Fox’s Lucifer is the type of TV show that can’t get over the cleverness, or perhaps just the misconstrued outrageousness, of its central conceit. In this case, it’s that the titular lord of the underworld (Tom Ellis) is now enjoying an extended vacation as a well-dressed, lusty, and affluent club owner in Los Angeles. Whenever there’s an opportunity to make a pun about hell, demons, brimstone, or any other word synonymous with Beelzebub, the narrative takes it, and nearly every song on the soundtrack includes a reference to “wicked” or “devil” or even simply “bad” in its refrain. About a quarter of the way through the show’s first season, the bombardment of these not-so-subtle winks is what resonates most strongly.
Lucifer takes the last name Morningstar and finds something like an altruistic purpose when he teams with Detective Dancer (Lauren German), a divorced parent with a precocious youngster, Trixie (Scarlett Estevez). In this regard, the series settles into the patterns of a procedural, one that’s insipid but never exactly offensive. Still, the writers add a larger story arc involving Lucifer’s brother, Amenadiel (D.B. Woodside), who insists that his sibling return to hell, lest a war begin between demonic forces. Throughout these dramatic strands, the details are alternatively dull and superfluous, whether our antihero is shaking down an all-powerful motorcycle club or a self-aggrandizing rapper by dangling him off a balcony.
The term “antihero” is applicable to Lucifer in this case, but not entirely accurate. For all the talk of his wickedness and power to unleash people’s innermost desires, Ellis’s character almost always ends up on the right side of things, no more or less so than Batman or Daredevil. He never does anything that truly suggests a moral complexity beyond an interest in threesomes, jazz piano, and good scotch. The character isn’t so much evil, or even a particularly bad person, as he’s a showy, attention-hungry douche, the sort of guy who thinks every woman alone at the bar is secretly waiting for him to talk to her.
As a character, Lucifer has his origins in Neil Gaiman and Sam Kieth’s Sandman comic-book series, where he was written as less flashy and more contemplative—an existential trickster. Here, he’s more like a character from Entourage with super powers. Of course, the series has absolutely no obligation to show any fidelity to what Gaiman and Kieth dreamed up, but the show’s creators have replaced the original Lucifer with neither a counterpoint nor an interesting abstraction. Instead, they’ve simply shaped yet another paean to the perfect dude, who can carry on a lewd, open affair with his psychiatrist, play matchmaker with Dancer and her ex, and solve every major crime that the LAPD is called in for. Ultimately, the series acts less like a reflection of Lucifer’s presumed many sides than a proverbial red carpet for him to stroll upon.