To put it bluntly, the Summer months suck for television. There are only a handful of non-reality TV shows running new episodes, and most of those run during Summer simply because they’re not good enough to take up primetime spots any other time of the year.
So, because the pickings are so slim, the Summer is a great time to play catch up on TV shows you’ve been missing out on. And that brings us to today’s For Your Consideration: Luther, season one of which is available to stream on Netflix Watch Instantly.
Who Made It: Luther is a BBC drama that first aired on BBC One (AKA the cream of the BBC crop) in early Summer of 2010. It was created by Neil Cross, a bloke responsible for some of the later seasons of the popular BBC counter-intelligence drama MI-5.
Who’s In It: Luther stars Idris Elba (The Wire’s Stringer Bel), and frankly he’s the only name you need to pay attention to. That’s not to say the rest of the actors are slouches, it’s just that Elba is the first and only reason you need to watch this show. He also happens to be the only face that most non-UK audiences will recognize.
What’s It About: Idris Elba stars as Detective Chief Inspector John Luther, a hardass cop working in London’s Serious and Serial Crimes Unit. The story picks up at the tail end of one of his cases, with Luther chasing down his suspect and deciding not to lift him up off of the ledge he’s barely clinging to.
Cut to a few months later with Luther returning from mental leave off the job (and away from his wife). He’s eager to get back into proverbially busting criminal skulls, however, so he immediately ignores the odd reactions of everyone around him and goes out to a murder scene that winds up being much more elaborate than it initially looks.
Why You Should Watch It: I’ll be the first to admit that Luther wasn’t entirely my cup of tea at first. I’m just not a big fan of procedural investigation shows and the plot that Neil Cross created just doesn’t bring a whole lot new to the table right out of the gate. It follows a predictable pattern of, 1) Crime is discovered, 2) Suspects are tracked down, 3) More evidence is needed to convict anyone, 4) But because Luther is Luther, he promptly gathers the evidence before anyone else can even begin to crack the case. It’s pretty standard procedural stuff.
However, the show does get better and better over the course of season one, which, in typical BBC fashion, is only six episodes long. The first episode bends over backwards to belabor the point that Luther is a gruff badass that’s as likely to solve a logic riddle as he is to put his fists through a door. He’s a charmless Sherlock Holmes with a rough separation from his wife and very little tolerance or consideration for the rest of the world. The show even goes out of its way to establish an arch-nemesis in the first episode. It’s surprisingly derivative.
Of course, there’s a reason I’m asking you to give the show a shot. It does take a few episodes to overcome its derivative procedural-investigation roots, but even when those early episodes are following a familiar crime-of-the-week structure, the crimes its trying to solve are pretty hardcore. In particular, the second episode offers up a rather shocking variant on a “cop killer on the loose” storyline that’s surprisingly ballsy. But it’s not until episode 5 that things really start to kick off in gripping, this-has-all-been-worth-it ways.
The wait between Episode 1 and Episode 5 is made entirely worth it thanks to Idris Elba. He’s one of a handful of new generation actors whose film and TV work is worth going out of your way for no matter what it is. There’s just something about his presence that is positively magnetic and that’s no different here. What makes him such an interesting actor is that his performances are all unique. He may have an infectious swagger of confidence that he gives all his characters, but whether he’s Stringer Bell in The Wire or the new boss on The Office, he’s always changing things up just enough to keep you on your toes. So while his character and his story may not be entirely radical, its Elba bringing it to life that makes all the difference.
Luther isn’t a show that’s going to have you scrambling to put the back of your head together after you finish watching it, but it is a show worth watching nonetheless. Not every BBC drama can be as pitch perfect as Sherlock, but Luther is still compelling, it’s still interesting. It might be only moderately interesting at first, and you may groan at the murder plot, motives and subsequent investigation in the pilot episode, but I do promise it only gets better and better from there and if you stick it out until its sixth episode, you’ll find yourself eager to get a hold of Season Two.