Most of the disappointment is of my own making. Like the unsuccessful Constantine, what makes the character really work is pretty much impossible to put on television. It’s too dark for the audience, it’s too dangerous in its ideas, it’s too strong for the powers that be that run television who, ultimately, only want something pretty to go in between the commercials and sell those. On those terms, Lucifer was never going to work.
What, then, gets onto the screen? Perhaps, if I set up the character’s history on the screen, the story that attracted the attention of the Goggle-Box, you can then see by how much it’s had to be watered-down, diminished, to fit the plasma.
Lucifer Morningstar, Angel, Son of God, the first Rebel, Ruler of Hell, the Devil, was introduced in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, in issue 4. Dream, seeking to recover his lost accoutrements of office, had to retrieve one from a Demon of Hell. Having succeeded, he humiliated Lucifer by walking out, untouched, leaving the Ruler of Hell swearing to destroy him.
Subsequently, in the ‘Season of Mists’ storyline, Dream’s honour compelled him to go to Hell to free a prisoner he had unjustly condemned. Lucifer’s response was to close Hell, driving out the dead, the damned and the demons, closing all gates and handing the key to Dream, who would then have the responsibility of deciding Hell’s fate. That was one hell (excuse me) of an act of revenge.
But Lucifer had grown tired of his role, had for too long seen himself as no more than a puppet to the divine plan, his every independent move merely fulfilling God’s wishes. Demanding free will, he abdicated. He would go on to open a nightclub in LA, called Lux, where he would play cocktail piano when the mood took him.
Thereafter, Mike Carey took up Lucifer in his own series, a long, complex story about Lucifer’s compulsion to escape, utterly, the imprisonment of God’s designs for him. To finally free himself from the entanglement of his father. His travails involved primarily other supernatural beings, including the Host of Angels, and included the creation of a new Universe, and Lucifer’s own ultimate escape into a void that would finally see him achieve freedom on the only terms possible.
It was a complex interplay of moral and ethical questions as to predestination, free will and the burdens of divinity. You can see how that couldn’t possibly play on telly.
I started watching the pilot with lowered expectations, but hadn’t really lowered them enough. Lucifer’s internal struggle with his fate, and omnipotence, was reduced to his decision to take ‘a vacation’ to run the nightclub. The course of the episode sets up the terms of the series. A popular singer (named Delilah but clearly meant to be a relatively early career Madonna) is shot to death in Lucifer’s company. He helped start her on her musical career, so Lucifer decides to use his powers to find the killer and ensure their hellish punishment. To do so, he teams up, unwillingly on her part, with Detective Chloe Dancer, a pariah amongst her colleagues (which includes her ex-husband). He will go on to be her unofficial colleague.
It’s not much, really, is it?
To that extent, I was prepared for a massive dumbing down, but hoped that the writers might be able to capture Lucifer’s voice, especially from Carey’s series: bored, superior, supercilious, grave, detached, in complete command, and gloriously funny in its utter disdain for virtually everybody else he encounters. And no, they can’t.
They make a very half-hearted attempt to bring some of that in, but it’s lost amongst what they’ve chosen to emphasise instead. The TV Lucifer is basically a decadent seducer, hot on sex, a tease and a small-time tempter, even as he denies any responsibility for the sins you humans enjoy to commit. He giggles nervously when he talks, as if concerned about the response of the people he meets, he’s far too upfront about who and what he is, as opposed to Carey’s Lucifer, who made no secret of what he was but who sat at a distance from humans who, for the most part, were far below his attention and concern.
And the idea of Lucifer as an unofficial police adviser, a sort of supercharged Castle, not to mention all those other crime of the week where gifted amateur shows Police how to do it series, is just beneath the Prince of Hell.
What I want to see is, I know, beyond any possibility of occurring. What I’d live with instead is way beyond this sneery, cheap-sex-drenched, pathetic display.
So. Like I said, I gave Constantine three weeks, I’ll do the same for Lucifer. But I’m not confident. Not one bit.