Why do people like Lucifer? That’s a question I asked myself on numerous occasions as I struggled through the first five seasons and I’m yet to settle on a satisfactory answer. Loosely based on a DC Comics title, the series has amassed a formidable army of #Lucifans, so passionate that they successfully lobbied Netflix to save it from an early cancellation.
The streaming giant took ownership from season four and are responsible for this latest outing, which continues the story of how the devil left hell and began solving murders for the Los Angeles Police Department. It’s hard to decide which is stranger: that bizarre premise, or the idea that Neil Gaiman’s Sandman universe isn’t interesting enough to sustain a television show without a procedural crime element tossed into the mix.
I have been consistently amazed by how showrunner Ildy Modrovich allows these forgettable cases to dominate the show, even following the jump to Netflix, which emancipated Lucifer from the rigid formats of network television. The writers seemingly believe an outlandish setting is enough to carry an otherwise bland murder mystery, ranging from a body found in a Mars base simulation to a case on the Warner Bros studio lot (wow, so meta).
Usually, these amount to a glorified episode of Midsomer Murders, as Lucifer (Tom Ellis) and Detective Decker (Lauren German) cycle through a list of suspects, before realising the culprit is someone they spoke to earlier. Sometimes they try to mask how blatantly stale the formula is by having Ellis dance a little jig in the background or blurt out a Carry On joke with a cheeky grin, but it never quite works.
The case generally rests on a key piece of evidence that doesn’t emerge until the final 10 minutes, so there’s little reason to dwell on who you think might have done it. Your odds of guessing correctly would be just as good by pulling names out of a hat. In-keeping with the Midsomer vibe, each killer delivers a laughably melodramatic confession when they are eventually caught out, bouncing between teary-eyed crimes of passion to remorseless pantomime villainy.
Ultimately, the rotating cast of suspects are consistently one-dimensional and the victims are usually extras drizzled in fake blood, so it’s very difficult to feel invested in a case as it unfolds. Lucifer would benefit from swapping these throwaway stories for one or two more interesting mysteries spread across a season. Even better, it could ditch the murders entirely in favour of deeper exploration of the fantasy elements, which are often relegated to playing second fiddle.
The only experimental chapter in the first half of season five is a black and white episode, which adopts the distinct style of 1940s film noir. Sadly, it’s another instance where a gimmicky setting is expected to do all the heavy lifting, becoming rather dull once the initial novelty wears off.
Lucifer is at its best when focusing on its main cast, with a handful of fun character moments this season, including a nightclub sequence featuring Decker, Dr Linda, Ella and Maze. The latter three are all awarded subplots in these eight episodes, but Lesley Ann-Brandt’s performance as Maze is the only one to strongly resonate, as her character continues to feel heartbreakingly lost in a world where she doesn’t belong.
Tom Ellis takes on a dual role, returning as Lucifer Morningstar and debuting as his devious twin brother Michael, but there’s not quite enough distinction between the two performances beyond a wobbly American accent. Overall, the character is there to serve a purpose and he does so with workmanlike competence, but doesn’t prove to be a hugely memorable addition to the show’s lore.
Lucifer is somewhat hampered too by its will-they/won’t-they dynamic between the devil and his partner, which has dragged on far too long to still be interesting, particularly as Ellis and German have never really sparked as an on-screen couple. That much becomes obvious this season, where the strongest episodes are those which see Decker take on cases with Maze and Amenadiel (DB Woodside) instead.
Nevertheless, the schmaltzy longing in this series is enough to make Twilight blush. It’s hard to imagine why Decker would want to continue pining after the devil, given his cosmic unreliability and repeated failure to commit to her. Ironically, she must have the patience of a saint.
Lucifer season five may well please the show’s aforementioned die-hard fans, who have devoured every episode to date and tirelessly campaigned for more. However, there’s nothing here that will win over the sceptics, for which the reason this show is so beloved will remain an unsolved mystery. Or maybe it’s Tom Ellis’ abs.
Lucifer season five lands on Netflix on Friday 21st August. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our guide to the best TV series on Netflix and best movies on Netflix, or visit our TV Guide.