer back in the Underworld for implied reasons.
Fox sent the first, fourth and fifth episodes of Lucifer to critics, and it’s only the fifth episode in which the show begins to make any real acknowledgment that the idea of the Devil on Earth ought to have theological ramifications and that if the Devil is going to bother going to a shrink, he ought to have some issues, daddy issues in particular. The fifth episode, while not spectacular, offers hope of bigger-picture ambitions for Lucifer, since almost nothing could be smaller than the case-of-the-week procedural shenanigans plaguing the wheel-spinning earlier episodes.
Up until that point, appreciation of Lucifer relies on exactly one thing and one thing only: If you find Ellis irresistibly appealing, you’ll watch him do anything, and just as most Los Angelenos are powerless in the face of Lucifer’s gaze, I don’t doubt some viewers will be as well. But consider me the Chloe Dancer in this analogy, because I was entirely cold. This isn’t Ellis’ fault, because when he’s used better in that now-overhyped fifth episode — it’s better, but not good — I saw his potential as a leading man, but the Lucifer of the earlier episodes is little more than a dick and not in some epic way. I get that Lucifer is rejecting the good/evil, God/Devil binaries, but when you diminish Lucifer to a minor irritant and place him in a world in which people are actually aware that Lucifer is a name for the Devil, you’re left with a steady string of banal dialogue like, “You know Lucifer, this is serious” or “Wait in the car, Lucifer,” which hits with the sort of giggles Bates Motel falls prey to whenever somebody tells Norman Bates to go do his homework or change the sheets. Certain names just can’t be slipped into normal conversations without losing the moment. Ellis coasts on a British accent and a smile and delivers every line like it ought to be clever, so when it’s not, that only makes the character look worse. Lucifer making pop culture references isn’t as funny as the writers think it is.
German has a believably jagged assertiveness, which also carried her performance on Chicago Fire, but the insistence on insinuating will-they-or-won’t-they pressure on Chloe’s every interaction with Lucifer has the opposite effect and makes their scenes one-note and charmless. Somebody should have gone back to watch the way Abbie and Ichabod interacted in the first season of Sleepy Hollow, where the total absence of flirtation gave them a real chemistry. Also, Ichabod wasn’t insufferable.
Because he’s the only character whose reactions to anything make sense, I found it easiest to relate to Dan, and Alejandro does a good job of resisting making him feel like a bad guy. In the fifth episode, he’s stuck with one astoundingly tone-deaf scene with daughter Trixie (Estevez is a fine graduate of the lisp-and-be-adorable school of child acting), but he also gets a good conversation with Maze, Brandt’s best interaction in the episodes I watched.
Harris is funny when she’s given funny things to do, and Woodside has fine menace, but he’s filling the same capacity that Harold Perrineau did for much of Constantine — standing and giving exposition and occasionally sprouting wings.
The best thing I can say about the Lucifer pilot is although it utilizes a hilarious number of on-the-nose topical soundtrack choices, it doesn’t use “Sympathy for the Devil.” The best thing I can say about the fifth episode is that it made me curious about the sixth. I won’t be bothering with the second and third episodes.