While I enjoyed the first season of this show, I was more than aware that it had still had a lot of problems, unfortunately the second season has not only failed to fix those issues, but actually gone in completely the opposite direction and made them worse!
The biggest problem with the series is something that I’m beginning to see as a problem at the heart of British television – the season was too short. For US series twenty plus episodes is pretty much the norm, which often leaves the production and creative teams overstretched resulting in too many filler episodes, however it also gives plenty of time for subtle character and story development, room to breathe as it were. UK shows have traditionally had much shorter seasons of six to a dozen episodes making the seasons more focussed, more intense and more consistent in distribution of quality and ideas. But recent series such as Luther and Sherlock have taken that to extremes and I’m getting frustrated by it.
Luther’s second series was just 4 episodes long, and with each case taking up two episodes, really it could be considered as just two movie length episodes with one element of the story running over the two. I like films, I watch loads of them and really appreciate the good ones that manage to tell a compelling story and introduce, develop and resolve characters within just a couple of hours. However I want something different from television – time and subtlety to really appreciate the complexity of people and situations.
Luther’s first season (six episodes) already had some problems with developing the supporting characters and of the three that were established, the two best ones weren’t featured for the second season. By losing the dramatically contrasting two female characters who best understood Luther it’s almost like starting from scratch again. Adding insult to injury the new characters didn’t get much beyond outlines – the new cop who doesn’t trust him and the young prostitute who needs him to be a hero. They get the job done, but it’s blunt and cliché.
Idris Elba as the titular detective is still superb, he has a unique and entertaining style to him that makes him burst from the screen. Every intonation, mannerism and word he says is fascinating and unexpected. I never knew what to expect of him, yet everything he did made perfect sense.
The stories and crimes are brutal and chilling but just edged over into the territory of ‘ridiculous’. While the ‘good guys’ seemed extreme but credible, the ‘bad guys’ were too much. That’s where more episodes and time would have been best spent, grounding the series in some more realistic criminals rather than movie style super-villains. It really conflicted with the otherwise beautifully shot vision of London.
I’m disappointed that this show wasn’t better. There are clearly great writers, the direction and photography is innovative and beautiful, and the actors are superb. But the series needs more time if it’s going to be a television series. Maybe, like Sherlock, it’s a victim of its own success with a star now too in demand to commit to more than a few episodes a year. With Sherlock that just about manages to still work on the ‘better than nothing’ front, but for Luther, it undermined the whole thing and left me massively disappointed.