Monday, January 25, 2016

Pilot Review: Lucifer

Lucifer (Mondays at 9:00 on Fox; Premieres January 25)

It's a good thing Lucifer has the rebooted X Files miniseries as its lead-in, because this show is going to need all the help it can get to overcome its mediocrity. It's lazy and obvious at every turn, beginning with Cage the Elephant's "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked" and a close-up of a vanity license plate reading FALLIN1. Lucifer's first introduction to the audience is through his bribery of a police officer (because he's a bad ass, you see), and everything from there on out is just as expected and unoriginal as you could possibly imagine.

Those initial touches in the show's opening moments are meant to be clever and winking, but they're really just annoying. Lucifer's self-awareness gets to be obnoxious, wearing thin less than five minutes into the pilot. The hokey jokiness extends into awful dialogue ("[I've been] holed up at the chateau, copulating with a woman named Faith. It's ironic, isn't it?"), visuals (Lucifer runs a night club, because of course he does), the soundtrack (aside from Cage the Elephant, we also get to hear The Black Keys' "Sinister Kid," among others), and wordplay (one of Lucifer's previous conquests is named Delilah, who says "the devil made me do it"), all before we even get a sense of the show's plot. Based on a DC Comic series from the Vertigo imprint (the same one where the base material for Constantine and iZombie originated, both of which feel similar to Lucifer in different ways), Lucifer focuses on the titular main character (played by Tom Ellis of USA's Rush and the original Robin Hood on Once Upon a Time, before being replaced in season three) who takes a vacation to Los Angeles after becoming bored with Hell. He finds humans amusing, particularly when they unintentionally reveal things around him they wouldn't otherwise say or do. He brings out the forbidden desires of humans, and he uses that to his advantage with the opposite sex... until Detective Chloe Decker (Lauren German, Chicago Fire) comes along. She's immune to his charming good looks, but she reluctantly agrees to help Lucifer solve the murder of (what passes for) his friend when she sees his power over others. So yeah, you read that right: Lucifer is really just another glorified police procedural.

And that's just one of the missteps Tom Kapinos (Californication) makes in his beginner's first draft of a script. The dialogue is beyond clunky, with exposition delivered in awful mini-monologues and teases ("You're the Lord of Hell!") unworthy of undergraduate screenwriting courses. It's a lot of telling rather than showing, which is odd considering Lucifer is an adaptation of a comic book, an inherently visual medium. There's one laugh-out-loud joke for Ellis, driven home by the adorable Scarlett Estevez as Chloe's daughter Trixie, but the rest is a strange borderland of camp and seriousness. Lucifer's characterization veers toward the former, while Chloe's is firmly rooted in the latter. It makes for a confusing tone that's somewhere between Constantine and iZombie, unsure if it's supposed to be a thriller, a crime drama, a black comedy, a buddy cop comedy, or a satire, so it's some disparate mix of them all. Len Wiseman (Hawaii Five-0) also does nothing intriguing with the visual translation, borrowing the most effective moments (when an angel appears and time slows to a crawl around him) from Constantine. The writer and director make Lucifer feel homogenized, not really making a case for why this show is on the air. If it's really no different from its predecessors, why does it exist? And was Fox really this desperate for a hit that almost every new show they've debuted this season has been a sci-fi/fantasy take on a procedural?

The high point of the pilot is Ellis's performance. In this adaptation, Lucifer is meant to ooze charm and sex appeal despite his odiousness (or, as Chloe puts it, "dickishness"), and he absolutely does thanks to Ellis, with his accent, his perfectly groomed stubble, and his playful eyes. German is awkwardly stiff as Chloe and unconvincing in her rigidity and coldness that stems from a lifetime of having to live up to expectations live down past embarrassments. In other words, she's a bore (partly thanks to a teased backstory that's eventually revealed by pilot's end and couldn't possibly be less unique or interesting). The only other character (though there are many, primarily revealed in glorified cameos) who makes an impression is Estevez, her chemistry with Ells palpable and very sweet.

Unfortunately, that's not enough to recommend Lucifer. It's a slog, a thoroughly boring rehash of comic adaptations that have come before it. In a crowded market of comic-to-TV series (every broadcast network hast at least one now, and The CW alone has four), this one feels the most superfluous. There's hope, however, that future episodes will be better than the lackluster pilot: Kapinos will not be as hands-on moving forward, replaced as showrunner by White Collar's Joe Henderson, who will write episode two. Other future writers include some who have scripted for Perception, CSI: Miami, The Mysteries of Laura, Leverage, Scorpion, and Chuck, so perhaps the overarching style the show has decided to settle on is a cop show with comedic elements. Hopefully that can at least lend some unification to Lucifer moving forward (although the devil solving crimes is probably the worst procedural plot network television has come up with yet), because the pilot is pretty much a mess.

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