Even before Lucifer premiered its pilot episode on 25 January 2016 it was already disliked and panned by fans of the comic, Lucifer and the character’s original presentation in Sandman. The advanced reviews were not kind, describing the show as “stupid,” with an interest that “cools quickly,” was criticized for its “hackneyed cop portrayal,” and states that the plot featured an “absurd twist.” The first few episodes were judged mainly because it was not the Mike Carey comic portrayal and not on the show itself or Tom Ellis’ portrayal. Comparing the two though I think takes away from all the things the show did well, and ignores some of the key issues that surround all adaptations.
First, since the early modern period (Renaissance), the devil is most often portrayed as human. While he is never not the devil he looks like us, acts like us, seems to have the same desires and appetites as us. Yet depending on the portrayal, the purpose of these portrayals are radically different- humor, seduction, violence. Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost, the basis for Gaiman’s original Lucifer portrayal in Sandman is a rebellious archangel, prideful, humanistic, melancholy in many ways, envious of what man has, determined to see his downfall. He’s interesting because he’s both us and not us.
On the surface Tom Ellis portrayal doesn’t seem to be anything new or different. He’s a hedonist who runs a nightclub called Lux. He drinks, he’s constantly seducing women (although seducing implies work, and Lucifer Morningstar never has to work at getting women), and he makes deals with people. These deals are not the Faustian pacts of old, although there’s an implied trade. In the past devilish deals always had a catch, a loophole that tricked the unsuspecting but THIS Lucifer seems to make them just to entertain himself. While the show occasionally shows negative consequences of these deals they are almost always the part of the human and not because of anything Lucifer did.
When the show premiered the main critique was that it was not Gaiman or Carey’s character. Yet part of what made those portrayals so wonderful was the way they revised Christian mythology as Milton had and what was most interesting about these portrayals was the way they revised Lucifer as a character. This Lucifer is a victim of an uncaring and absentee father, God. God is the unfair one in this scenario, and the system is rigged (a familiar plot in both the Hellblazer comics and the tv and movie incarnations, Constantine, as well as in the Prophecy films and the show Supernatural). Tom Ellis’ Lucifer hates that he is blamed for all the horrible things people do to each other. That he is only known for punishment. For hell. And this anger, this pain, and how Ellis plays it is one of the most interesting things about Lucifer.
Satan as the true hero of the story is not a new idea, but most portrayals, including Milton’s, present this characterization only to ultimately present it as a misunderstanding. Ellis’ Lucifer is not a hero but he is misunderstood, his side of the story has not been told, an interesting presentation considering Gaiman and Carey have both told it. Ellis’ portrayal also emphasizes the fact that Lucifer is not human, not us. Whether it’s the flashes of his true self that we see reflected in mirrors, a great statement on how our true selves are revealed, or his utter bafflement at everyday ideas and concepts. While Ellis’ Lucifer seems to show some human qualities the show emphasizes again and again just how human he’s not.
In addition to all of this the show is clever. No, really. I don’t know why reviews didn’t pick up on this. I mean seriously, go Google Lucifer gifs- even out of context that stuff is funny. Same thing for the show’s Instagram account. They’re savvy enough to realize what their strengths are. From the episode titles to Tom Ellis’ portrayal, the dialogue, the references (especially to Mike Carey in the episode “St. Lucifer”) it’s all well done, and balances not taking itself too seriously with a new and interesting exploration of Lucifer as a character. Season 1 is thirteen episodes and other than Tom Ellis’ delightful turn as Lucifer Morningstar and Lauren German as Chloe Decker as his foil, special attention should be paid to Lesley-Ann Bradt as Mazikeen and DB Woodside as Amenadiel who are riveting to watch and add the most to Gaiman and Carey’s mythology. Season 2 premieres 19 September so there’s still plenty of time to catch up on Season 1. My favorite episodes are “#9 A Priest Walks Into a Bar,” “#11 St. Lucifer,” “#12 #TeamLucifer,” and the finale, “Take Me Back To Hell.” It’s a show that certainly takes a while to find its footing, but trust me, Ellis’ charisma alone should get you through that- his Lucifer is equal parts childlike wonder, and sex on a stick. Even when it’s still struggling there are real gems and things to love from the pilot onward. To me the only real impediment is Kevin Alejandro’s character Dan Espinoza because he just annoyed me to no end, I hated him pretty much from the start, but we’re supposed to. Now that they have hit their stride Season 2 promises some great things, not least of which is an expansion of Amenadiel and more of his relationship with Lucifer and the addition of Tricia Helfer as “Mom.” Trust me, give the devil his due, and take a chance on him. And if you’re on Twitter take a minute to follow @LUCIFERwriters they’re highly entertaining!