Thursday, 3 June 2010

Luther doesn't play by the rules

It would be easy to make fun of Luther. He's a maverick detective who doesn't play by the rules. He's a genius with 'emotional difficulties'. He solves a different crime every week. This has all been done before. I would write that review, except for one problem - Luther is very good television. Yes, it's an episodic police procedural, but these are episodes that each build to something extremely tense. It's unpredictable and brave and perfectly willing to kill its cast. The enjoyment comes from the knowledge that, when a deranged serial killer is bashing down a door, the good guys might not actually make it there in time. I'm usually against episodic television because I imagine closed-off, dramatically sterile episodes where nothing ever happens and the right people always win. This is not like that. And to think I only started watching it because Idris 'Stringer Bell from The Wire' Elba is in it. Two shows that are almost structural opposites. Although maybe it wouldn't be so entertaining without this lead. Sometimes he carries the show on his big apparently-British shoulders. Because with one look at the sceen you can tell where this was made. The overriding colour is grey - the sky is grey, the offices are grey, the suits are grey - it's pessimistic and English. And the interesting choice to leave a lot of empty space in the frame makes it even bleaker. The people look small.

But there is an arc going through the series and, like The Wire, you have to wait for it to burst. It's delivered in little nuggets but has now just exploded five episodes in. It's not often that television completely surprises me. I always hope it will, but it hardly ever does. Here there's scenes that really impressed me. The scenes that go 'well he's clearly not going to shoot her. There's no way they're killing - oh, dead now'. Drama that's willing to pull the trigger and go off in dangerous new directions is what I like. I'm hoping the next episode lives up to this, and I'm hoping there'll be more.

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