Luther TV Review: Welcome to CSI:London

Warning: spoilers below


So, here’s the thing about Luther. It’s awesome; dark, gritty, tense. But it’s always been borderline formula, like The Bill after a breakdown. As much as it saddens me to say, the fourth season may have erred too far in that direction.

The “bad” cop who refuses to play by the rules is just an overused trope that even Friedberg and Seltzer wouldn’t touch it. But Luther pushed the boundaries so far, and took the subject matter to places you didn’t think possible in a BBC drama, it kind of didn’t matter. You didn’t notice the relatively standard way they went about things, because the criminals were so bleak that you were involved, damn it. It made sense that Luther himself would be a bit of a bad egg, because how else would you catch these weirdos?

What helped with this is that the main character is played by Idris Elba, who might be the coolest man on the planet. He’s just so awesome. It’s amazing how far a ridiculously charismatic, likeable and talented lead can take you, and Luther is no exception to this. The grittiness, the tension, and the beautiful specimen that is Idris Elba made it one of my favourite British shows of the last 10 years.

But the most recent series just felt kind of… off?

(Another warning: spoilers below).

Part of the problem for this has to be that, in terms of length, this series was actually more of a film than a TV show. Two one-hour episodes didn’t leave much wriggle room, and the result felt a little rushed.

There was just so much going on. I mean, the murderer was a cannibal who thinks he’s dead (?) who eats specifically targeted parts of his victims bodies, who assumes the role of different people before he killed, who worked for an IT company and planted videos in their homes so he could watch them, while feeling abandoned by his ex-girlfriend and possibly had mother issues. That alone is a lot to absorb in two hours.

But then there was the sub-story of Alice having been killed and Luther trying to find out why, which involved chaining a gangster to a radiator and having a bounty placed on his head, AND a crime from 20 years ago that involved children and grudges and clairvoyance and teddy bears. Oh, and there was a new partner to work with, who “loved” (but didn’t “love“) her partner who died in an explosion. Again, this all happened in TWO HOURS.

I’m a huge proprietor of the “less is more” school of thought, and this was certainly a case of subtraction by addition. With so many different strands going on at once, there wasn’t really the room to let any of them breathe. What we ended up with was a slightly rushed affair, and this interweaving story of cannibals and gangsters and child murderers all ended a bit cleanly. Like, they caught the murderer by hacking in to his computer and realising he had an ex-girlfriend, who hadn’t been mentioned at all up until that point? Really?

It’s a shame, because I so badly wanted to like it. Something felt off after the first episode, but I was patient. I thought back to the Christmas special of The Office, where the first episode essentially set up everything that would happen in the second. But the second came and went and I still hadn’t had the chance to become emotionally connected to any of it. There was just way too much to take in. I spent most of the episode trying to keep up with who everyone was supposed to be and why we should care about them, and then it was over, and everything worked out fine. Hurrah, I guess.

This isn’t to say that it wasn’t an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours, and it certainly had all the tension and charisma you come to expect for the show, but this was a rare misfire. I can only imagine this was a way to set up a post-Justin, post-Alice world, and they needed all of the parts in place to make future episodes work. But they could have cut out, oh I don’t know, half of what they went with and it would have felt more accessible and easy to follow.

As it is, it had a whiff of CSI:London about it, with a bad guy getting caught due to convenient coincidences and everything turning out okay in the end.

I’m sure people will disagree with this, as even bad Luther makes for pretty good TV, but it all kind of fell flat for me.

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