Thursday, January 6, 2011

Luther: Between The Wire and The Shield

I saw the six episodes of the BBC's Luther on DVD the last few nights - all of its first season - and I'm here to say the series is somewhere between The Wire and The Shield, the best two shows (along with Friday Night Lights) ever on television.   Which is not say Luther is as yet as good as those two shows - with just six episodes, how could it be - but it's playing in the same ball park, and its originality and power certainly puts Luther in that rarefied league.

Idris Elba, who lit up every scene he was in in The Wire, is John Luther in Luther.   Elba's Stringer Bell was a cool intellect, a drug dealing master who took evening classes in economics and had Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations on his bookshelf.   Elba's Luther is also an intellect, but a cop (Detective Chief Inspector) ever on the edge of giving into to his emotion, and in fact breaking the rules and the law when the impulse is too strong for him to resist.  So if Stringer is the criminal who partakes of the light of sweet reason, Luther is the police who skates and partakes of a dark side.   It's that breaking of the law that gives Luther a kinship of sorts with Vic Mackey of The Shield, though Vic is clearly in a harrowing law-breaking class of his own.  [Spoilers for Luther follow - don't read further if you don't want to know.]

Luther starts by letting a serial killer fall to his death rather than taking him in, with the nice complication that the killer doesn't die, and only goes into a coma from he could awaken and implicate Luther in his arrest procedures.   Luther crosses paths with Alice, a beautiful, brilliant sociopath who kills her parents, and does it so cleverly that Luther can't prove that she did.   But she's attracted to Luther and his intelligence, emotionally stalks him, and Luther - or a part of him - actually comes to like it.   Before the first season is over, Alice will save Luther's job and life, and establishes herself as one of more enjoyable sociopaths on television.

The denouement of the first season, spread over two hours, is a tour-de-force of major characters in collision with unexpected results.   DCI Ian, who works next to Luther, is involved in a diamond heist.  Luther is soon on to it, and this sets Ian and Luther into an escalating punch/counter-punch - much of it not planned - that culminates in Ian killing Luther's beloved, estranged wife Zoe (played by Rome's Indira Varma - her characters have no luck) and Ian pinning that on Luther.   Before the season is over, Ian will be goading both Luther and Zoe's boyfriend Mark to kill Ian - he tells them in detail how much Zoe appreciated every orgasm she "took" from him (you gotta love that British usage) - and Alice asking Mark to vote on whether she should put Ian out of his misery.   Alice wants to, Luther - who's grown from the first episode - does not, and Alice needs Mark to break the tie.

It's that kind of show, with every character memorable, including Luther's partner Justin, Luther's boss Rose, and DCI Shenck, who works for what we call IAD here, police investigating police, and is almost on to Luther.   If you're partial to police drama served up with almost equal portions of logic and passion in all directions, a Criminal Minds in which the lead investigator is close to taking up with one of the killers,  you'll be on to Luther.

Notes in the real world1. Memo to Cablevision in Westchester, NY:  Put BBC America on the air here already, so we can see Season 2 of Luther in real time.  2.  Congrats to Idris Elba for Golden Globe Nominations for Luther, well deserved. 3. Special treat for Law & Order: Special Victims fans:  Luther mentions Detective Munch in one of the episodes (don't ask me why).

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The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book
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