Those who’ve had many small screen encounters with police procedurals of the British kind might be quick to assume that Luther series creator Neil Cross drew inspiration from similar sociological and psychologically fixated programs such as Murphy’s Law, Blue Murder, Prime Suspect and Cracker.
Yet the roots for the eponymous brilliant but obsessive Detective Chief Inspector embodied by actor Idris Elba (HBO’s The Wire) are far more diverse than you’d suspect as Cross’s inspiration was half-literary and half-Yankee.
Initially impressed by the “elementary” yet elegant logically based deductive reasoning techniques by Sherlock Holmes, Cross derived pop-culture wisdom to balance out the scales of Holmesian good for Elba’s albeit somewhat antiheroic character with the “inverted detective format” evidenced on the iconic USA smash series Columbo by openly revealing the evil perpetrator but not the means with which he’ll be caught.
Therefore, rather than spend an inordinate amount of time on Poirot-style drawing-room explanatory speeches that link the crook to the crime for the case’s final solution, we become part of the mystery itself as a vicarious member of Luther’s cast-of-characters.
By switching our point-of-view from one side to the other a la Hitchcock’s Psycho or Rope, we’re forced to see the events through the eyes of the murderous perpetrator, wanting to shout clues to Luther from our family room, hoping there’s enough evidence to keep the criminal in custody more than a mere matter of hours.
Thus, we’re put on edge and pushed to participate in case building as opposed to case solving – engaging parts of our brain we seldom use as TV viewers while trying to figure out (right along with Luther) how to piece together the clues to construct a solid case rather than a circumstantial or coincidental house of cards.
It’s an enviable and intelligent feat all around, making the second series of the acclaimed and award-nominated show an addictive addition to your sleuths-of-the-small-screen collection.
And as such, by clocking in at just four hours and dividing the season’s two masterful two-hour mysteries into four episodes transferred to two BBC DVDs – Luther justifies my sole piece of criticism that it’s much too good to be much too short.
Unlike Prime Suspect which at times could drag out each individual case far too long as Helen Mirren doggedly chased every single red-herring, because there are so many subplots including those unrelated to a given case, at times Luther’s running-time runs out before we catch up with all of the drama going on off-the-beat.
Despite the fact that I hadn’t seen the first series and was therefore unable to piece together some of the back-stories, the emotions are so strong and the mysteries so engrossing that I didn’t need to view in numerical order to find myself wanting to knock it out in a marathon day of viewing.
Intense and supremely well-acted by its ensemble cast – led by Elba’s multiple award-nominated powerhouse performance – not only will Sherlock and Columbo enthusiasts enjoy Luther, I dare say that in an alternate universe of fictional characters, the sleuths themselves would’ve found the coppers’ complicated, code-filled, identity-skewed Serious and Serial Crimes thrilling to comprehend as well.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.