All over television today there are a number of bright, adventurous and fun shows based on DC Comics. Lucifer isn’t one of them.
That’s not to say that Lucifer isn’t based on a DC Comic book. It is. Neil Gaiman (the guy who wrote all those award-winning Sandman comics) created the character with Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg for DC’s “Vertigo” imprint, where he debuted as a supporting character in those same Sandman comics before branching off into his own 75-issue comic series.
However, Lucifer is not being presented as part of the “Arrowverse” that began with The CW’s Arrow in 2012. Before you say, “Well, duh,” not so fast. NBC’s own Vertigo adaptation, 2014’s Constantine (cancelled unfairly and too soon) is itself part of the Arrowverse and crossed over with Arrow in 2015 (a crossover that was already planned before the sad cancellation news).
Like Fox’s other DC adaptation, Gotham, Lucifer appears (at least for now) to be a completely separate (if you’ll pardon the term) Beast. Based largely on the solo series written by Mike Carey, Lucifer tells the story of the redundantly named “Lucifer Morningstar” (Tom Ellis), who abandons the throne of Hell to… open a piano bar called Lux. Due to a series of fortunate events, somehow Lucifer becomes a consultant for the LAPD where he is often partnered with Detective Chloe Decker (Lauren German), the only human he knows of that is immune to his influence and charms.
Ellis practically seethes joyful naughtiness with his Welsh accent adding to the “gentleman devil” persona. Virtually everything in the show is treated by Ellis’ Lucifer as a delightful, comical game to the point that one might confuse this show for a sitcom called “I Love Lucifer”. It’s hard to fault Ellis for having such a great time, however, as his character is perfectly encapsulated by this sinister glee.
The problem (and part of the conceit of the show) is that Lucifer, through his interaction with humanity (particularly Decker) is becoming less devil and more… really, really nice guy. Oh, sure, he still happily punishes the guilty and commits all sort of debauchery and Bacchanalia, but that’s the thing — he’s having way too much fun as a human and he’s only actually punishing the guilty. Does that mean Lucifer has something of a moral code? Most definitely, though he does push the boundaries as much as he can.
Indeed, Lucifer is fun. Though many objected to its production (free publicity, anyone?), the show is overall just a good romp. He argues with his angelic brother Amenadiel (D.B. Woodside), he drinks and smokes, he sleeps around, he sees a therapist (whom he also sleeps with) and he treats just about everything short of his gradual humanization like a cross between a joke and a carnival ride.
However, when you take away the unique supernatural premise of the show, what you are left with is little more than another police procedural with a joking leading man. Each week we face a new mystery and Lucifer laughingly helps his friend Decker solve it in 43-minutes or so. Each week we see some little hint at a larger mythology causing Ellis’ Lucifer smile to fade momentarily. Each week we start back over again.
In truth, there’s only a hair’s breadth of difference between Lucifer and Fox’s other supernatural fish-out-of-water cop show, Sleepy Hollow (the timeslot of which Lucifer even filled upon its debut). Sleepy Hollow features a dashing mystery solver from a supernatural past who is teamed up with a no-nonsense female partner on the police force, much to the chagrin of her superiors. Lucifer features a dashing mystery solver from a supernatural dimension who is teamed up with a no-nonsense female partner on the police force, much to the chagrin of her peers.
To be sure, there are unique elements. Lesley-Ann Brandt’s Mazikeen character is fun to watch, especially as she taunts Lucifer about his changes. Lucifer’s own honesty about who he is works as another humorous element here as people around him rationalize this as just a fanciful legal name change and, yes, the back story is fascinating and each week we get just enough of that story to leave us wanting more.
Unfortunately, Lucifer doesn’t go enough places to really reflect its rich source material. True, both are premised upon Lucifer retiring to Earth with his consort Mazikeen to open a piano bar in Los Angeles, but the deep moral questions are treated more playfully than seriously and Lucifer never ventures far outside of his comfort zone, nor does his namesake television show. There’s so much more to cover here and there’s no reason that a show of this kind could not do so. After all, The CW’s Supernatural doesn’t follow any specific formula (certainly not a police procedural) and it has been successful for over 11 years at the time of this writing.
This is not quite Supernatural, but instead a somewhat watered down, if fun, adaptation of a much more epic comic book, reshaped to “fit” what television audiences expect. It’s easy to spend hours binge watching as the season progresses, but for a show based around the devil breaking free from Hell, Lucifer is ironically trapped in a repeating formula on Fox Television. A new season may change that direction, but unlike its namesake character, the first season of Lucifer plays it safe.