Grimm, Angel, Constantine and countless other shows have explored detective stories with supernatural and occult themes—but Lucifer, which debuts Monday night on Fox, proves there’s room for one more. In fact, Lucifer may be the best this genre has ever seen, thanks in large part to its title character.
(We saw the pilot along with two later episodes, and will avoid giving any spoilers in this first-impressions post.)
Welsh actor Tom Ellis stars as the rakish former ruler of hell, who’s now a nightclub boss and man-about-town in Los Angeles; the character is loosely based on a Neil Gaiman creation but is very much his own beast here. The writing of this character and Ellis’ performance are what make the show so, so great. Most of Lucifer’s other elements—including its “sinful Hollywood” setting, and supporting roles played by Lauren German (as Chloe, a no-nonsense LAPD detective who’s weirdly immune to Lucifer’s charms) and Rachael Harris (a Linda, a man-crazy psychiatrist who falls for said charms immediately)—are fairly generic.
But that’s okay, because Ellis kills it. He’s cheeky and funny, and right away we learn the big skill that’s helped him become such a roaring success among humankind: he’s able to get people to confess their darkest desires, just like they’re giving him directions. (This could get old as the series continues, but Ellis has a way of doing it that’s both seductive and hilarious.) But as we soon see, he’s not just a sharp-dressed ladykiller who starts dabbling in police work to stave off boredom. He’s deeply conflicted; the forces of good and evil have been off-kilter since he’s been bopping around on Earth, and both sides very much want him back on his fiery throne, which he’s in no rush to do. He’s also both delighted and terrified to discover that he’s becoming—gasp!—mortal, and that getting in the middle of a gangland war might result in a bullet wound that could actually hurt him.
The evolution of Lucifer is the meta-narrative at work here, but Lucifer the show is also a case-of-the-week cop drama. The episodes we saw are full of paper-thin mysteries (a troubled pop star is killed in front of Lucifer’s club; a hip shoe designer is nearly killed at his own fashion show) that are easily solved with the combined forces of police work and the Devil’s special skill set—aside from his powers of persuasion, he can also make his eyes glow red and show his true form when he needs to intimidate someone. There’s also a clever running gag about how Lucifer is owed favors by nearly every successful person in town.
Chloe’s irritation with Lucifer’s unconventional methods—and you can see how it’d be annoying to be stuck with this creature who’s decided, on a lark, that he wants to play detective—wears a bit thin with her fifth or sixth disgusted eye-roll. But presumably these two will learn to work together, and promisingly, it doesn’t seem like they’re being set up for a romance down the line, which would be miraculous if true.
Still, Ellis’ Lucifer is the number one reason to watch Lucifer. He’s a delight, and if this show is a hit—as it should be—he’ll be the reason why.
Top image: Lauren German and Tom Ellis in Lucifer. ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Bettina Strauss/FOX. Lower image: Tom Ellis in Lucifer. ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: FOX