It’s Halloween, so let’s talk about the devil, and how he appears on my television once a week.
I’m talking about Lucifer.
Fox’s Lucifer did not immediately catch my interest. It’s another damn police procedural that’s based on a comic book property, and I figured it would be one and done inside of six episodes. I mentally logged it to dig out that first season in a few years, check in with a vocal contingent of nerds that claim it’s the best thing ever, and then never go back to thinking of such a thing ever again. After all, how could a Satan-based television show ever last on the same network that once hosted good, wholesome shows like Married… With Children and Melrose Place?
But here we are with a second season of Lucifer. Here we are with a detective show featuring the devil having to deal with his whacky mother, stern brother, and nymphomaniac therapist. And there’s a will they/won’t they bubbling over between Lucifer and his stalwart cop partner (who is, incidentally, a former porn star). Nix the devil aspect, and this could be practically any police procedural on TV, but, no, we’ve got Satan and his magical ability to suss out people’s innermost desires (an ability he uses… when he remembers it exists). The whole show is simultaneously banal and extraordinary, which is usually how it goes with Ol’ Scratch.
It also happens to summarize exactly where we are in our media history.
The sympathetic Lord of Lies is something that has been going on since well before the television was even imagined. Many cultures feature a “devil” character that is more mischievous than outright evil, even if the featured trickster stands in direct opposition to a kindly creator god. Raven, Anansi, Puck, and other mischief makers that didn’t appear on Disney’s Gargoyles seem to be a recurring motif throughout history. Even within Christianity, noted Xenosaga prequel Milton’s Paradise Lost told the story of a devil that was “bad”, but mostly because he was sympathetically prideful. “Better to rule in Hell” and all that riot. And that was written in 1667. Even before that, you could claim the Satan of Dante’s Inferno is sympathetic in his punishment: this 14th-century Lucifer is eternally weeping and attempting to escape with six wings that only serve to further solidify his frozen prison. That doesn’t describe a menacing devil that is the root of all evil, that’s a toddler that got stuck in a molasses bucket (it happens).
But what makes Fox’s Lucifer so modern is that it’s based on one specific sympathetic devil: Lucifer Morningstar of DC Comics/Vertigo. For those of you that have never read Gaiman’s Sandman (and, seriously, if you’re reading this blog and haven’t read that epic series, please put the computer down, and go to your local library. This article will still be here when you get back, and my writing will only appear 20% worse), Sandman features a Lucifer that is tired of being blamed for all of humanity’s ills, and decides that, after a few billion years, why not try out a new job? So he locks up Hell, tosses the key to Lord Morpheus, and (after a brief sojourn in Australia) starts a nightclub with his best lady demon by his side. Screw you, God, I’m gonna get my own place. By the finale of Sandman, Lucifer seems oddly content playing the piano at Lux and looking an awful lot like at least one incarnation of David Bowie.
DC Comics actually successfully identified the potential of the timeless character Gaiman had borrowed from a couple millennia of history, so Mike Carey continued the story of “that” Lucifer in the 75-issue Lucifer comic book series. And, good news, it may have been a very different story from Sandman, but it was every bit as good as the perennial Vertigo launch title. This Lucifer did seem to start out by “solving crimes” from his nightclub base… but shortly thereafter he got a little more mystical, and created his own damn(ed) reality. Then there was no lack of fantastical events, like angels breeding with humans to create lil’ godlings, ghosts, centaurs, witches, forgotten pantheons, and Mona, who stands over hedgehogs. By the end of the Lucifer Vertigo series, the whole of creation has nearly collapsed, but it was saved at the last moment by the devil himself and a British teen. God is also hanging out at some highway rest station outside of the universe. I think He needs a break.
Suffice it to say, I don’t think Fox’s Lucifer is going to dip into the centaur well.
But Fox’s Lucifer is ostensibly based on the comic book character. There’s the Lux nightclub, (facial reconstruction) Mazikeen, and much of the Gaiman flare for “I’m so tired of everybody always blaming me for everything”. This is a series where, somehow, Neil Gaiman gets credit for creating the devil (even if this devil isn’t fit to lick Bowie’s boots). This is, like Gotham, Arrow, and iZombie before it, yet another primetime series based on a comic book franchise.
And that’s kind of amazing.
This is the devil in 21st Century America: another comic book character to be welded to a “cop show”. Lucifer is not scary, Lucifer is here to solve crime and flirt with ladies (and not men, because a gay/bi devil might make people uncomfortable). Lucifer is not a creation of thousands of years of myth, no, Lucifer is a creation of the British comics invasion of the late 80’s. And, don’t worry, kids, Lucifer isn’t going to ask any uncomfortable questions about faith and the nature of good and evil, Lucifer is just going to find a body at the top of the hour, and then send the second interviewed witness to jail every episode.
He’s the Lord of Lies, and he’s advertiser friendly!
To be clear, I’m not saying that any of this makes Lucifer a bad show. I rather like it, and its… disorderly approach to the Christian mythos. I find Lucifer (the character) charming, and his whacky cast is enough to carry scenes where he’s off doing whatever devils do in their downtime. It’s a good show, if a bit rote with its procedural trappings.
But it’s also a perfect encapsulation of the modern approach to entertainment. Find a popular property in some other medium, rely on the fans to carry it through its inevitably rocky opening salvo, and then establish some mysteries to keep the gears rolling for another seven seasons or so. The devil, a creature blamed for death and suffering for countless years, is now completely domesticated and solving crimes opposite Supergirl.
So happy Halloween, kiddies. There are still monsters out on the streets, and they feed on the ratings of young souls.
And tune in on Wednesday to look at some other devils that feed on approval ratings.