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Hardboiled cop show Luther is still fresh after five years

This article is over 8 years, 6 months old
The BBC’s crime show Luther is back for a fourth series. But it remains fresh—because it refuses to be a regular cop show, writes?Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue 2482
Idris Elba as Luther
Idris Elba as Luther (Pic: © BBC)

BBC One’s leading detective John Luther (Idris Elba) is back this month for a two-part special of Luther.

There’s every reason to be sceptical that producers are just trying to drag out another procedural crime drama. Many initially great shows have been ruined that way.

So US series Law and Order made an interesting stab at the so-called “culture wars”, touching on issues such as abortion rights.

But after the first few seasons the show’s social commentary had collapsed into a fairly standard cop show—and its million and one spin-offs. You only get so much out of Crime Scene Investigation (CSI)-type high production values.

Yet despite the show first airing some five years ago, Luther’s fourth season manages to keep up the show’s original appeal.

Luther is holed up in a small cottage on the southern English coast, quite literally living on the edge.

“A little closer every time,” he tells us wryly.

But Luther is quickly pulled out of his self-imposed exile when detectives Emma Lane (Rose Leslie) and Theo Bloom (Darren Boyd) bring harrowing news.

All seems eerily well in the beginning as a man drives home, picking up dinner and texting his wife on the way. But the dinner is overshadowed as a black bird becomes trapped in the bathroom and dies.

Soon Luther’s chasing a serial killer whose sexual fetish is cannibalism. Each clue that appears to reveal the murderer’s identity leads to the next murder victim.

This does all play to many of the genre’s cliches, but the plots remain interesting partly because Luther doesn’t fit neatly into today’s crime dramas.

There’s straight down the line cop shows—with a crime, an investigation and then usually someone going to prison. On the other end are series such as The Killing, with strong social commentary.

Luther has always straddled somewhere between the two. It harks back to the hard-boiled fiction that was born out of the 1930s prohibition era in the US and popularised in pulp magazines.

Luther fits that perfectly and brings the genre to a fresh audience. But, that said, let’s not keep it going too long.

Luther. BBC One. Premiers 9pm, 15 December

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