Comic book TV is everywhere these days, and it’s happening all year. So I’ll hand out awards and rankings in June, but in the meantime, we’ll be reviewing shows one by one as they wrap up.
This instalment: I come not to praise Lucifer, but to bury it.
Short version: Now that the show has ended its third, and as of this writing, final season (fingers crossed for the #SaveLucifer movement), let’s talk about how it took a silly premise (the Devil helps the LAPD solve murders) and made it into the best procedural on TV.
I lied about not praising it. Deep down I think you knew that.
(Also, they renewed Lethal Weapon without Riggs instead of renewing Lucifer? I know the actor was impossible to work with but Riggs is the Lethal Weapon, that’s why it’s called that. Don’t introduce a new guy, just recast, Murtaugh and some guy is not Lethal Weapon, it’s a garbage show for a garbage network. Whichever Fox exec made that call, know that I hate you and whoever hired you.)
Book One: Genesis
Things were– that “book one” thing was a mistake, I’m not going to be able to keep that going, why do I post these live…
In the Beginning
Saved it. Go me.
They started simple, using only slight pieces from the Sandman-spinoff comic that inspired the show. Mostly the idea of Lucifer Morningstar abandoning Hell to live in Los Angeles and run a nightclub called Lux with help from his ally/sometimes lover, the demon Mazikeen (Maze to her friends). But to sell a show to a major broadcast network, it helps to have a safe, familiar hook. Say… solving murders. So that’s what they went with.
Lucifer Morningstar (Tom Ellis), fallen angel, king of Hell, and poster child for daddy issues and rebellion has abandoned his post to live and have fun among the humans instead of punishing them with eternal damnations and tortures. The one thing about his old life, or at least his former reputation, that he’s hung onto is making deals: he helps out the glamorous citizens of LA in exchange for favours down the line. No interest in souls, just favours.
His brother, the angel Amenadiel (DB Woodside), wants him back in Hell, where their father placed him. Maze, who I mentioned above (Lesley-Ann Brandt), has her own questions about why they’re hanging around LA instead of going home. But when a singer Lucifer had done a favour for is killed outside of his club, he’s outraged that the persons responsible might not be punished. Lucifer joins LAPD detective and former actress Chloe Decker (Lauren German) in hunting down the killer, and finds he has a taste for punishing murderers. And for Detective Decker. Much to the chagrin of Chloe and her estranged husband Detective Dan Espinosa (Kevin Alejandro). Helping out with their investigations is a little trick of Lucifer’s: he can look into anyone’s eyes and compel them to reveal their greatest desire.
“That’s it?” I said. watching the trailer for the pilot. “That’s their hook? The Devil is solving murders and his big advantage is he can make people say what they want? This is a terrible idea. There is no way I’m watching this show.”
Anyway I started watching the show.
And within half a dozen episodes it was clear that I wasn’t going to be stopping any time soon.
First of all, Tom Ellis crushes it as Lucifer. Long-time readers may recall I’ve mentioned this a couple of times. His Lucifer Morningstar has charm and menace, he can make you laugh and cry in equal measure, to quote Community I can see why women find Tom Ellis attractive to the point where I might just as well be attracted to him myself, he is riveting. And so many of his relationships proved reliably fun. His sibling rivalry with Amenadiel, his more traditional rivalry with Dan (or as Lucifer knows him, Detective Douche), the constant sniping with Maze, his newly-found therapist Dr. Linda Martin (Rachael Harris) and her frequently futile attempts to advise Lucifer on dealing with human emotions and relationships, and as mismatched duos of straight-laced cops and unusual consultants go, Lucifer and Chloe were one of the better pairs. Lucifer even makes a fun pairing with Chloe and Dan’s daughter Trixie. And as for my doubts about Lucifer’s desire-powers, his ability to draw out a suspect’s motive for killing (or more often than not, their lack of motive) works just as well, if not better, than consultants aiding the police through OCD, hypnotism, math, or being an agoraphobic who’s good at chess. The show was so much fun to watch it didn’t really matter that it started out as, essentially, Castle but with the King of Hell in place of a mystery novelist.
The main plot for season one was pretty simple. Lucifer and Chloe solve crimes, while Amenadiel’s attempts to return Lucifer to Hell collide with Chloe’s recent past: a shootout at a place called the Palmetto that left a cop Chloe insists was dirty in a coma, alienating her from the rest of her precinct. The cop (Kevin Rankin) makes a miraculous recovery, not unrelated to Lucifer’s presence in Chloe’s life, and turns out to have been an even worse cop than Chloe thought, and he’s about to make life difficult for Chloe and Lucifer…
But that’s not what made Lucifer such an addiction. Season two would bring the show to new heights, thanks to one cast addition that changed everything, and one that merely brightened the room.
