To paraphrase Lethal Weapon 2 – he’s back, he’s bad, and he’s mad. That’s right – last night (June 14) TV land saw the return of the greatest one-man cop shop since Columbo.
His name is Luther and he’s the kind of supercop that can pinpoint a murderer from 100 yards, in a crowded street, based solely on the killer’s awkward mannerisms. It surely won’t be long before he’s given the honour of Chuck Norris and Jack Bauer style websites claiming facts like “Luther completed LA Noire in 57 seconds”.
Plot holes, OTT acting, the subtlety of the gutter press, Luther could quite easily be one of the worst things ever made by the British Broadcasting Corporation but somehow, somehow it manages to be the most watchable show currently on terrestrial TV.
After the shitstorm that ended Series One – Luther’s best friend killed Luther’s wife, framed him and eventually got a shotgun blast to the chest courtesy of Luther’s serial killing confidante at the behest of Luther’s dead wife’s lover – Luther is back on the beat bringing criminals to justice in his own inimitable style.
Woah, woah, woah! Let’s backtrack to Series One for a minute. We left Luther framed for a crime he didn’t commit, fleeing at the end of Episode Five in a scene that, to achieve its cinematic intention, needed only Gary Oldman to intone “Luther isn’t the hero London needs right now, but the hero it deserves” before popping back for the Mexican stand-off cliff-hanger finale.
These movie-aping desires are a major part of Luther‘s attraction, and its detriment, trying so hard to be like a big-screen thriller you almost feel like picking it up and cooing “It thinks it’s a film!”. From the reverse Silence Of The Lambs relationship between Luther and the wonderful Ruth Wilson as sociopath Alice Morgan, to the grisly gorno style set-pieces that litter the show, every idiosyncrasy uncovers its goal to be grown-up and serious. Every idiosyncrasy shows it up as a pale imitation of (sometimes already pretty pale) Hollywood fare.
It’s this imitation that leads to Luther‘s more ridiculously unsubtle moments. Take for example the opening scene of Luther having a cuppa while playing Russian Roulette with himself. He may as well scream into the camera, “LOOK AT ME, I’M HAUNTED BY MY PAST!”, before the tone shifts 180 degrees as he leaves his grotty flat to meet and banter with an old friend, explaining how his life is pretty much back on track now he’s been hired in a new detective team entitled “Serious and Serials” (which incidentally sounds more like an HMV DVD section than a crime squad).
So far, so shite. But Luther has one massive, XXL saving grace: Idris Elba. Idris is a screen-grabbing monster of an actor. From his breakthrough as Stringer Bell in The Wire to his (almost) cameo roles in American Gangster and Thor, you can’t take your eyes off him without first removing your retinas.
Luther may not have the brains of Sherlock or the sophistication of The Shadow Line but what it lacks in civility it more than makes up for in popcorn munching fun. The cliché-strewn ending to the second series opener was breathtaking in its lack of originality but by God it worked as a lesson in generating suspense.
And, finally, who can’t love a show that finds parts for two memorable faces from the excellent comedy series Spaced? How great it is to see Tyres as a police computer whiz and the ‘too orangey for crows yoot’, as a Punch-masked serial killer.
Because as awful as it is, and Luther is really awful, each episode compels you to tune in next week. In this instance if only to see whether Luther gets the killer to “piss of back to Romford, where he belongs.”
Series Two of Luther is currently airing on BBC One on Tuesday nights. Last night’s episode is available on the iPlayer.