DCI John Luther (The Wire's Idris Elba) is a maverick, a loose cannon and at least seven other detective clichés. But that doesn't mean he's not worth a watch. We meet Luther just as he makes a problematic career choice involving a child killer and a ledge. It's a tense beginning that tells us: here's a cop who cares more about getting justice for victims than his pension plan or personal life. He'll stop at nothing. (Meet cliché number three).
After some time off, a disciplinary kafuffle and a little psychiatric intervention, Luther's back on the job and ready to nail some bad guys. The only problem is, the last bad guy he tackled is in a coma so could wake up and tell on him at any moment. While this threat simmers teasingly (as we suspect it will for at least a few more episodes), we learn that Luther an excellent reader of people and knows who-dun-it without so much as a confused head scratch or a clever sidekick. According to the BBC's blurb, the outrageously smart, intuitive detective will always be able to identify the murderer early on; Luther's all about the cop-on-suspect brain-battle. He's like an enormous Colombo, with an explosive disposition instead of a cigar.
JL's first cerebral sparring match is with a grown up child genius, Alice Morgan, played by Ruth Wilson. She's a nice-looking, calculated killer--too good to lock up in the first episode, so we'll see her again. In conversation, Luther and Alice try to out manipulate each other with penetrating stares and intellectual button pushing. Soon, this is happening outside the interview room as well. Luther, the headstrong fool, chucks the detective rulebook on the bonfire. Will he never learn?
Even with a top-grade killer to chase down, Luther's not a happy boy. When he's not being played by an evil genius, his estranged wife Zoe (Indira Varma) is making sure he can't put his marriage back together again by shacking up with a dullard. Thank God for his faithful lady boss, Rose Teller (Saskia Reeves). She may talk like cockney over-egging it for Americans--who might otherwise mistake her for Glaswegian or French--but she's sensible and reassuringly loyal.
Luther's first hour is well plotted (watch out for the inspired murder weapon twist) and Elba's heavy, urgent style perfectly fits the role. But it feels like they might have top-loaded the pilot, stuffing it with all Luther's domestic baggage, his foibles and an unbeatable, sexy baddy. Will episode two tell us anything we don't already know?
Luther begins at 9pm (or 10.50pm in Northern Ireland) on Tuesday, May 4 on BBC1 and BBC HD.