'Luther' suffers sophomore slump

TV review

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BBC America's "Luther" returns for a second season of four one-hour episodes this week, and how fans feel about it may depend to some degree on what they liked best about the crime drama in season one.

The horrific, often grotesque and sadistic crimes are back with one story for the first two episodes (a masked killer who dances on CCTV) and a second crime plot for episodes three and four (the messenger bag killer).

Detective John Luther (Idris Elba, "The Wire") investigates, as usual, bringing his keen insight of human behavior to the crimes. But this season he receives significantly less assistance from his first-season helper, serial killer Alice (Ruth Wilson).


When: 10 p.m. Wednesday, BBC America.

Although the show is called "Luther" (10 p.m. Wednesday, BBC America), it was at its best last year when it was "The Luther and Alice Show." She's barely present in the first two hours of the new, shortened season and only referenced in the last two. Perhaps writer/creator Neil Cross felt it stretched credulity for his Hannibal Lecter (Alice) to hang out so often with his Clarice Starling (Luther) -- not that the show shies away from leaps of logic in other areas. Or maybe there were other factors at play.

Whatever the reason, "Luther" is diminished.

Some time has passed since the cliffhanger that ended season one. It's explained away in dialogue with haste, but several characters return, even Luther's deceased ex-wife's boyfriend, Mark (Paul McGann).

Alice is in jail and Luther rejoins with his former partner, detective Justin Ripley (Warren Brown), working for an old foe, former police complaints officer Martin Schenk (Dermot Crowley), in the new Serious and Serial police unit. A new co-worker, Erin Gray (Nikki Amuka-Bird), is wise to Luther's unorthodox ways and wary of working alongside him.

The series remains an intense, engrossing crime procedural with strong moments of character development, but Mr. Cross gets a bit sloppy in his plotting. We know Luther has impulse-control issues, but he's also supposed to be brilliant, and entering almost every potential hazardous situation without a partner or backup diminishes the character's intelligence. Same goes for the way he handles bad situations, such as when he's blackmailed into getting police files for human traffickers: He's constantly digging himself a deeper hole.

"Luther" remains one of TV's best crime dramas, but in its second season it's already showing some signs of slippage.

A version of this story first appeared in Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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