In Defence of “Lucifer”

Usually a sequel will buckle before audience expectation. The story, so well-thought out in the first season, becomes a limp, over-used thing. Perhaps Lucifer had the dubious advantage of starting without a storyline. The premise is simple, if bizarre: Devil leaves hell and falls in with a homicide detective in LA. From here on out we have painfully obvious murders (if in doubt, the first suspect on camera is probably the culprit) which mirror Lucifer’s current psychological conundrums. He has sex with his LA therapist to find out more. We’re hardly talking about sophisticated storytelling where Lucifer is concerned. And yet… The laborious characterisations of season 1 leave us with an unexcepted number of beloved characters. Maze, the kickass but lonely demon, stalwart therapist Linda (everybody’s best friend), loveable Douchebag Dan and Amenadiel – a conflicted angel trying to drag Lucifer back to hell. Not forgetting Lucifer, of course. In fact, the only cardboard cutout is the wide-eyed Chloe Decker – a pretty cop who is impervious to Lucifer’s hellish charms. Her personal storyline culminates with the fact that she is a serious detective, shrugging off a troublesome past in “Hot Tub Time Machine 2”.
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Lucifer is based on the characters created by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg. Rather than transposing a story from the Sandman comics, the showrunners lifted the characters and let their own imaginations run wild. Although diverging from the original material this move allows a certain freedom. This does not always bode well (as demonstrated by the laboured police investigations which are unsurprisingly easy to solve). However, this is less of a problem that it might first appear. As the seasons progress, the gruesome murders become a backdrop for characterisation. A seemingly random homicide will allow Lucifer to explore his daddy issues, or any other emotional problems the once-Lord-of-Hell is grappling with. Subtle? Lucifer is not. Regardless, Lucifer’s problems are the same as in any soap opera or sit-com; Can I make her fall in love with me? Am I ready for commitment? Who stole my severed angel wings? Well, perhaps not quite the same. There’s a healthy dose of family rivalry too, as the celestial family turns on each other with relish. Perhaps what Lucifer does is bring back a pagan sense of the gods. Lucifer, his brother Amenadiel and their goddess mother would feel far more at home in the warring world of the Norse gods, or sipping ambrosia with Zeus and Hera.
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Lucifer is comfortably irreverent. Yet behind the laughable murders and over-acted soul searching lies an existential framework of theological angst. Can there be free will if there is an omnipotent God? When Lucifer discovers that the impervious Chloe Decker is, in some way, a gift from God, this question rises to the fore. What kind of benevolent God sentences his child to an eternity in hell? The audience is, indirectly, asked to reconsider their position. Not on religion, but on the stories that grow within in it. Of course, ever since John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Lucifer has become a protagonist in popular culture. God becomes the unfeeling, unknowable tyrant and humanity sympathies with the fallen angel. This is continued in Lucifer, where there is a clear distinction between the Lord of Hell as dispensing punishment and the higher power who forces him to do so. To take this to its logical conclusion, God tortures the souls in hell using Lucifer as instrument. A difficult problem for an ostensibly facile show. Therein lies the great joy of Lucifer. Near-farce, gruesome murder and theology somehow align in a delightful, ridiculous mess. Lucifer is not always cogent or coherent. It is often overtly ridiculous. Tom Ellis smoulders at the camera with kohl-lined eyes and murder suspects offer up helpful truths about their motives. It is an utter hodge-podge of genre.
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Yet somehow, Lucifer survives. Not because of theological wrangling, or the cop drama, or Linda’s pyscho-babble. Despite distractions, the show has formed robust, compelling characters that the audience continues to invest in. Rather than a story-led arc, the shows climaxes on its character development. Like a sit-com, it features a stalwart cast of characters and tenuously connected episodes. Nevertheless, Lucifer does not suffer from a lack of story because the characters provide it. Although, in this form, it cannot claim to be the most sophisticated form of story-telling, Lucifer works. The odd friendships between cops, divine beings and a therapist is constantly put under pressure. They fight, they make messy choices that change or reveal who they are. The characters walk in with a quip and a smile but leaves the audience with far more than that. Lucifer makes us fall in love with its characters and then asks us why? Why does Lucifer feel unloved? Why is Amenadiel so conflicted? Why does Linda stand by the Devil even after seeing his face? Human angst plays out on a celestial scale and Lucifer’s biggest questions are not about God, but man.

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