TV, 2016, 4 stars
Created: Tom Kapinos
First Run: 2016-2021 (6 Seasons)
A man has been murdered with a bass guitar. Perversely and against all protocol, Lucifer Morningstar (Tom Ellis) sits in the police precinct, tapping out a ditty on the murder weapon. He sings, “Crime solving devil, it makes sense, don’t overthink it.” His long suffering partner, Detective Chloe Decker (Lauren German), looks exasperated. It’s the most meta moment in a show that rolls its eyes at itself so hard, its fake eyelashes are in danger of falling off. This scene says so much about Lucifer the series. If you love this moment, you love the show. If you don’t, you’ll never like it.
Lucifer is the actual devil. A fallen angel. He’s ruled Hell for thousands of years after leading a rebellion against his Dad (you know, God) and being cast out of heaven. Only, he’s a bit bored with punishing the guilty and has come to Los Angeles for a holiday, which has turned into a long-term stay and yet another rebellion of sorts. Lucifer is here, and there’s nobody looking after Hell. That can’t be good…
He owns a bar called Lux and lives in the penthouse, in a building which is the closest thing LA has to a gothic tower. He hangs out with Mazikeen (Lesley-Anne Brandt), the demon who helped him escape from Hell and who cut off his wings when they landed.
Lucifer doesn’t know it - self-awareness isn’t high on the Devil’s list of virtues - but he’s looking for something, and endless sex, drink, and drugs isn’t it. In a glorious meet-cute, Lucifer meets Chloe at Lux when she catches a murder case he is a witness to, and has a personal interest in. He thinks the murderer should be punished, and pushes forward with his own investigation. Only he’s underestimated the crafty Chloe, and she him, and the two become an unlikely partnership. The Devil and the Detective, they solve crimes! Preposterous.
Like all gothic romances - and Lucifer has all the hallmarks of modern gothic fantasy - the romance and sex elements are what draws people in. I don’t think people are watching Lucifer because it’s an awesome police procedural. The important thing about Lucifer himself, from a gender and sexuality perspective, is that his “power” is desire. From a sexuality perspective, Lucifer is truly pansexual. He also has the ability to bring out people’s unexpressed desires, and (as we find out later in the series) reflects people’s desires back at them. Who wouldn’t want to be with their greatest desire? On top of that, let’s face it, Tom Ellis is not at all problematic to look at.
The only human immune to Lucifer’s charms, for reasons I won’t spoil, is Chloe, and this drives him mad with both desire and despair. He has long thought the point of his existence is to satiate the desires of others and to punish the guilty, but he’s finally discovered his own greatest desire - to love and be loved by someone who can truly see him and accept him for who he is, because he’s spent his entire existence acting out the desires of others. Chloe also punishes the guilty in her by-the-book LAPD way, and doesn’t (at first) desire him at all. Devil catnip!
So - why review Lucifer? Firstly, it has a lot of queer fans, and the show works for its fans on multiple levels. There’s Lucifer himself - he’s camp, built beautifully, sings like a, well, angel, and fully embraces his sexuality. Lesbian TV fans have loved Lauren German as an actress for years, thanks to her ultimately tragic lesbian role as Shay on Chicago Fire. Many love to look at Chloe as a bisexual character, but honestly despite how awesome and hot it was, kissing Tricia Helfer in the episode “It Never Ends Well For the Chicken” doesn’t count.
The real reason we’re here though is Mazikeen (or Maze as she’s known) and Eve (Inbar Lavi) - as in Adam and Eve - who have a rather wonderful romance in the back half of the series once the show had moved to Netflix and was clearly enjoying itself. Maze at first suffers from unrequited love as Eve pursues an ultimately doomed love for Lucifer, but Eve does eventually come around. Along the way, Maze manages to turn “Wonderwall” into an unlikely lesbian love anthem. Their love was fierce, powerful, and sexy as, well, Hell.
Really, the show is riddled with everything that is camp and queer and sexual. It’s just barmy from a plot standpoint, there’s no denying it. The “murder of the week” format starts us off in seasons 1-2, but eventually gives way to more convoluted and outlandish plotlines, especially as the relationships between the characters develop, and more characters learn the truth about Lucifer.
Other than the Lucifer-Chloe romance, I think the real strength of the series is the wacky relationship Lucifer has with his therapist, Linda (Rachael Harris). It’s a great conceit, this idea that the Devil is looking to become a better man, and spends 6 seasons wilfully misinterpreting his therapist’s advice on his way to real breakthroughs. Linda is the first of the “mortals” who is brought in on the truth, and serves as the medium through which we understand Lucifer’s personal transformation.
So, it’s queer, it’s funny, it’s supernatural and weird. All good things, in my book anyway. However, since I telegraphed it in advance, yes there is a but…
It’s a pretty big suspension of disbelief that the Devil would bother with being a consultant for the LAPD if he came to Earth, but honestly if you can’t get past that one you aren’t going to make it through the pilot. That’s not the issue.
I found it annoying that Lucifer’s journey to being a “better man” is equated with his romance with Chloe, like it’s actually not possible to be a pansexual sex God (or Devil) and live a happy and fulfilled life. I read the back half of the series (from season 5 onwards) in incredibly conservative terms. The move to Netflix changed the entire feel of the show. Lucifer finds the love of his life, creates a family, reconciles with his parents and older brother, and becomes a dad. Forming genuine intimacy turns him from a queer Devil into a straight family man riddled with guilt and self-doubt. Yes, to be with Chloe he had to evolve, but did it have to be quite so much?
With Maze also “settling down” with Eve AND already being a demon herself, how else are we supposed to read this other than the Devil and the unloved demons are queer, but if they want to be happy, they need to be more straight, more married, and more human. Honestly, it was a bit of a shame to see it all pan out that way. Unlike something like Lost Girl which managed to embrace both love and queer identity, Lucifer takes the more disappointing mainstream road.
Despite that nagging feeling I have that the queer element was sacrificed to the lazy plot gods, I really did enjoy all six seasons of Lucifer, and yes, I shipped Deckerstar like everyone else. There’s a dud episode and character here and there - by the end of season five I just wanted the singing to stop - but it does hit all the epic, grand gesture, melodramatic, romantic, ‘I’d die for you” fantasy top notes that no real lover of supernatural or gothic romance will be able to resist.
Tom Ellis is great, but for me Lauren German’s performance as Chloe holds all the wackiness together. As the “straight man” in their relationship, Chloe carries the emotional heart of the show. German had a ball, never taking it too seriously but just seriously enough, managing to bring out the strength and the vulenerability of her character. She’s hilarious one second and in tears the next, and has an obvious talent for slapstick and the dry one-liner. As I’ve already said, I don’t read Chloe as queer, but with each new boxy blazer or leather jacket Chloe Decker showed up in, she stole a little bit more of my lesbian heart.
So, after all the fun Lucifer brought, can we forgive the writers for sacrificing Lucifer’s queerness for the obviously straight narrative? Maybe, if they’d ever given us real proof that Lucifer was truly into sleeping with men. As much as they talked Lucifer’s pansexuality up, only once did we see him actually kiss a man, and again, it was an undercover operation with Pierce and didn’t count.
The producers clearly wanted to have it both ways, enjoy saying Lucifer was queer and attracting queer audiences, without actually doing anything that might turn off his straight viewers. That leaves a bitter taste in my mouth that even that fabulously romantic, neatly packaged ending (and Chloe running around being a tough girl with a gun) couldn’t fully take away.