Season 1, Episode 1 “Pilot”
Let’s get this out of way first thing. If you are looking for a faithful adaptation of the Lucifer who appeared in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and was the titular star of his own Vertigo comic from the fertile mind of Mike Carey… this is not that show.
Let’s be honest. There’s no way to do anything resembling that version of Lucifer on television as a regular series, and have it be a remotely profitable enterprise for any studio. The VFX budget would be insane, and maybe, maybe if you’re lucky, you could have a 6-episode run on Showtime or HBO that could come close. But we should have had Constantine as Hellblazer over on Showtime, and we didn’t get that either, so now we all know we can’t have nice things.
Taking the bare-bones plot of the comic, Lucifer is the story of the Devil, himself, deciding that he’s had it with Hell and he quits, moving to LA to open a nightclub. Heaven isn’t pleased, because the demons and the damned have no keeper anymore, and bad things are on the horizon. Where the TV show goes completely away from the source material – and what caused the fans of the comic to collectively scream “NOOOOOOOOOOOO” when it was announced – is the putting all of this in the framework of the Police Procedural.
Yes, that’s right, the Devil teams up with the Sexy Detective to Fight Crime!
Yeaaaahhhhh. I wasn’t thrilled either.
But here’s the thing: This is a ridiculously entertaining show that I enjoyed way more than I should have, laughed at way more at than I should have, and if they can maintain the energy and fun of the pilot – and this is the critical part – is a show I’ll be tuning into every week.
The plot of the pilot is not actually important – a girl Lucifer knows and likes is killed, villain is hunted down and punished – but it serves as the framework to hang all the character introductions on and put the structure of the show into place. And where Lucifer succeeds or fails is in the characters, and that, lads and lasses, it succeeds at quite well.
Of course it has to start with the guy what’s name is on the tin: Lucifer Morningstar himself. Tom Ellis looks nothing like the comic’s version of Lucifer – clearly based on the much-missed David Bowie – but has the charm and sexiness to pull off the look of the Most Beautiful of Angels, but there are lots of pretty people in the world, and he brings a real sense of fun and wickedness to the role that, while a far cry from the distant arrogance of the comic version, is engaging and – dare I say it – seductive.
Of course, the general TV audience is much larger than the comic book readership, but for both groups the result is the same when you change so much from the source material: The Devil has to be seductive. Ellis pulls that off ably, and brings something else important to both a TV show in the procedural model and a comic with the rich backstory of the Vertigo series, which is a layered personality that promises to reveal more over the run of the show.
Heaven, of course, is not happy that the Devil has walked, and an old adversary is sent to tell “Lucy” to get his butt back to work in the form of D.B. Woodside’s Amenadiel. An angel with nothing but hatred for Lucifer, he would love to see a war come out of all this, and he shows up at the beginning and the end of the episode to threaten Lucifer both personally and with God’s displeasure. Obviously this will be an ongoing arc that adds a looming threat to our “hero” that the writers can mine for years, and for all the humor that is here, adds a sense of menace to the overall sense of the show.
God and his angels are not the only ones unhappy about Lucifer’s vacation from his duties, and his closest source of disapproval is Mazikeen, his demonic confidant and bartender at his club. War-Leader of the Lilim, Maze is a descendant of Lilith – Adam’s first wife and mother of demons – and she thinks Lucifer needs to be doing more with his eternal life and that he cares too much about these human creatures. Sure, they’re good for the sex thing, but other than that? As played by the lovely Lesley-Ann Brandt, she’s clearly not much of a fan. Brandt, whom genre fans may recognize from both The Librarians and the Spartacus series, gives great disapproval glares and great banter.
The best banter, of course, is between Ellis and the other lead of the series, Detective Chloe Decker, played by Lauren German. German has the horror credentials for a show featuring the Devil – with parts in Hostel II, the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Divide – but here she’s what appears at first to be the standard sexy-cop-with-issues that TV is littered with. What German and the writers do here that takes it beyond that is both giving her an embarrassing backstory – she tried being an actress and earned both a touch of fame and notoriety for a semi-famous nude scene – and current problems with the rest of the police department by being an honest cop when it wasn’t convenient.
It’s the back-and-forth between German and Ellis where the show had to shine, and it really does. Decker is seemingly immune to Lucifer’s supernatural charms, and is constantly both aghast at the reactions of every other woman around him, and annoyed at how useful this clearly crazy person is in helping her solve the case. Lucifer is both amused as – pun intended – all hell that he knows her from her movie attempt, and mystified and intrigued by her resistance to his allure. He’s used to women and men basically swooning over him, and here’s one that simply doesn’t.
Being a TV show of course, the sexual tension between attractive co-stars is a tradition going back decades, and one can hope that it stays platonic as the corpses of shows that gave into that temptation to consummate that tension is pretty sizable.
Our cast is rounded out by the other parts of Decker’s life, in the form of her daughter and ex-husband. Scarlett Estevez plays Beatrice, an adorable moppet of a child both a source of joy for her mother and of tension between her parents. She actually likes Lucifer and treats him like a friend – something he finds somewhat appalling – and innocently repeats some of his more tactless comments to her definitely appalled parents. Decker’s ex Dan is also a cop, and one who is, it seems, more concerned with her career than with her happiness, as he tries to get her to lay low and let her issues with the rest of the department blow over instead of getting involved with this Lucifer weirdo. With credits including True Blood and Gotham, Kevin Alejandro is both a bit of a jerk and oddly sympathetic, as he seems to be trying to protect Decker in a way, even if she doesn’t want him to.
Why this all works, at least in the pilot episode, is first the chemistry between all of these characters and the obvious potential for all their stories – and a knowing willingness to poke a little fun at the standards of the procedural with that chemistry – and second the frank and funny acceptance of sex as a natural part of human interaction that takes the standard pretty people of TV cop shows and both milks it and runs with it. Lucifer likes the sex thing and isn’t shy about it, and consequently those around him do as well. Where Lucifer gets it right is by making its tone on sex be fun and funny and anything but sleazy.
The bottom line here is that Lucifer is fun. I’m not sure that it qualifies as horror, but it certainly has a few of the elements and has the potential to get into the darker places in interesting ways. Does it glamorize the Devil? Sure it does, but it also raises the question that the Vertigo series asked about how much the Devil was actually EVIL vs how much he was perceived as being evil by the requirements of his job. I’ll always take a touch of religious philosophy with my storytelling, as well as the potential battle between demons, angels and cops while having fun watching a show.