Apr 24, 2011

[REVIEW] Luther: Season 1


I finally got a chance to watch the BBC's police/crime series Luther, starring Idris Elba (The Wire, The Gospel, American Gangster, Daddy's Little Girls) this weekend. I'd been meaning to for awhile, but things just kept coming up and I never got to it.  So sitting down to watch it yesterday I was looking forward to seeing this.  I'm a big fan of Elba, and I've always had an affinity for British programming.  Shows like Hustle, and Spooks and even How Not To Live Your Life, are favorites of mine for one reason or another.

As I was watching it I was thinking that there was something about it that intrigued me, although I wasn't sure why, and then somewhere around the midway mark of the six episode series, I realized what it was.   On the surface this was a standard police crime show.  You have all the markings of a by the books series.  The cop who's back off suspension over questionable tactics in pursuing a criminal, his marriage has fallen apart, he's partnered up with a new rookie cop, his boss is understanding and putting her job on the line to support him, etc, etc. The one departure from most shows, is that you know from the jump who the killer is, with the remaining part of the show depicting the cat and mouse action between the killer and Luther.

However, where it departs from that, at least for me, and what makes this truly engrossing and not exactly the same cookie cutter show, is in the roles of John Luther, and Alice Morgan.   Both of these characters are extremely volatile and unpredictable.   Luther has this rage bubbling just below the surface and he is absolutely unable to control it.  Even when he seems that he knows very well that he's being baited, he still jumps at the bait. 

Case in point, when his wife, the lovely and talented Indira Varma (Human Target, Hustle) declared that their relationship was over, despite having a two day fling, and that she's going back to her new boyfriend, Luther knows that she came to his job to deliver the news, specifically because it was viewed as a "safe place" for her.   He even mentions this, and notes that there was less chance of a violent outburst from him.  Considering he exploded and trashed her house earlier in the series when she explained she had found someone else, that was a smart plan.

Even though he knew that she did this for that reason, even though he knew he was in a police station and was surrounded by his co-workers and bosses, he still erupted in rage, and trashed his office and smashed a window.   He can't help it, and he can not control it, no matter how hard he tries.  This is what makes him such an interesting person, and what makes the show more than a predictable by the books procedural.

Likewise with the character of Alice Morgan, played by Ruth Wilson (The Prisoner, Jane Eyre), there is another element of unpredictability to the show, as she represents sort of a wild card.  A sociopathic murderer who develops a strange connection with John, much to his frustration, and while I didn't care for the character that much at the beginning, I grew to really like her, and was really glad to hear she is going to be in Season 2 when it airs sometime this year.

 There's a great supporting cast here, and a really interesting choice of a guest star in Rob Jarvis (Eddie the Bartender on Hustle) as a serial killer.  That was about as far against type as I've ever seen, although to be fair I've only ever seen him in Hustle.

In fact, my one real problem with the show, albeit a small one, is that in the beginning, it seems things happen too easily.   When Luther deduces that Alice Morgan killed her mother and father (and dog), it feels too convenient.  He yawns, and she doesn't, and suddenly he's convinced she did it.   Likewise with the second episode where a man kills a couple of cops, and they deduce quite easily that it's the son of a soldier who was in prison for life for killing a cop.

That's one of the risks you run in dealing with shows about brilliant minded people, whether they are cops like John Luther, or doctors like Gregory House, sometimes you think "they just got that a bit too easily".   In portraying them as smarter than the rest of us, or their minds work differently, it sort of gives you the temptation to have them solve things in record time, based solely on their intellect being greater than our own, or their critical thinking skills honed more.

Overall though, that wasn't a huge problem as it went on.  The show was solidly paced, and highly interesting and makes for fascinating and engrossing television.   I, for one, will be glad to see it return to pick up where that cruel cliffhanger left off.

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