Fox entreats you to have sympathy for the devil with its new Jerry Bruckheimer-produced crime-drama “Lucifer,” which follows the Prince of Darkness after he’s ditched Hell in order to play among the mortals of modern-day Los Angeles. While this seems a premise rich with wickedly fun possibilities, the series is damned by the sins against screenwriting displayed in the pilot episode.
Tom Ellis (“Merlin”) brings a day-old beard, an English accent and a scant trace of charisma to the lead role of Lucifer Morningstar, who went from ruler of Hell to L.A. douchebag. Introduced while speeding along in a convertible, this dashing devil ducks a ticket by using his sinister skill at stoking people’s darkest desires to bribe a cop. This might be the absolute lamestÂ way to set up a superpower or introduce a Devil-may-care anti-hero that I’ve ever seen.
Next,Â Lucifer rolls up onÂ his nightclub Lux, where he employs demons who relish in having casual sex behind the bar during work hours, and works out deals with Hollywood’s various power players. This — and not a soul-selling deal — is how he not-so-long-ago launched pop starlet Delilah to success. Now, heartbroken and deep in a spiral of self-sabotage and substance abuse, she comes back to the club where she once waitressed, asking for advice, which Lucifer warmly gives, along with a hug. It’s a shame she’s immediately gunned down, but her murder is the catastrophicÂ catalyst Lucifer needed to turn his talents to crime fighting. He must avenge the girl he’d hoped to save!
Enter his begrudging partner in crime-solving, Detective Chloe Dancer (Lauren German), who swans onto the scene with the silk blouse, glossy hair and sharp cheekbones of a cover model. It’s not eye-candy TV casting, though. See, aside from being a tough-as-nails cop and stern single-mom, Chloe’s backstory also includes a past as a failed actress. We’re told her biggest “hit” was “Hot Tub High School,” a “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” rip-off with ChloeÂ in the breast-baring Phoebe Cates role. Since Fox can’t show nudity, they try to make “Lucifer” lurid with off-camera sex and mentioning a naked Chloe whenever possible. This youthful indiscretion is brought up thrice, each time to undermine Chloe’s authority as an officer of the law.Â Because what use is a strong female character if you can slut shame her?
Fate throws Chloe and Lucifer together, but we’re told a special “connection” keeps them paired. It’s good thing there’s a line about it, because despite both Ellis and German being attractive, they share zero chemistry. Admittedly, the dialogue does them no favors, packed as it is with the kind of jokes a corny uncle tells that you might laugh at out of politeness. Chloe’s barbs include “What planet are you from? London?” while Lucifer’s one-liners boast “I was copulating with a young woman named Faith. Ironic isn’t it?” These dud punchlinesÂ pile up alongside pricey and on-the-nose songs like Cage The Elephant’s “Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked,” Beck’s “Devil’s Haircut” and David Bowie’s “Fame,” causingÂ this critic to wonder if those licensing fees wouldn’t haveÂ been better spent on another round of script revisions.
ButÂ lackluster leads and hokey humor isn’t even the series greatest fault. What’s most likely to doomÂ “Lucifer” is a character setup that slaysÂ stakes, conflict and suspense. Lucifer claims he can’t control minds, but he can urge the “simple” into following their “hidden desires.” With “complex” people, it takes some coaxing, like LuciferÂ urging a gossip-withholding therapist with “Oh, come on now! I know you want to.” With Chloe, it’s impossible, and this is about it for the show’s conflict. Rather than collecting clues like “House” or “Sherlock”s titular detectives, Lucifer just pulls confessions from people to varying degrees of success in a manner that is in no way visually interesting or mentally engaging. It’s more connecting the dots than figuring out a puzzle.
Beyond that, Lucifer’s immortality and super strength means he can hurl people through windows and get shot a bunch of times with no ill effects. So, unlike “Agent Carter,” the show derives no suspense over whether he’ll make it through unscathed, because of course he will. The only thing at risk here are the dramatic stakes. Lucifer doesn’t even fear others finding out about his non-human status, so unlike “iZombie” there’s no dramatic tension wrung from fear of discovery.
Frankly, I can think of no reason to recommend this show. Sure, it’sÂ loosely based on the character from Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman,” but it harbors none of that author’s imagination, pathos or sense of dark whimsy, nor of the invention and creativity of the character’s solo series’ writer Mike Carey. You’d be better served to watch any of the other detective dramas to which I’ve compared the lifeless “Lucifer.” Just heed my warning: Stay away from this mid-season mediocrity fest.
“Lucifer” premiers on Fox, Monday, January 25th at 9PM.Â
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