Show of the Day: Luther

20 Aug

British drama Luther is a House M.D. of crime.  Detective John Luther is an eccentric, kind of crazy, but extremely devoted and brilliant policeman who gets stuck with the big hard-to-solve cases.  He also has an extreme temper problem, and possible internal sanctions hanging over his head after, in the first couple minutes of the show, he drops a probably guilty man to the ground in a chase on a bridge rather than arrest him.  Luckily, the victim is in a coma and can’t talk.  Additionally, his ultra-driven career has led to him losing his wife and love of his life Zoe to another man.  Luther works with a team of generic cop characters to solve a new crime in every episode, generally involving serial killers, but with a kidnapper and the like here and there.

There’s one very intresting character in Luther, and it’s not Luther.  Luther’s good, well, because Idris Elba (um, Stringer Bell from The Wire is actually British, and speaks with a British accent – too weird) is good.  Otherwise, Luther isn’t really that interesting.  We’ve seen this character before, as mentioned before, he’s good, he’s damn good at what he does, but he’s angry and tormented and obsessive.  Every time you want Luther to do something just slightly different than you would expect, he almost never comes through.  He’s still the second most interesting character in the show by a long shot.  Also, it’s worth noting that Luther, the show, and Luther, the character, have absolutely no sense of humor, which, as House showed (House, the show, and House, the character, had some issues, but plenty of good points as well), would lighten up the show and the character a little bit (Humorless shows can work; not every show needs humor in its arsenal, but there’s a risk run of episodes really slogging along without it).

The most interesting character is Alice, who I haven’t mentioned before in the short sum-up, because her role actually requires an explanation.  First episode SPOILER – in the first episode, Luther attempts to solve the murder of Alice’s parents, and while he’s nearly certain Alice did it the entire time, he’s unable to prove it.  Instead of ever being found guilty, Alice gets away, and Luther develops a grudging respect for her, while Alice, who is a sociopathic nihilist, but not always nefarious, comes to respect and like Luther.  Over the course of the season, she acts somewhat as Hannibal Lecter to Luther’s Clarice Starling, helping him solve other crimes by viewing them through a sociopath’s perspective.  Not only is Alice the best character in the show, but Luther is also at his most interesting when dealing with Alice, and their tet a tets discussing Luther caring too much and Alice caring not at all are the best parts of the show altogether.

Here’s the other problem with Luther.  When extremely dramatic events occur late in the first season, you realize that not only do you not really care about the characters, but that you barely known any of their names.  Cop who is kind of friends with Luther and he talked with for five minutes in the first episode?  Cop who is his boss and is generally friendly to him but sometimes restrained?  Cop who is his younger protégé and new partner?  I don’t know what their names are and I finished the first season.  I know it’s only six episodes, but that’s enough time for a modicum of name-saying.  I don’t really care about any of them either either.  As long as they get the murderer in the end, that’s pretty much what does it for me.

In short, here’s what’s good about Luther; you mostly watch it for the cases, you watch it for Alice, and you watch it for Idris Elba.  For six episodes that’s enough, and I have four more in the second season which I’ll watch soon.  The cases are actually well executed and interesting and enough to make the show somewhat compelling as a simple procedural without all the baggage of Luther’s temper and personal problems.  It could be a lot better, but it slides in above the worth watching line, especially for so few episodes, if not much higher.

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