Third-episode verdict: Lucifer (US: Fox; UK: Amazon Instant Video)

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, Fox
In the UK: Tuesdays, Amazon Instant Video

Since the 80s, there’s been a move on US TV away from shows about lone heroes towards more ensemble pieces with a core cast of characters. Whether it’s to provide variety, to support the number of plots of a long-running season, to give the main actor respite from arduous filming duties, or to hedge bets in case the lead isn’t that popular, the trend is clear. When you look at remakes, it becomes even more obvious with formerly hero-centric shows taking on the trappings of ensemble pieces, whether it’s Kolchak: The Night Stalker and Night Stalker, Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation or Hawaii Five-O and Hawaii Five-0.

Normally this is by design, so the trouble comes when you forget what kind of show you’re making – is it a lone hero show or an ensemble show? Try to make both at the same time and you end up with something that’s not good at either.

Lucifer is a case in point. As the name suggests, it’s a show about the Devil himself. Adapted from the DC/Vertigo comic, it sees Miranda’s Tom Ellis as the bored fallen angel Lucifer Morningstar taking a vacation from Hell in Los Angeles, where he has loads of fun running a night club, shagging and generally tempting mortals. One day, he runs into a police detective (Lauren German) when one of his protégés is murdered, and he starts trying to solve crimes with her so he can keep up his former day job of punishing evil-doers.

It’s a somewhat silly idea but as I pointed out in my review of the first episode, it all works largely because of Ellis who’s clearly having the time of his life as a decidedly English supporting character from the Old and New Testaments (“I’ll rip his bollocks off then stamp on them one at a time”). He alternates between luxuriating in raining down diabolical torture and pain upon anyone who crosses him and camping up to the point you think he’s impersonating Kenneth Williams. It’s a marvellously engaging performance.

The trouble is that although the show is really all about Lucifer, the comic is more of an ensemble piece. And Lucifer takes on trappings of Lucifer to become partly an ensemble show as well, spending time with German, her young daughter, her ex- (Southland/True Blood/Arrow‘s Kevin Alejandro), Lucifer’s fellow devil Maze (Lesley-Ann Brandt from Spartacus and The Librarians) and Lucifer’s therapist/shag partner Rachael Harris (The Hangover, Suits, Surviving Jack). Which would be fine if any of them were in any way interesting or at least having as much fun as Ellis.

Perhaps if the show could also decide not to throw all its moments of characterisation at Lucifer but give each a few scraps from the table, it might be possible to care about them or even like them a little. But it doesn’t. The result is you have Ellis, bright and shiny in centre-stage, surrounded by pale shadows who take away from his screen time with their tedious concerns, but don’t really add anything except when they’re acting as sounding boards and ways to expand on Lucifer’s character.

The plots are also a little timid and repetitive. Murder followed by investigation in which Lucifer charms people and gets them to confess their deepest desires, all while German somberly and without any trace of real animation uses various synonyms of ‘back off’ to stop Lucifer from muscling in on her investigations, which Lucifer then studiously ignores. Even when Lucifer gets up to potentially exciting acts of sin, it’s Fox at its tamest: a ‘devil’s threesome’ and a foursome, none of which is ever shown, just the monring after when everyone wakes up with their clothes and underwear still intact.

The show works best when Ellis gets to enjoy himself and the writers provide lines and situations for him to really chow down on the scenery. It also becomes 100% more interesting whenever it’s dealing with the supernatural. Interactions with fellow angel DB Woodside, sent by God to convince Lucifer to resume normal duties, give someone for Ellis to really bounce off, while Lucifer’s acts of devilish punishment give the show a welcome edge of iron.

But for Lucifer to really work, it needs to decide whether it’s an ensemble show or a lone hero show: either drop some of the additional characters to really focus on Lucifer or give them something to do that makes them more than mere stock characters. 

Barrometer rating: 3
Would it be better with a female lead? No. Different, but not better
TMINE’s prediction: Could get a second season but a bit touch and go at the moment and needs to strengthen itself up to avoid a trip to ratings Hell




  • JustStark

    Whether it's to provide variety, to support the number of plots of a
    long-running season, to give the main actor respite from arduous filming
    duties, or to hedge bets in case the lead isn't that popular

    Or to reduce the lead's bargaining power when their contract comes up for renewal by making sure the programme can survive without them if they ask for too much money…

  • That, too

  • JustStark

    I remember hearing that production companies love 'team' programmes, where each character has a clearly-defined role (eg, 'the leader', 'the fixer', 'the techie', 'the muscle', 'the mentor', 'the girl'), because it makes it easy if an actor leaves to have a baby / their film career takes off / they need to go to rehab / the ask for too much money: the new character just slots seamlessly into the old one's role, with nary a search-and-replace on the upcoming scripts required.

    Basically, Hustle.

  • Mark Carroll

    Certainly shows like NCIS seem to get a good run!

  • There are certain styles of shows that works with, particularly procedurals (I always loved Viper for dicking around with its cast every season – don't want him any more, let's have him; bored of him now, so let's get the first guy back). But not all dramas and not all procedurals, obviously, particularly now the new school of anthology show is forcing even the procedurals to think about serial elements.