Fox remains strangely enamored of buddy-cop-with-a-twist series, which has yielded a few successes, but also plenty of Nielsen road-kill (“Almost Human” and “Minority Report,” we hardly knew ye). Still, it’s hard to think of one more patently absurd than “Lucifer,” which reveals that the Prince of Darkness has taken refuge on Earth, where, in the pilot, he decides to use his powers of persuasion to assist a local cop in solving crimes. Sure, there’s some mumbo-jumbo about forces wanting him back in Hell, but if the series continues along this trajectory, rest easy, he’ll get there soon enough.
Picking up in the middle, “Lucifer” finds its namesake – played by Tom Ellis (“Rush”) with plenty of suave charm and a British accent, suggesting that the road to Hell runs through “Downton Abbey” – having taken up residence on Earth as a nightclub owner, for reasons that are a trifle confusing. His absence, however, hasn’t gone unnoticed, prompting God’s emissary, the angel Amenadiel (DB Woodside), to periodically visit him, seeking to cajole him into going home.
Still, Lucifer seems to be operating without much purpose – other than sheer debauchery – when Detective Chloe Decker (Lauren German) enters the scene, seeking to solve a murder that took place outside the club. Moreover, Chloe appears to be immune to Lucifer’s influence (one is tempted to invoke the image of Jedi mind tricks), which intrigues him, as he tags along in helping her to decipher what happened.
Drawn from a character within Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics, with a pilot written by Tom Kapinos and directed by Len Wiseman (whose TV credits include Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow,” in addition to his genre films like the “Underworld” franchise), “Lucifer” certainly has a sense of atmosphere, and has some fun with little touches like the character’s personalized license plate (FALLIN1, naturally) or inherent dislike of children. Rachael Harris is also a hoot, briefly, as a psychologist who is decidedly not resistant to Lucifer’s influence.
Still, it’s hard to think of anything more mundane than having the Devil walking among us, only to turn that into a crime procedural – a slightly sulfurous version of “Bones” or (gasp) “Rosewood.” Subsequent episodes merely calcify that perception, with Lucifer — almost giddy about facing danger and the prospect of being hurt — becoming “an official civilian consultant for the LAPD,” which at least explains how its parking-enforcement system operates.
“Constantine,” for one, already faced the challenge of translating to primetime a comic-derived character with one foot in Hell, and that show was pretty summarily cast into TV’s nether regions. “Lucifer” occupies a time slot where the aforementioned “Minority Report” hadn’t exactly been setting the world ablaze, with what should be an early boost from “The X-Files” as its lead-in.
Still, unless Ellis’ seductive appeal can rise to supernatural levels, it’s hard to see where the series goes from these tepid beginnings. Because if something smells a little rancid, unfortunately, it’s less likely brimstone than the stale whiff of a warmed-over concept.