'Luther' thrills with cat-mouse, sexual tension

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Fans of "The Wire" may tune to BBC America's "Luther" to see actor Idris Elba -- Stringer Bell on the HBO inner-city drama -- as a British detective, but viewers are likely to come back to the series for actress Ruth Wilson, who plays serial killer Alice Morgan.

She could easily be the crazier cousin of serial killer Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) from Showtime's "Dexter."

"Luther," premiering at 10 p.m. Sunday, begins with the murders of Alice's parents and their dog. John Luther is convinced Alice did it, but he can't prove it.

"I'm coming for you," Luther says.

"Not if I come for you first," Alice replies cheekily.

Luther has demons of his own. While on a case, he allows a child rapist to fall several stories (the man is now in a coma). Luther's wife, Zoe (Indira Varma), has left him.

"Do you ever wonder if you're on the devil's side without knowing it?" Luther ponders in an upcoming episode. He's morally compromised and proves willing and able to cross the line from good cop to bad cop.

Alice becomes obsessed with Luther in this taut, unpredictable psychological thriller. She tries to "help" him in ways that do not benefit him, such as when she hires thugs to beat up Zoe's new boyfriend. Luther also looks to Alice's expertise when pursuing cases, and she becomes an informal adviser.

The series offers strong, striking cop stories to accompany the intense thrills of the Luther-Alice cat-and-mouse game. But it is that back-and-forth and the sexual tension that develops between the pair that makes "Luther" stand apart.

Ms. Wilson is striking. With her red hair, arched eyebrows and pencil-thin lips, she plays Alice as a playful, possibly mad sociopath. She's an absolute delight.

Talking 'Luther'

At a BBC America press conference in August, Ms. Wilson compared the relationship between Alice and Luther to that of Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter in "Silence of the Lambs" with the genders reversed.

"They realize they have an intellectual interest in each other as well as there's a sexual chemistry," she said. "And she sort of ends up helping or they end up sort of becoming partners in crime a bit."

Mr. Elba said Alice aids Luther in understanding himself better.

"He's fascinated with how well she constructed her crime but obviously not well enough to elude him, but to elude the law, which for all intents and purposes Luther has to do ... in catching criminals," he said. "And then there's a meeting of the minds and perhaps some therapy for Luther because he doesn't get to release much and he can with Alice."

So far, just six "Luther" episodes have been produced in England, a typically short series order there. Mr. Elba said additional episodes are in the works.

'School Pride' premieres

Now that ABC has bumped the Dana Delany medical examiner drama "Body of Proof" to midseason (that means it could premiere anytime between November and April, but most likely after Jan. 1), NBC's "School Pride"(8 tonight) is the last previously announced new fall series premiere.

"School Pride" is essentially "Extreme Makeover: School Edition" as a four-person team spends 10 days rehabbing Enterprise Middle School in Compton, Calif., with help from the community. Sound familiar?

The series is executive produced by "Curb Your Enthusiasm" actress Cheryl Hines and Denise Cramsey ("Extreme Makeover: Home Edition"). SWAT commander Tom Stroup is the team leader and narrator, who warns, "Education in America is under siege. America, it's time to fix our broken schools."

He's joined by comedian/substitute teacher Kym Whitley ("'Til Death"), designer Susie Castillo ("House of Payne") and political journalist Jacob Soboroff ("AMC News").

It's feel-good reality TV with slightly manufactured situations, product integration and, surprisingly, even some "gotcha" moments when the team discovers a warehouse full of supplies teachers say they have requested and not received.

"Hoarder!" Ms. Whitley exclaims before Mr. Stroup lectures the school principal about holding back the supplies. Later, Mr. Soboroff "investigates" the problems in education funding by interviewing California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Rather than saving a big reveal for the end of the episode, "School Pride" shows some aspects of the school's rehab throughout the hour. The students go to a Hollywood theme park (promotion for another NBC Universal property) and return for a ribbon-cutting on the makeover. Much screaming ensues and all is sweetness and light at the school after a 10-day face-lift. Not really, probably, but that's what "School Pride" would have viewers believe.