Behind the Procedures
“Someone escaped from Hell,” Lucifer tells his brother in the closing moments of season one.
“Who escaped?” asked Amenadiel.
It is a daring move for a show this rooted in Judeo-Christian icons to abandon the concept of monotheism, but Lucifer went for it in a big way. In Lucifer’s origin of the universe, the “Big Bang” takes on a whole new meaning, as Heaven and the universe were created by two beings, not just one. But God’s wife… Goddess, I suppose… grew annoyed with his fixation on Earth, and plotted against it so much that Her Husband had Amenadiel lock her away in Hell, where she didn’t exactly enjoy quality time with her son Lucifer. I’m pretty sure they blame all of the Old Testament wrath stuff, floods and plagues and whatnot, on Mrs. God acting out. It was an unexpected take, to be sure, and one that worked much better than Supernatural‘s choice to give God a sister… mostly because Supernatural never quite got around to coming up with a better name than “The Darkness.” Honestly. I know you were bound to run low on ideas in season 11, but damn, dudes. Sorry, where was I, right, Lucifer. Having escaped from Hell, she comes to Earth, taking over the body of the recently murdered high-powered defense attorney Charlotte Richards.
Tricia Helfer joined the cast as Mrs. God, known as “Mum/Mom” to her sons, “Charlotte” to the humans, and various unkind terms by Maze. Also joining the cast was Aimee Garcia as the precinct’s new CSI, Ella Lopez, a devout Christian (but the nice “God loves you and so do I” kind, not the “God loves me specifically so I’m-a judge the crap out of you” kind) with a mild history of car theft.
I mostly want to talk about Charlotte and what she did for the show here but attention must be paid to what a delightful addition Ella was. A constant beam of sunshine and support, a source of humour (not that the show lacked those), a giver of hugs… there isn’t a bad scene with Ella in it, and Aimee Garcia made her absolutely adorable. She might not have been the thematic game-changer that Charlotte was, but damn was I glad to have her around.
They pulled a trick on Lucifer that I’ve seen once before, on the last show I watched to evolve from casual viewing to something I would clear my schedule to watch live: Person of Interest. With Person of Interest, a post-Dark Knight, pre-Westworld Jonathan Nolan pulled a con on CBS. He pitched a simple crime-of-the-week show, in which a reclusive billionaire calling himself Harold Finch recruits a lethal ex-soldier calling himself John Reese to help him prevent violent crimes, with the help of a computer Finch built that can predict crimes and feed him the identity of either the victim or perpetrator.
Simple, CBS-friendly procedural stuff. And then once the show was established, Nolan started writing the real show, and subtly grew it into an amazingly compelling paranoid techno-thriller about emergent AI, privacy in the digital age, government overreach, and what the wrong people might do with total access to our digital footprint. (I’ve spoken to co-star Amy Acker, who’s delightful, and she basically confirmed that’s exactly what Nolan did.)
So, too, did Lucifer use the format of a crime-of-the-week cop & wacky consultant show to lure in viewers before turning into a look at the complex relationships of divine beings, the residual anger Lucifer Morningstar feels for his father, and this new idea of God’s angry ex-wife trying to find a way back into Heaven… and what that might mean for her ex. And everything else.
And it worked like gangbusters. The Goddess Charlotte was fascinating: loving to her sons, indifferent to humanity, scheming with and against anyone in her orbit, and played to perfection by Tricia Helfer, who nailed Charlotte’s scathing indictments of humanity such as “All they do is eat! And later the food comes back changed, and not for the better.” And the show hit new heights when Lucifer and Amenadiel’s little brother Uriel came to town, and the stakes of their mother’s plans became clear. It put Lucifer in impossible positions, gave Tom Ellis incredible material to work through, and along the way gave every single cast member better material as well.
And yes, the weekly murder cases also continued, even if they were overshadowed by the divine melodrama. They are, however, less vulnerable to the trope that affects a lot of procedurals, in which the most recognizable guest star is always, always the killer (looking at you, Elementary). But for the most part, the cases-of-the-week exist to act as a reflection of whatever emotional journey Lucifer is on that week. Often because Lucifer forces them to act as a reflection of his emotional journey, because he can be extremely self-centred and finding a murderer is often just a means to working out whatever’s annoying him that week.
Look, Dr. Linda tries her best, but Lucifer is not great at processing emotions or managing human behaviour.
