Fox’s “Lucifer” somehow manages to make the Devil seem mundane
Whatever else he is, or whatever other name he goes by, the Devil is supposed to be fascinating. And because sin takes a different form in every generation, part of that mesmerizing quality is supposed to come from what the Devil tells us about ourselves.
In ancient Alexandria, the Devil stood in for early Christian heretics, while in John Milton’s time, Satan was a way to reflect on the un- wisdom of rebellion against the British monarchy. More recently, Charles Manson took on a Satanic taint because of what he stood for, a society spun dangerously out of control after the social experiments of the late 1960s.
In this context, the most striking thing about Fox’s new show “Lucifer,” which premiered Monday night, is just how dull Lucifer Morningstar ( played by the equally blandly handsome Tom Ellis) is, and how little he tells us about our own time. It didn’t have to be that way: Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel portrayal of Lucifer, from which the show is theoretically drawn, makes more interesting use of some of the same charm Fox tries to deploy here.
The Devil is a home run of a character. Striking out with him this quickly and this dramatically is a sign that something’s gone very wrong.
Fox’s vision of Lucifer might have been interesting if television weren’t already populated by a raft of characters who— though they may not be exiled Lords of Hell— have all too much in common with him. Comedies and dramas alike have been in the midst of an extended romance with characters who fall at a very specific place on the socially stunted spectrum that makes them focused enough to solve seemingly intractable problems, but that renders them mystified by the rules of human behavior in a way that will later pay off in amusing romantic and social complications.
Lucifer doesn’t have the same diagnoses these other characters do; he’s just not human. But otherwise, he’s got the requisite scruff, bland good looks and rough- edged charm to fit neatly into their ranks.
So, what is the Devil for under these circumstances?
There are tiny threads of something interesting in Lucifer’s contacts with the police. Stopped by a cop for speeding in the movie’s opening scene, he persuades the man to confess, “Sometimes I put my siren on and drive really fast for no reason at all, just because I can.” Lucifer is delighted to find this crack in the man’s facade. “Right, and why wouldn’t you?” he tells the cop, delighted. “It’s fun! Feels good to get away with something, doesn’t it?”
Later, after a troubled actress ( AnnaLynneMcCord) whom Lucifer has befriended is gunned down in the street, he pushes the detective assigned to the case, Chloe Dancer ( Lauren German), for action. “What will your corrupt little organization do about this?” he demands.
Given that Lucifer is a longstanding symbol of defiance, it might have been fascinating, in this current environment, to see him bumping up against the Los Angeles Police Department.