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The murder rate in the United Kingdom fell to a 20-year low in 2008-09, but you'd never know that from Luther. In six episodes, there must be 15 dead bodies.
And we're not talking routine murders. Mutilation. Kidnapping and torture. Numerous cops shot at point-blank range.
These are the crimes Detective John Luther (Idris Elba) must solve. And like all good TV cops, he manages that feat inside of an hour. Except for one case – and that's the reason to watch this series.
In that particular case, Luther comes face to face with Alice Morgan, a genius played with remarkable flair by the creepily pretty Ruth Wilson. Wilson has a mouth like Cesar Romero's Joker, piercing blue eyes and a smile that can turn to a vicious scowl thisquick.
When Luther meets Alice, her parents and their dog have just been killed. He knows she did it, but proving that is another matter. Their subsequent cat-and-mouse game provides an intriguing, ongoing storyline that gives Luther an edge you don't see on most cop shows. Both characters are so volatile, in fact, that you get the feeling either could kill the other. (That wouldn't leave much of a show, but it would fit their personalities.)
Elba, who's better known in this country as Charles on The Office, Lenny (Laura Linney's lover) on The Big C and Stringer on The Wire, puts his intensity to good use here as Luther tries to do his job and patch up his marriage.
Oh, he has one other problem: He may have pushed a child molester to his death rather than arrest him. His superiors certainly have their suspicions, and because Luther has a violent temper and suffered something of a breakdown, they think he's human nitroglycerine. But he has a believer in his partner, Justin Ripley (Warren Brown), who trusts Luther more than Luther trusts himself.
Over the course of the first series of Luther, Luther puts himself in several precarious situations – almost as if he's trying to get killed. If this had been real life, I'm fairly certain he wouldn't have survived episodes two or five. And that's one of the show's drawbacks, because of course Luther isn't going to get killed. Whether he's out on a ledge literally or figuratively, we know he's coming back for more.
That's comforting when he's interacting with Alice; Elba and Wilson engage each other in a can-you-top-this? battle of acting that's as much mental as it is verbal. There's lust, hate and admiration at play throughout, and their scenes together are easily the best part of the show. But when Luther is handling his other cases, frankly, he's just another TV cop played by a better actor.