And, well, if I had one note for the show, it’s that Chloe is relegated to the murder-of-the-week plot, because while she does have a role to play in the celestial melodrama… season one reveals that Lucifer loses his invulnerability when Chloe is around, which proves tricky for him, and season two begins to hint why… since she doesn’t believe Lucifer is who he says he is, she is always at arms’ length from the non-Palmetto central plotlines. Which… isn’t great, as I explained… in…
I haven’t written up Doctor Who series seven yet. Dang. I would have such a good explanation to link to if I had. Well, short version, when a character is not allowed to engage with a storyline, even when it’s about them, it’s not ideal.
But this doesn’t mean Lauren German doesn’t make a meal out of the material she’s given. She absolutely does.
Cain Leaves a Mark
The Goddess Charlotte arc was, simply put, exceptional. Amenadiel questioned his faith in his father, Dan turned to improv to process his feelings over his ending marriage (and ended up sleeping with a literal goddess without knowing it), Linda was first to learn that Lucifer isn’t speaking in metaphors and that her new best pal Maze is a literal demon, Maze found a purpose outside of Lucifer, Aimee Garcia was adorable, and Tricia Helfer owned every scene she was in, it was great. So how would season three follow it? They found a new biblical figure to hang a season on.
Lucifer, having had a couple of key parts of his identity messed with, found himself at odds with a mysterious gangster calling himself “the Sinnerman,” who had taken over Lucifer’s habit of granting favours, only with more murders on the side. In the quest to find the Sinnerman and find out if he’s behind Lucifer’s recent changes, Lucifer stumbles across another person of interest: Cain, the first murderer, doomed to wander the Earth forever, who has been studying Lucifer and his associates and thinks Chloe might be his key to finally dying.
If I had one additional note for season three. After the Cain revelation, the show forgets that there ever was a killer gang lord called the Sinnerman until the last few episodes. Although it’s hard to blame them, even the characters know that “the Sinnerman” is kind of a dumb name, and everyone’s reactions to Lucifer casually mentioning that he ID’d the Sinnerman months ago and forgot to mention it was kind of priceless.
Plus Tricia Helfer was still around, as Charlotte Richards returned to her no longer dead body after spending a year in Hell, and found herself searching for redemption out of fear of going back. Helfer made Charlotte just as fun as Lucifer’s mother in her own way.
Much like his mother, Lucifer‘s relationship with Cain went from frosty to friendly to adversarial, they were allies and enemies and rivals. And along the way, there was a great flashback episode in which Linda’s ex-husband spent years trying to figure out how to bring Lucifer down (“Off the Record,” a season highlight*), Lucifer and Ella went on a road trip to Vegas (“Vegas With Some Radish”), Lucifer and Cain pretend to be married suburbanites (“Til Death Do Us Part”), and everyone was just so much fun… then the last two episodes cut our hearts out right in front of us.
And in the last moments of the season finale, they opened the door to a whole new Lucifer, and it kills me that we might not get it.
*One of the better moments in “Off the Record?” Lucifer reveals the chilling secret of Hell… “You humans… You send yourselves, driven down by your own guilt. Forcing yourselves to relive your sins over and over. And the best part: The doors aren’t locked. You can leave any time.” The damned imprison themselves.
While every season arc ended satisfactorily, from the Palmetto to Mother to Cain, there was so much more for them to do. I wanted to see Ella learn that one of her new besties was, in fact, the very Devil she was raised to fear. How would that affect her faith, already challenged by the end of season three? I wanted to see more of Lucifer’s siblings, especially his sister Azrael, the angel of death, who must have had some thoughts about what her brothers did with her flaming sword.
Neil Gaiman, listed as the creator, because he wrote the Sandman story in which Lucifer quit Hell, inspiring his spinoff comic, was apparently set to play the voice of God. Which might not have been quite as fun as Psych’s Timothy Omundon’s take on someone who seemed to be God in season two’s “God Johnson,” but damn I wanted to see that.
But more than that I just wanted more time with these people. With snarky, clueless-about-humanity Lucifer Morningstar, so perfectly played by Tom Ellis. With no-nonsense Chloe Decker, who never got to learn the secret about her own past. With stern Amenadiel, who showed that even angels can have doubts about their Heavenly Father. With Dr. Linda and Maze and Charlotte and “Detective Douche” and perfect, adorable Ella and even little Trixie.
Even with a few unanswered questions, I have to recommend this show. It was a great ride, and I don’t regret a second of it.
…Right, just a bit of housekeeping for the rankings…
Overall Grade: A-
That Lucifer forgot all about the whole Sinnerman thing for like 11 episodes kinda bugged me, and it wasn’t hard to spot the five episodes that were meant to be part of season two, but this was a damn good season of television, and the finale might be one of their best episodes.
I miss this show already. Someone bring it back to me.