'Mad Men,' 'Rubicon' end seasons

Earlier this week in the Tuned In Journal blog (new URL: http://communityvoices.sites.post-gazette.com/index.php/arts-entertainment-living/tuned-in-journal) I sang the praises of AMC's "Rubicon," which, along with "Mad Men," has its season finale Sunday night.

While "Mad Men" is a lock for renewal, "Rubicon" seems a long shot. "Rubicon" premiered in August as the network's highest-rated series premiere, drawing an average of 2 million viewers. This past Sunday's episode averaged just 1.3 million viewers, compared to 2.2 million for "Mad Men." Still, that was an improvement on past performance, so maybe the show will see another season. Time -- and possibly the performance of AMC's upcoming zombie drama, "The Walking Dead" -- will tell.

"Rubicon" fans hoping for closure in Sunday's finale (9 p.m.), written and directed by executive producer Henry Bromell, will be disappointed. Titled "You Can Never Win," it's not an engrossing episode, but it was not intended to serve as a series finale, allowing for plenty of loose ends.

Intelligence analyst Will Travers (James Badge Dale) connects more pieces of the puzzle he's been working on all season, implicating his boss, Truxton Spangler (Michael Cristofer). To say more would give away too much.

Read Tuned In Journal on Monday for reaction to the "Rubicon" and "Mad Men" season finales.

'Outlaw' out

NBC has shut down production on the low-rated Friday night Jimmy Smits legal drama "Outlaw," effectively canceling the series. The network will burn off the remaining produced episodes at 8 p.m. Saturday.

KD Turkey Fund

When KDKA's Turkey Fund returns this fall, morning news anchors Jennifer Antkowiak and Rick Dayton will take over as the faces of the fundraising effort.

Consumer reporter Yvonne Zanos had most recently led the effort until her death in January from cancer.

KDKA general manager Chris Pike said Ms. Zanos was particularly invested in getting school children involved in the charity effort. With school closings for inclement weather such a part of the morning news, Mr. Pike said choosing the morning anchors was in part an effort to continue Ms. Zanos' work to involve the region's young people in aiding their neighbors.

Channel surfing

Cartoon Network will debut a weekly animated TV series based on the hit film "How to Train Your Dragon" in 2012. ... Fox has ordered six episodes of an animated comedy based on the movie "Napoleon Dynamite." ... Dan Harris has been named co-anchor of the weekend edition of "Good Morning America" alongside Bianna Golodryga. He replaces Bill Weir, who became co-anchor of "Nightline" in July. ... "Saturday Night Live" comes back with new episodes Oct. 23 (guest host Emma Stone and music from Kings of Leon) and Oct. 30 (Jon Hamm/Rihanna). ... Kathryn Erbe will return to her role as detective Alexandra Eames for the 10th and final season of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" on USA Network. ... City of Pittsburgh public access channel PCTV received a $12,500 grant from The Pittsburgh Foundation to produce five mini-documentaries for local arts non-profits over the next year. The programs will also be available for viewing online. ... The Hollywood Reporter says Spike TV is developing a 10-episode coal mining reality series that follows Mike Crowder and Tom Roberts, co-owners of Cobalt Mine in Westchester, W.Va., southwest of Morgantown. ... PBS's "NOVA" will air "Emergency Mine Rescue," about the recovery efforts in Chile, on Oct. 26. ... ABC will bring back summer reality competition series "Wipeout" for an eight-episode winter edition during the 2010-11 TV season. ... Comedy Central will telecast the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert rallies in Washington, D.C., live on Oct. 30. ... "Supernanny" will have its season premiere at 8 p.m. Nov. 5. ... Donal Logue, star of FX's "Terriers," will be in Pittsburgh Wednesday to talk about the show at 5 p.m. in Room 324 of the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh. ... When Bravo's "The Fashion Show" returns for its second season at 10 p.m. Nov. 9, Pittsburgh native Mike Vensel will be among the contestants.

Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "Two and a Half Men," fast-talking anchors and TV shows in HD. This week Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Paranormal State," "The Event" and "The Vanilla Ice Project." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's podcast includes conversation about "Mad Men." Subscribe or listen at post-gazette.com/podcast.

TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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