WATCH THIS: "Luther" (Sunday, Oct. 17 @10pm on BBC America)
I like TV. While I usually have a handful of shows I'm interested in every year, it's not that often that I find myself genuinely addicted to a series.
I enhale Dexter and Mad Men when they become available on DVD or Blu-ray. I'm always craving the next episode of Friday Night Lights as soon the one I've just seen has ended. And, most recently, I can't get enough of Modern Family.
I would say that after the first episode of Luther, I thought there was a legitimate shot at becoming addicted. About five seconds into the next, it had already become official. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever been this into a show this early.
The bad news is that the addiction won't go away. The show only gets better as it goes on.
Procedural cop dramas are tricky, especially in today’s climate. There are so many CSI’s and Law & Order’s (including one for the UK) that it’s hard to imagine anyone successfully bringing something new to the table.
But Luther definitely stands out in the crowd. And that’s thanks in large part to two major factors: the writing and the acting.
The first episode only gives you a glimpse into how smart and unpredictable the show really is, although it’s plenty engaging on its own. You see John Luther in his prime, then at his lowest point, and, finally, you see that he may have just met his match in a brilliant young killer who enjoys toying with him. Again, all this in the very first episode.
I’m not interested in providing too much information on the plot because I don’t want to be tempted to spoil anything (and I can personally attest to the fact that it’s much more enjoyable going in without knowing much). That, and I think the trailer above gives you a pretty good indication of how the show operates.
I will say this, though: it makes for some great TV. Luther is a complex, interesting protagonist. Alice Morgan is hands-down the best villain I've seen on television in years. I should note that Alice Morgan shares no relation with Dexter Morgan, except for the fact that they have the same last name. And red hair. And they tend to commit crimes and get away with them. And you actually enjoy watching them do their deeds.
Of course, the show isn't perfect, and there is at least one bad line of reasoning Luther makes that’s a little cringe-worthy (his theory on how he knows Alice is guilty). But this is quickly overshadowed by the show’s major highlight: its fantastic actors.
All the characters are interesting, whether we’re talking about the killers or the coppers (to use the detectives’ own parlance).
Sam Spruell (episode 2’s Owen Lynch), Paul Rhys (episode 3’s Lucien Burgress), Rob Jarvis (episode 4’s Graham Shand) and Ross McCall (episode 5’s Daniel Sugarman, the only American criminal in the series) are all excellent in their respective turns as villains, and they balance each other out. While Spruell and McCall are more calculating and conniving, Rhys and Jarvis are both incredibly creepy. All leave lasting impressions.
In terms of the police force, DCI Martin Schenk (Dermot Crowley) and DCI Ian Reed (Steven Mackintosh) are the definite standouts. The former makes the most of his limited screen time as the cop who claims not to enjoy reprimanding fellow officers (though you get the suspicion that he does). Mackintosh is good throughout the series, but he really shines in the final two episodes.
Warren Brown (DS Justin Ripley) and Saskia Reeves (DSU Rose Teller) are good, too, but you wish they were given more to do.
The two absolute best things about the show are Idris Elba and Ruth Wilson.
I’m not quite sure I would say Elba’s performance here outdoes what he did as Stringer Bell in The Wire, but I may be saying that in a couple of weeks. He’s completely gripping, portraying a cop who’s more of a loose canon than his methodical drug dealer ever was. Like Ripley, Teller and Reed, you’re compelled to stick by him, even when it’s obvious that he’s in the wrong.
I can’t imagine someone without Elba’s magnitude truly owning the role the way he does. I do think the show would be good regardless, but I’m glad I live in a world where I don’t have to even seriously consider that.
That being said, I think the show’s standout may be Ruth Wilson as Alice Morgan. It’s not hard to understand why someone like Luther would be fascinated by her. She's undeniably interesting. Wilson steals every scene she’s in, and the chemistry between she and Elba is positively electric. Like Friday Night Lights' Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, both are great on their own, but put them together in a scene, and baby, you’ve got a stew going.
I know it’s WAY too early to even be thinking about this, but what can I say, old habits. Expect Elba, Wilson and, based on the finale alone, possibly Mackintosh, to be nominated for Emmys next year for their roles, with Wilson the most likely to go home with a trophy.
It’s a shame the series wasn’t a ratings darling in England, but then again, how many great shows are? Maybe the U.S. can give the show the boost it deserves.
For those, like me, who’ve already experienced the show, the second series 2011 premiere date seems a long way away. How can the Brits stand it? 6 episodes and that’s all for the year?
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