By Andrew Williams
April 23, 2014
Television Revision is a weekly feature in which our tuned in TV critic trawls through the best the box has to offer, giving you a primer on some of history’s finest shows (and the rest).
Now, this is a story all about how… DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) is a charismatic, brilliant, rule-breaking police detective with a self-destructive streak. When he happens on a case concerning charming-but-also-possibly-a-serial-killer Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), his investigation turns into something far more complicated.
Happy days? There was every possibility that Luther might have sunk without a trace. There’s nothing particularly original or inventive about it: not the themes of kinship between cop and criminal, not the brooding protagonist who colours outside the lines, and certainly not the way each episode starts with an unusual, grisly crime to hook the audience in. What keeps Luther afloat (and makes it the show everyone recommends to somebody who liked Sherlock) are the central performances of Elba & Wilson, throwing life jackets to every cliché in sight with their sheer force of charisma.
The Wire MVP Idris Elba has been crying out for someone to find him the right vehicle (and despite his best efforts, it was probably never going to be the flaming motorcycles of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance). The role of DCI John Luther is perfectly suited to his gruff charisma and hulking physical presence. He’s effortlessly compelling as this deeply troubled guy, and the show is worth seeking out for him alone.
Aside from Elba and Wilson (more on her later), Luther is a mixed bag. Pulpier than a wet newspaper, it’s often just as silly as it is scary and effective, but it’s never anything less than eminently watchable. If Luther’s first episode hooks you in, cancel your plans, because this thing does not let you go. Just be prepared to roll your eyes every now and then.
The final frontier: Come for some slightly above-average murder mysteries, stay for some way above-average central performances. Luther is often good, never clean and always fun.
Top two episodes: Episode 1. The most disappointing thing about Luther is that just as it piques your interest, it peaks. The first episode (which involve the most exchanges between Elba & Wilson) is superbly intriguing, and by far the best one of the entire series. Episode 5. Just as Luther seems to be settling in to a familiar case-of-the-week groove after that superb beginning, it pivots wildly to a much preferable bats*** insane mode and makes some brave, appreciated narrative choices.
Worst episode: Episode 4. When Luther descends completely into a procedural format, it’s much less interesting. This instalment has to rise above a lame villain, poor acting from the guest stars and a minimised presence from the leads. It can’t.
Season MVP: Ruth Wilson is absolutely brilliant in this, and she and Elba together, especially, are dynamite. It’s what elevates the entire series from a good show with a great central performance to a great show with a compelling central relationship, and it’s surprising the show doesn’t make more use of her. Now if Hollywood could just give her a role within striking distance of her immense talents, that’d be lovely.
Luther is available on Quickflix.