Preview: Lucifer 1×1 (US: Fox)

Tom Ellis has a devil of a time


In the US: Fox. Set to air 2016
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Some ideas just sound rubbish as soon as you hear them. You take a much-loved adult comic strip, Lucifer, created by one of the world’s most esteemed fantasy writers, Neil Gaiman, in which the Devil decides he’s had enough of Hell and decides to start a new life for himself on Earth.

And then you make a TV series of it that’s also a police procedural. Yes, the Devil solving crimes every week. On Fox, the network where good procedurals go to die.

And then you get that bloke from Miranda to play the Devil.

Just total rubbish, right?

Except Lucifer somehow manages to take all those elements, mix them together and produce something that’s actually very engaging. I assume some soul-selling was involved.

The Devil has come to Los Angeles…

Based upon the characters created by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg for DC Entertainment’s Vertigo imprint, LUCIFER is the story of the original fallen angel. Bored and unhappy as the Lord of Hell, LUCIFER MORNINGSTAR (Tom Ellis, “Merlin”) has abandoned his throne and retired to L.A., where he owns Lux, an upscale nightclub.

Charming, charismatic and devilishly handsome, Lucifer is enjoying his retirement, indulging in a few of his favorite things – wine, women and song – when a beautiful pop star is brutally murdered outside of Lux. For the first time in roughly 10 billion years, he feels something awaken deep within him as a result of this murder. Compassion? Sympathy? The very thought disturbs him – as well as his best friend and confidante, MAZIKEEN aka MAZE (Lesley-Ann Brandt, “The Librarians”), a fierce demon in the form of a beautiful young woman.

The murder attracts the attention of LAPD homicide detective CHLOE DANCER (Lauren German, “Chicago Fire”), who initially is dismissive of Lucifer. But she becomes intrigued by his talent for drawing out people’s secrets and his desire to dispense justice, doling out punishment to those who deserve it. As they work together to solve the pop star’s murder, Lucifer is struck by Chloe’s inherent goodness. Accustomed to dealing with the absolute worst of humanity, Lucifer is intrigued by Chloe’s apparent purity and begins to wonder if there’s hope for his own soul yet.

At the same time, God’s emissary, the angel AMENADIEL (DB Woodside, “Suits,” “24”), has been sent to Los Angeles to convince Lucifer to return to the underworld… can the Devil incarnate be tempted toward the side of Good, or will his original calling pull him back toward Evil?

Is it any good?
The show has two main assets: Tom Ellis and the dialogue. Plot, set-up, supporting cast and everything else? Not so much, but those two assets do quite a lot of heavy lifting for Lucifer.

Much of this initial episode is about establishing both the premise of the show and trying to come up with a way in which the supposedly most evil member of God’s creation might actually be a good protagonist for a broadcast TV show on a network favoured by an audience slightly more right wing than others.

To do this, the conceit (as with the comic) is that being evil was more of a job than an expression of intrinsic character for the Devil, which is why Lucifer’s come up to Earth to get away from it all. The question is, can he do this and the wheels of the rest of creation continue to turn normally, or will there be Hell to pay as a result of his abnegation of responsibility? Certainly, angel DB Woodside (24, Buffy, Suits) seems to think so, even if all he gets to do is be a weak imitation of Harold Perrineau’s already weak angelic finger-waggler in Constantine.

However, the show doesn’t really spend much time on this at all, leaving you (and indeed some of the other characters) wondering what they’re doing there in an LA bar with Lucifer, particularly Lesley-Ann Brandt (Spartacus, The Librarians) who finds herself having left Hell and her armies to become… a bartender.

To some extent, Lucifer’s intrinsic character isn’t evil, so much as wanting to punish evil-doers, and the show makes clear his ‘powers’ aren’t so much soul-acquisition and inducing people to sin as getting people to confess their innermost desires and feelings. All this helps quite nicely in solving crimes. As does resistance to bullets, general immortality and the ability to be very, very scary-looking and punishy on demand.

Lucifer gets paired with Lauren German (Hawaii Five-0, Chicago Fire, Happy Town), the one person whom his powers don’t work on. Lucifer struggles to find a way to use German well – to counter the flamboyant Ellis, they’ve basically found the most anti-flamboyant person imaginable. People are not going to be watching the show for German.

Here also the show reveals its occasionally misogynistic colours: while arguably “the Bible” and all, German’s character is a former actress turned cop whom everyone recognises because of that world famous nude hot tub scene of hers. Coupled with Ellis’ slut shaming of another actress because she took topless selfies, as well as his promiscuous ways, and Lucifer begins to appear to have a real woman problem.

To be fair, we also have the marvellous Rachael Harris (The Hangover, Suits, Surviving Jack) as a therapist who at first is simply a potential source of information but who by episode end looks set to become a shag partner/sounding board/therapist for Lucifer. But she doesn’t have much to do yet, beyond bring the funny.

If all of this sounds a bit uninspiring still, it’s because I haven’t really got round to Ellis. Ellis had a somewhat aborted effort at making it big on US TV last year with the inept Rush. Lumbered with a terrible series, an American accent and no comedic lines worth mentioning, he failed to make much of an impact.

Here, though, he gets to use all those years of unsubtlety on Miranda to great effect. No one’s going to call his Lucifer a restrained performance. Thankfully. That’s not what this show needs.

Instead, Ellis is going for broke, obviously loving every moment, chewing scenery, passers-by and probably even the production crew as much as he can, as the script by Californication creator Tom Kapinos gives him bon mot after bon mot to deploy in interesting, urbane, highly English* ways.

There are mild attempts to play around with philosophical and theological notions, including freedom of will (for both humans and angels), the nature of God’s plan, sin and empathy. But ultimately, this isn’t really the show that’s going to bring the thoughts of Saint Augustine to the modern TV-viewing audience. However, Lucifer is certainly worth watching, just to watch Ellis having a marvellous time in what has the potential to be a star-making role.

* Although he’s Welsh, obviously


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.