[Updated 10 Sept 2016]
Satan on the small screen: handsome, charming, and British. What’s not to like?!
With the gleeful Tom Ellis filling the title role, Lucifer Morningstar is bored after eons in Hell, so he opts out to come to L.A. and open a club. His principal talent seems to be getting folks to fess up to their repressed desires and say what they’ve been feeling all along. Emotional honesty.
After a singer he’s promoted dies in his arms in a brutal hit, he pairs up with Chloe Decker, a hot LAPD detective, to solve the crime. Chloe fascinates him with her obliviousness to charms that work on every other woman he’s met and bedded. The Devil, we’re not surprised to learn, is a ladies’ man.
That’s the problem, say the million moms who’ve lobbied against the show. “It makes a mockery of the Bible.”
News flash, moms. Mockery? Hardly. It makes a thought-experiment into a police procedural with a twist. The Devil doesn’t belong only to Christianity, after all, and the writers really didn’t set their sights on alienating middle America where a wide swath of their viewership lives. They’ve got better things to do than piss off the religious right. And Protestants have been making a mockery of Catholic beliefs like the Mass, indulgences, transubstantiation, holy water, and so on for centuries. Turn about is only fair play.
The concept’s got promise. Here’s a chance to explore a suave and sympathetic character who, surprisingly, tells the truth at least as often as most preachers. Gently puncture the pretensions of our polite social consciousness and get people to admit they really do hate, lust, lie, envy and so on. (If this is actual news to anyone over the age of eight, they’ve got far bigger issues to handle.)
Make us laugh about it, rather than go all cross-eyed, hypocritical and schizoid. Bring the slippery, moist, animal parts of our human selves out of the darkness and guilty repression and into the light of consciousness. Lucifer: light-bringer, after all. A little honesty for a change. From the one that Christians call … the Liar.
Of course the show aims to entertain first and foremost. Success means advertising dollars and viewers. Maybe it’s capitalism that’s Satanic?
Occasionally the series, renewed for a second season, also asks good questions. At one point Lucifer wonders aloud to fellow angel Amenadiel, “Do you think I’m the devil because I’m inherently evil or just because dear old Dad decided I was?”
But that’s also part of the problem, say the million moms. “The question is meant to make people rethink assumptions about good and evil, including about God and Satan.”
Really? Re-thinking? Thinking at all? On network TV? Angels and demons help us!!
Notice the missing word: whose assumptions? Generic and unconscious ones? Biblical ones? Aging cultural metaphors that desperately need periodic dusting off and squeezing for freshness? Then again, if God’s an old man with a beard sitting on a throne in the sky, then of course the Devil must be a badly-sunburned dude with pitchfork, horns and tail. Evil, you know, the opposite of the supposedly good and perfect god who made him. Who apparently didn’t try out a beta version first, or bother in any other way to check for design flaws. Who refuses any responsibility whatsoever for his work.
Own your devil, god. He’s all yours. Like father, like son.
But why does the Devil spend his time punishing sinners? Isn’t that God’s work? The Christian devil wants people to mess up! Why then is he God’s jailer and janitor, taking out the human trash, helping to “clean up the streets”? Fox Network gives us multiple motives. The Devil’s acquired a personal interest. The L.A. detective’s hot, she’s a challenge, and the pilot gives Lucifer a stake in bringing criminals to justice that any self-respecting devil would care about: revenge.
Maybe ultimately what bothers the million moms the most: Lucifer himself is, in Christian terms, redeemable. He can grow and change, like any three dimensional person. Any being who’s more than a convenient scapegoat or cardboard cut-out prop.
Or to put it in non-moral terms: He’s not black and white, but a good human gray. A mix. In Lucifer’s case, a party mix.
Image: Fox’s Lucifer.