‘Luther’: Episode 1 review

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Even better if the cop can be a maverick who ‘does things his own way’, has a troubled home life and is constantly infuriating his superiors.

And so it seems that there’s nothing original – not on paper, at least – about this new drama, even featuring as it does the highly watchable Idris Elba, an actor who, more than most, has The Wire in his blood. He brings a lot of subtle nuances to his performance as near-genius murder detective Luther – named, presumably, for great and fiercely independent men, not for a kind of sponge thing you find in your bathroom.

Elba seems to have brought some of The Wire’s sensibility with him, too, in that there’s no need to explain complicated police-speak; rather, there’s faith that the audience will be intelligent enough to trust that it will all make sense in the end. It all makes for a somewhat unique take on the cop show, in that, in spite of the apparent clichés littering the hour (annoying bosses, brilliantly impossible deductive leaps), there’s enough charm and sheen to win you over.

It all looks beautiful and HD-pretty, with a lovely visual style: jump cuts skip only a couple of seconds of time, and the screen is often filled with only the background of the scene; character’s heads peeking in at the corners, demonstrating Luther’s sense of displacement.

It doesn’t always have intelligent plotting to follow its intelligent ideas (it seems highly implausible that a crack group of investigative police officers, searching a building for a woman with only minutes to live, wouldn’t bother to check behind a bookcase), but otherwise this is smart drama, the BBC almost tangibly raising its game to put a police drama out to play with the big boys – well, CSI, at least.

It’s certainly not realistic; there’s too much clever-clever wit and highly elevated language, but that’s not really the point. More importantly, it’s not a bad thing: Luther may be grim at times, but it’s also – perhaps surprisingly – rather fun. There’s also a plotting device that is a direct steal from Colombo (not nearly as hackneyed as that might sound). Even if crime procedural dramas aren’t normally your bag, this is a very decent drama, with some strong support – particularly from Saskia Reeves as Luther’s acerbic boss, Rose Teller. Always watchable, and occasionally surprising, Luther could well clean up.

Airs at 9pm on Tuesday 4th May 2010 on BBC One.