By Sarah Hayes, A&E Editor
Imagine that the Devil literally walks among us in human form. Imagine that he, having grown tired of Hell and its trappings, has taken to the mortal realm to spend his time as he sees fit. Now, imagine that this fallen angel is running a posh nightclub in the city and spends most of his time drinking and seducing women with his eyes—literally—so they can have wanton, sinful sex. There is nothing Miltonian about this latest incarnation of Lucifer Morningstar, but then again, there is also little sign of the Neil Gaiman creation that FOX’s “Lucifer” is allegedly based upon. For some, this will be a sticking point they cannot get over. For others, especially those without any emotional connection to the source material, this particular program might be the perfect brain candy in an era of peak TV with more cerebral hang-ups.
Tom Ellis plays the titular character, the ex-leader of Hell who quickly goes from playboy nightclub owner to a player in a drive-by shooting when an old friend of his, a singer who Lucifer himself helped get into the music industry, is killed right in front of him. His need for justice has him at odds with Detective Chloe Decker (Lauren German), who sees Lucifer as a nuisance. However, Lucifer’s uncanny ability to reveal people’s secrets and extract the truth from their souls makes him an unlikely but useful ally, and the two end up working together to solve the case.
“Lucifer” is a police procedural with a supernatural twist, a formula not foreign to FOX; “Sleepy Hollow,” which spins the Washington Irving short story into a time travel-based tale of demons, witchcraft, and culture shock, has adapted to the formula with much skill and to much critical acclaim. It is also eerily reminiscent of another attempt at bringing a crime-busting comic book series of the supernatural sort to life on the small screen, i.e. NBC’s 2014 one-and-done series “Constantine,” although the main character of that show would have been more likely to hunt down Lucifer rather than be buddies with the fallen angel.
However, as “Constantine” dwelled in the shadows and murkiness of the line between humans and demons, “Lucifer” sashays all over it with great aplomb, accompanied by bright colors and on-the-nose music cues (the episode is bookended by the Cage For Elephant track “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked,” which might be the most FOX-esque usage of a popular song ever seen on screen). Constant puns and riffs on Lucifer’s background and status as the ruler of Hell—his license plate even reads ‘FALLEN1’—keep reminding us that there is nothing human about our anti-hero with all the power, or that this show even knows the definition of ‘subtlety.’
The pilot episode looks like an episode of a standard cop program wrapped in some loose-fitting Christian mythology. The main focus is the murder case which Lucifer and Decker pursue, all the while exchanging banter and sharing small moments that heavily telegraph their eventual romantic relationship; luckily, Ellis and Decker carry enough chemistry between them that it should not be a painful process to watch. Many of the scenes involve minor characters connected to the case that lack any real character structure or strength; they flit in and out of focus, uninteresting compared to Morningstar and his new detective friend. Scenes of Decker’s troubled home life, including her “dick” of an ex-husband (Nicholas Gonzalez for the pilot only) and her wild but charming daughter Trixie (Scarlett Estevez), are infinitely more vibrant in comparison.
There are definite signs, however, that the plot problems in “Lucifer” are not just earthbound, as the continual presence of the angel Amenadiel (D. B. Woodside) reminds us that Lucifer is sorely needed back in Hell. Hopefully, this problem will become more of a presence in later episodes, or else the gravity of Satan being out of his domain will be lost in the mire of things. We do see Lucifer use his powers on unsuspecting humans, mostly women, to get what he wants, but aside from that, the mere presence of Lucifer on Earth is the main anchor between solving a murder and ignoring the demands of one’s literal Heavenly Father.
The greatest strength in “Lucifer” is Tom Ellis’ portrayal of the Morningstar figure, who delivers every scene with such energy and snark that it is difficult to knock him for any of it. Even when the writing falters, Ellis’ exuberance in the roll, carefully walking the line between darkly sarcastic demon and sexual powerhouse playboy, kills it every time. It also helps that Ellis is strikingly handsome; at least on that level, it becomes believable that women would want to throw themselves at him with little abandon, even before he turns on the hell-crafted charm.
“Lucifer” is not great, per se, and I doubt it will cast a legendary shadow on TV history like its newly revived station brother, “The X-Files”. But it is fun to watch, with hardly a dull moment thanks to its zippy pace and line up of unusual plot twists. It has flash, pizzazz, and everything you would want from a Monday night program about the Devil and his detective partner, fighting crime and the occasional schoolyard bully together. I would say that the average viewer will have a hell of a time watching, but I think “Lucifer” has already beat me to the punch with that gag.