|Idris Elba as Det. John Luther: NYTCredit/BBC|
At first perusal, a drama about a tormented-but-brilliant cop whose ethics code doesn’t require cleaning up as much as fumigation would seem like an old, familiar destination. You have made the journey here before, particularly if you got on board “The Shield” for its seven seasons. And yet, when the cop is played by Idris Elba (Stringer Bell of “The Wire”) and his mind-meld is happening with a murderer who looks like a gangster’s moll, quotes Bertrand Russell and sounds like Judi Dench, the stamp on your passport starts to look decidedly novel.
The angst and psychological machinations arrive in the form of “Luther,” a six-part series beginning on BBC America on Sunday. The Luther of the title is John Luther, a London detective who lets a maniac fall to his near death in the show’s tense opening moments. The perpetrator in question obliterates children. We meet him hanging from a high beam, getting no assist from a cop who instead recounts the names of the young victims, thus setting the tone for a series grippingly compelled by the most gothic threats to domestic tranquillity.
The London of Luther’s purview is a city in which the number of deranged evildoers per capita would seem to outrank the number of wool sports coats in Oxford and Cambridge. There are rapists who menace young mothers in their living rooms, sons who kill for their fathers’ approval, daughters who gun down their parents and stage the crimes as home invasion. The series provides one of the most chilling television images in a long time as the camera closes in on a baby peacefully playing on a Gymini while his mother unwittingly opens the front door to a psychopath.
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My debut anthology of street journalism from the 1980s (and more current essays), "Hooked On The American Dream-Vol.1: New Jack City Eats Its Young," is now available on Kindle/Amazon. Click here to go to the Amazon site.