Three episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
If you’re like me, you meet every announcement of a comic book-based television adaptation with simultaneous excitement and dread. Excitement, because if nothing else these “superhero” shows produce a modicum of fun action beats that their somewhat leaden stories may catch up with over time (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., for example). Then you might feel dread, because honestly we’re only human and can fit just so many hours of TV into our week. The hero of Fox’s aggressively loose adaptation of The Sandman spinoff comic series Lucifer isn’t human, and his show – remember I say this with that same mix of happiness and misfortune – is definitely not worth your time. Okay, it’s mostly happiness.
Lucifer Morningstar (Tom Ellis) needs a break from the pits of Hell, so he decides to kick up his boots in Los Angeles, running a seedy nightclub where a few of he and his supernatural buddies hang amid the throws of clueless mortals. Not content to let that sole germ of an okay idea flourish on its own (which is cobbled from its comic namesake), creator/showrunner Tom Kapinos (Californication) throws Lucifer into the depths of a vaguely supernatural, murder mystery crime procedural. Yep, you read that right, Lucifer is yet another buddy cop genre clusterfuck, a mess whose sole entertainment value lies in taking a shot every time Lucifer uses his “super power” as an emotional truth vacuum to blurt out some casual it’s-okay-because-he’s-the-Devil sexism. Use the poster above to guess how many times that happens.
It all starts when a friend of Lucifer’s (AnnaLynne McCord) gets gunned down in front of his night club, setting the demon king on a furious path of revenge as he follows a string of clues more obvious than a high school-level murder mystery dinner (he essentially asks one person where to find the next person until the last person is the killer), gaining the help of actress turned LAPD officer Chloe Decker (Lauren German) to crack the case. Unsurprisingly, they do; more unsurprisingly, the show sets up some overarching supernatural touchstones with an angel named Amenadiel (D.B. Woodside) and general references to the status of Hell going to, well, Hell after its ruler left it high and dry.
None of it matters, nothing sticks, and the whole thing is as aloof and flippant as Ellis’ portrayal of the evil angel that it’s easy to imagine those acts of torture Lucifer keeps referring to in Hell as something nearing the ballpark experience of watching Fox’s latest-and-worst crack at a genre as unnecessary to the zeitgeist as Pizza Rat. It’s unfortunate, because otherwise Ellis is the best part about the show. He’s agreeably charming in a smarmy sort of way, and he just barely elevates the godawful lines of dialogue thrown at him (“You look familiar, I think I’ve seen you naked. Have we had sex?”), but these moments of transient humor escaping from the shackles of Lucifer‘s devilish grip are the only saving grace for a show exploding at the seams with reasons to change the channel before the title card even pops up.
Reason one: that above-it-all attitude, which also works aggressively hard at negating its star’s charm. See, he’s bored, bored with Hell, bored with ruling an entire plane of existence and now bored with the humans milling about his nightclub, so it’s a damn near Olympic event to stretch yourself into a position of caring for anything Lucifer does. He cares about finding the various killers strung through each case-of-the-week, but his powers are just generic enough that, combined with his breezy, frivolous attitude, all of the show’s attempts at dramatic tension get sucked dry.
Later episodes attempt to turn him more human and as such, become less reliant on his immortality, but Ellis can’t handle that character turn, and keeps on playing the title character with all the annoying glibness he exhibits in the pilot. The writers also fall into a fiery pit when trying to bolster the show’s mythology with anything beyond cheesy CGI wings or weird demon eyelids for Lucifer when he needs to scare a child (she was a bully, he’s the Devil, it’s okay!) Everyone around him just ignores his claims of immortality and being that infamous fallen angel – I guess that’s Kapinos shooting for an air of mystical mystery – but it’s more frustrating than fascinating, doubly reiterating on Lucifer’s annoying personality quirks and establishing every human in a three block radius of him as some idiotic sap not worth his time.
The side players in the world of Lucifer don’t help much, either. Woodside is quite literally an exposition factory, showing up to warn Lucifer about the status of Hell, about his need to return to the Underworld, about those who threaten to claim his throne in his abdication of responsibility, and then the winged-man leaves. Every time he shows up, time slows down in the human world; the sluggish, boring, slow-paced jokes write themselves here. Rachel Harris plays our hero’s horny-because-Lucifer-is-the-Devil-and-we-swear-it’s-okay therapist. She’s hands-down the most egregiously underused cast member, given how funny she can be when she isn’t playing the saddest excuse to vocalize a protagonist’s inner monologue put to screen in years.
The easiest actor to feel bad for when watching Lucifer (and by now, you understand that you should not watch Lucifer, right?) is German. Ellis is the wacky, chaotic buddy to her stick-in-the-mud LAPD detective, and she has hilarious little to do other than exist for a comedic set piece or twelve about how obsessed Lucifer is with making her attracted to him, because she’s the only human not susceptible to his powers. The coincidence! It’s the kind of uncomfortable sexism made more uncomfortable because, you’d like to think, the creators didn’t mean it.
Maybe it’d be okay if moments like this weren’t so baked into the entire DNA of the show (the pilot’s punchline is that Harris gets to have an orgasm and, yes, it is 2016), or if more effort was made to showcase Lucifer using them, in a sexual way, on men as equally as women (that sound you hear is the writers sprinting in the other direction), but, as it stands, it’s just gross. Most of it could have been alleviated if anything within the context of Lucifer’s powers felt tangible or well-realized outside of the realm of “How can we get the Devil to help solve murders?” but it isn’t, and neither is it funny, which just makes it easier to detest.
In the end, Lucifer succumbs to so many clichés of the genre that it could easily be mistaken as a (very, very poor) spoof of cop shows than one itself. I’m not the first to make this connection (and hopefully I won’t be the last, this show deserves to be dragged to Hell and back), but Fox’s newest series is befuddling in its demonic similarity to 30 Rock‘s dumb-as-rocks-on-purpose show-within-a-show “God Cop.” In that parody, Jack Donaghy (as God) teamed with an NYPD detective to solve murders; it had a more palpable presence and commentary, no matter how silly, in seconds-long glimpses than Lucifer does in the three soul-sucking hours I’ve seen. Even as a carnal guilty pleasure, there’s simply too much good TV on nowadays to give Fox’s Lucifer anything other than eternal damnation.
When a show's lone saving grace is its hero's annoyingly glib personality, there's a problem. Or 666, if my count while watching this unholy misfire is correct.