What happens when you trade Monk‘s Adrian Monk or Psych‘s Shawn Spencer’s phobias and obsessions for a dash of Christian mythology and 100 percent more sex? You get Lucifer, Fox’s latest sacrificial offering to the burning pyre of police procedurals demanded by the television deities. Comparing it to Monk and Psych, which were fantastic spins on the cop-show format, doesn’t mean Fox’s latest is just as good. But if it uses its source material wisely, Lucifer could become a memorable show on its own terms.
The pilot introduces viewers to Lucifer Morningstar (Tom Ellis), the famous fallen angel whose failed rebellion against God resulted in his expulsion from Paradise. For almost 10 billion years, the so-called Devil ruled over Hell, where he kept the realm’s many demons in check while devising horrifying punishments for the worst of mankind’s dead. Boredom with his lot in the afterlife kicked in, however, so Lucifer decided to retire to Los Angeles and start a nightclub called Lux. He now spends most of his time drinking, playing piano, and manipulating the occasional human being for the sheer entertainment value.
Despite complaints from demon-turned-bartender Mazikeen (Lesley-Ann Brandt) and warnings from the angel Amenadiel (D.B. Woodside), Lucifer prefers shunning his responsibilities in Hell while lounging around in Los Angeles. At least until a former employee named Delilah (AnnaLynne McCord) — a young singer whose career he helped start — is murdered in a drive-by shooting. For all-too-human reasons he can’t quite understand, Lucifer finds himself compelled to team up with a police detective, Chloe Decker (Lauren German), in order to find out who killed Delilah and punish them accordingly.
If it weren’t for the fact that the show’s title is Lucifer, viewers might think they were watching another show about non-cops doing cop things. Which they are, of course. Per the first episode’s introductory story, Lucifer falls into the eccentric-consultants-who-advise-detectives subgenre of police procedural television that audiences still love to watch. (Like Castle, which is currently on its eighth season over at ABC.) Yet unlike the OCD-riddled, fraudulent-but-clever characters who’ve come before him, Ellis’ Lucifer is more than just another person endowed with unique gifts. He is literally the Devil incarnate, and the rich narrative promised by Neil Gaiman‘s conception of the character and Mike Carey’s continuation of it in the Vertigo comic book that serves as the series’ main source material (to say nothing of the other source material, the Bible), remains dormant, but present in writer and executive producer Tom Kapinos’ pilot. There are plenty of guns, bad guys and unorthodox interrogation scenes, but these are accompanied by demons, angels and the hint of a possible celestial war.
These religious themes have the potential to save Lucifer from the aforementioned pyre for two important reasons — American interest in religion, and a welcome appreciation of the Vertigo comics that inspired the series.
Between the new PBS Downton Abbey-esque drama, Mercy Street and NBC’s transatlantic comedy You, Me and the Apocalypse (not to mention countless retellings of the New Testament’s Jesus narrative), Christianity remains a hot topic for television. None of these will probably reach Touched by an Angel levels of devoted viewership, but their existence is enough to suggest that television executives believe God is hip again. So, leave it to Fox to try to hop on the Bible bandwagon, albeit with a slightly different — and welcome — approach. Sure, the American Family Association-supported One Million Moms petitioned the network to remove Lucifer from its 2016 lineup. Why? Because the organization was upset about how the then-unaired (but leaked) pilot “[mischaracterized] Satan” and “[mocked] the Bible.” But that’s the kind of press Fox can’t buy, especially when the ensuing newsflash elicited a response from Gaiman.
As for Lucifer‘s adherence to the character’s origins in Sandman and the subsequent Lucifer spinoff at the Vertigo DC imprint, most of the major elements are the same. Both the television adaptation and the comic books portray Lucifer as having left Hell due to boredom, and retiring to Los Angeles to run Lux. Mazikeen and Amenadiel also feature, and much of Lucifer’s solo storyline following the figure’s first appearance in Sandman features his internal and external struggles with staying on Earth or reclaiming his rightful place in the underworld. Even his insistence that his “word is bond” comes straight from the comics. These specific and ambiguous aspects are almost identical, but where the series differs particularly has to do with its cop show format and the arrival of Det. Decker.
If the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced 13-episode run plays these two positive qualities to its advantage, then Lucifer just might rise above the otherwise tiresome police procedural clichés that typify its central plot. (And yes, there are plenty of said clichés to go around.) Yet aside from the Delilah story that serves as Lucifer’s entry into Decker’s life and livelihood, there’s still a welcome chance that the next 12 episodes won’t simply employ the Devil as The Mentalist (but with a literal God complex).
Lucifer premieres Monday, Jan. 25 at 9 p.m. ET on Fox. Until then, here’s a preview…