Mike Carey’s Lucifer is a great comic book. Fox’s TV adaptation has nothing in common with it.
The initial trailers for the show made this realization impossible to ignore. It’s the devil! But he’s a COP. And he says things like “Let’s go to pound town.” And he’s going to rip the veneer off this crazy world we call Los Angeles! Despite the presence of Lux, Mazikeen, and Amenadiel, it was clear that Fox’s Lucifer was going to be an entirely new thing.
Still, there was always a possibility that Fox was using the goo in their Tired Tropes Bucket to drizzle over a big reveal proving that the show really does embrace the arcane weirdness of the comic. The comic doesn’t really hold back on otherworldly oddity, and that might be a little much for a casual viewer. In that respect, re-framing Lucifer as a cop procedural might be the show runners’ way of building a bridge between a new viewer and the mind-expanding concepts that the Lucifer comic features.
This is not the case. Fox’s Lucifer is just a cop procedural featuring a guy who can get anyone to confess at any time. And it is ever so boring.
Visual adaptations of books don’t have to be exact and, in fact, they shouldn’t, because an element that shines in one medium can be disruptive in another. A book’s internal monologue becomes awkward if translated directly into a TV show as voice-over, for example. An adaptation can take even greater liberties with the source material, as long as it continues to explore the themes and questions that the original material raised. (Captain America: Civil War seems a prime example of this. As do the Batman movies.) Lucifer didn’t have to reproduce the comic to still evoke that comic. And while the core premise from the book is still in the show–Lucifer has quit Hell and now has nothing to define him–the tone of the show is so lowbrow and predictable that a viewer becomes actively discouraged from thinking about the larger implications of Lucifer quitting Hell. All that’s left is a generic cop/L.A. show.
Fans of the comic won’t find anything here to interest them, but ultimately there’s nothing to sustain non-comic viewers, as well. Tom Ellis, playing the titular character, is a very charismatic actor and at times you wonder if he’s subtly auditioning for a role as the next Doctor in Doctor Who. (Although sometimes he comes off like Kilgrave from Jessica Jones and yeeeeiiiikes let’s not go there, show.) He is ready to entertain you, to make you love Lucifer, and he’s so good that he almost…almost…overpowers the hour’s worth of empty dialogue he’s given. This would be a very different show if the dialogue were legitimately snappy, but it’s not. Every line sounds phoned in and expository, designed to move to the next plot point without revealing more about the character speaking. Shouldn’t Lucifer himself, as a mythological figure, be a baffling mystery, with one eye on you and the other on the universe at large? He should say things that don’t really connect with the conversation, he should reach conclusions years ahead of everyone else. Instead, he’s just weary and aggressively sexual. He’s the guy at parties who thinks he’s funny but is really just…empty. And whether you’re familiar with the comic or not, that emptiness can’t sustain the show.
Which is troubling, because Lucifer’s character is the only one sustaining the pilot episode. His foil, Lauren German’s Detective I’m Taking This Job Seriously, is so boring that the show disconnects her from Lucifer’s plotline not once, not twice, but three times. Lesley Ann-Brandt’s Mazikeen exists for about two seconds and has no impact on the episode. And D.B. Woodside’s menacing angel Amenadiel is painful. I personally have a big soft spot for Woodside and his amazing voice, but all he does here is stand in weird places and repeatedly tell Lucifer that he has to go back to Hell. Amenadiel’s threats carry no weight whatsoever, and while this is also true of Amenadiel’s presence in the comic book, there it’s played for laughs while on the TV show we’re supposed to take it Very Seriously. This means that Tom Ellis’ Lucifer has to carry the entire show, and while Ellis himself is up to the task, the show itself isn’t.
Essentially, everyone interested in or involved with Lucifer deserves better. Which is…such a weird thing to find one’s self saying.
Chris Lough writes about fantasy and superheroes and things for Tor.com. Leah wanted him to title this review “God. Awful.”