On the surface, Luther looks like every other crime drama and police procedural out there. It follows a uniquely gifted detective who solves crimes, and overcomes adversity in each episode to bring justice to the world.
Luther is not like every other show on TV, though. As someone who has never really enjoyed police procedurals, and as someone who likes only very specific crime shows, I can say with confidence that Luther is really damn good.
So what makes it good? What are its benefits?
I stumbled upon Luther on Netflix. I had put it in my list some time ago, and it had gotten lost in the shuffle. With only 16 episodes available, I figured I would knock it out, and cross it off of my list of shows to watch (until it comes back for its fifth season, that is).
I was, and still am, very surprised at how entertaining, and oddly profound, this show is. The main benefit it has, as far as I can see, is its narrative structure. Usually with crime shows (especially shows that are made from the police's perspective) we either follow a case-of-the-week format, or a season long arc. The latter we see in shows like Dexter, and Justified, whereas the former is found on Criminal Minds, CSI, and Bones.
Luther does both, though. Its seasons are very short (season one has 6 episodes, season two and three have 4 episodes, and season 4 has just 2; the upcoming fifth season is slated to have 4 episodes; they are all roughly one hour long). Because of this truncated length, Luther, and its eponymous detective, doesn't have much time to mess around. However, the show still manages to run a case-of-the-episode (the four-episode seasons are two, two-hour long episodes in actuality) structure, focusing on a different criminal in each episode, while also following a season long arc that usually comes to its climax in the final installment of the season.
It is a very interesting mix of two formats which we are used to seeing run parallel to each other. Yet Luther pulls it off with style. Certain narrative elements -- usually dealing with Luther's personal life, or legal troubles -- play out over the course of four episodes, while smaller arcs -- usually the ones dealing with the direct case that is being worked -- plays out over a single episode, or two. In this way, we get more depth in terms of character, while still getting fresh, interesting crimes. While shows like Criminal Minds become a little stagnant after a while -- there are only so many crimes, and types of criminals, one can explore over 250+ episodes before the writers begin to repeat themselves -- Luther has the gift of efficiency. Every crime is interesting, usually following a macabre case that plays out in surprising ways.
This is not to say that Luther is without its faults. It has been criticized for making its criminals larger than life, while trying to ground its hero; in other words, the show tries to dabble with serial killers and mass murderers while also trying to humanize its main detective; it's the age-long battle between spectacle and character, and Luther is not immune to it.
The show also works because of Idris Elba's performance. He is just incredible in every scene he inhabits, whether it's a pulse-pounding race to find a killer, or it's a quiet, introspective conversation with another cop. He kills the role, and watching him helps elevate some of the more clichéd, or conventional, aspects of the series.
In summation, I highly recommend everyone gives this show a shot. It's well worth the watch, and it's easy to get into. It has something to offer everyone, and it is easily accessible for all kinds of viewers, no matter which type of detective television you prefer.
Season 5 of Luther will air sometime in 2018.