Luther? More like, err, erm, I got nothing

God I love TV, I like it more than any of my own family or friends. Bloody hell I like it more than I like myself. I don’t give a fuck about the Israel-Palestine conflict, but I do care when Mad Men series 5 is going to air… Gaddafi can do what he likes as long as he doesn’t interfere with Boardwalk Empire’s production… and by all means increase tuition fees as long as it doesn’t mess with Doctor Who’s scheduling.

Like most people I favour the big-budget American shows, be they HBO or HBO-esque ones. It’s just an empirical fact that they’re better – better production, better direction, better writing, just plain better. My most recent fix was Game of Thrones, a show that combined my two passions of involving drama and unnecessarily naked women. However with that gone, and with most of the truly good shows not returning until autumn, I found myself at something of a loss. As such I turned my attention to what old Blighty had to offer in the quality drama stakes. What I discovered was Luther, one of the BBC’s most popular and high profile shows of recent months, which last Tuesday concluded its second series.

The show centres around the character of John Luther, played by The Wire’s Idris Elba, an intelligent, tough, morally unbending detective, as he hunts only the most grizzly and gratuitious of serial killers. He’s a good man in a bad world who goes outside the law to keep the law or something like that. I should establish at this point that Luther, as in the show itself, is really bad, it’s almost so bad it’s good, but it’s actually so bad it’s bad.

Luther taking a well earned rest

First of all the characters: none of them are at all memorable, to the point that I literally don’t know/can’t remember any of their names. It doesn’t matter though, as they can easily be identified as the following: stern boss, loyal sidekick, questioning sidekick and emotionless villain of the week. They’re all one-dimensional clichés with the exception of Luther who is collection of one-dimensional clichés held together with some mumbling by Elba. To give you a sense of the calibre of characterisation here is a selection of quotes from the last series:

“The opposite of an explosion is an implosion, black hole. A black hole consumes matter and crushes it beyond existence – when I first heard that I thought that’s evil at its most pure isn’t it? Something that drags you in and crushes you to nothing.”

“I know men like you the way you know men like me, and I know you wouldn’t have done this if you believed there was the least chance of it coming back on you. Well guess what, it’s come back on you like the hand of God!” –Luther’s boss

“When I was eight they caught me interfering with the corpse of a cat, and… well, I told them it was a scientific experiment – I was trying to see if there were any kittens inside. But, there were no kittens.” -Posh pimp character

“I’m crazy! I’m crazy! I’m going to stab you! I’m crazy!”– Killer of the week

Okay so I made that last one up, but even so, you can see that the writing is about as subtle as gang rape. Having mulled it over with my mindgrapes for some time, I’ve come to the conclusion that the cause of most of the show’s problems, and this is where I stray from actual criticism and into wild speculation, is that the makers are more concerned with making a show that is “COOL!” rather than good. Watching it, I get the impression that the writer, a Mr Neil Cross, before he starts typing has a list of moments he needs to include in an episode to make Luther as bad-ass as possible. It’s like a recipe – one episode must include the following: three gratuitously violent murders, one kidnap, two interrogations, 12 shots of Luther pacing, 24 of him frowning at some evidence, 18 corpses etc etc etc. In order to include all this, poor Neil is left with an episode with wafer-thin characters, unbelievable events and plot holes the size of buicks. Episode 3 for example layers on absurdity after absurdity to the point where I half expected Graham Chapman to march in and proclaim the whole thing as being too silly.

No kittens

A by-product of this episode structure is that Luther doesn’t really have time to do any actual detecting, and any he does do has to be done very quickly, as he’s only got 2 minutes until the next murder scene. As such a typical piece of Luther deduction consists of him focusing on the tiniest piece of evidence, and then extrapolating it and combining it with his general policeman instincts, to reach a conclusion which is inevitably correct. This method is done so many times though and to such extremes, that if you watched the show thinking it was about a clairvoyant investigator it would make a lot more sense.

Saying all this, there are some things to enjoy about Luther. Since they never have to spend time establishing characters or solve any crimes it does move along at a fair old pace, and its production values are nice and glossy if a little on the grey side. Also Idris Elba deserves some kind of accolade as it’s his sheer charisma that makes the show watchable in the first place, and it’s hard to imagine another actor delivering the bullshit as well as he does.

All and all, when’s all said and done, at the end of the day, it’s just not very good.


*obligatory The Wire reference

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