The first time I ever jumped into a series and watched all the episodes (on DVD) was years ago, and the series was The Sopranos.
There’s something delicious about sitting down and watching a series or a season of episodes that feels like taking a vacation to a different world. After all, don’t all the best series (yes, The Wire) evoke something real, distinct, and new for us?
The most recent mini-break (term learned from reading Bridget Jones’s Diary and appropriate for the show at hand) I’ve enjoyed via television is the BBC series Luther.
Weighing in at a manageable ten episodes and streaming on Netflix, Luther is a police procedural with less of a paint-by-numbers feel than the US counterparts (airing endlessly on cable) and possessing more psychological subtlety.
Idris Elba (yes, from The Wire) stars as detective John Luther, and he commands the screen. Of course, he gets a lot of help from the cinematography. The use of a narrow depth of field in all but the widest shots throws all of the actors into sharp relief against soft backgrounds, which leads the viewer to focus on the strong performances and the good writing.
(I won’t bore you by talking about some of the rare but stunning deep focus wide shots that I’m carrying around in my brain right now like photographs, but they are all the more memorable because they are used sparingly in the series.)
John Luther is bright and brave and has an uncanny ability to get inside the heads of some very sick characters, though often not in time to save human life. There is an elliptical quality to the storytelling that I find engaging because all of the blanks are not filled in and that style keeps me from thinking of the series as being overly formulaic.
In the end, John Luther’s intriguing character and some of the others introduced along the way are a major selling point of the series.
Another is the look of the show. It’s set in London but not the city captured in the mind’s eye of a tourist, which is another reason the show feels fresh instead of clichéd. As noted, the cinematography is an important element of the show with lighting and UK weather contributing mightily to the overall mood – hint: it’s not rainbows and sunshine.
As the close friend who directed me to the series advised, watch all ten episodes (six from season one and four from season two) to get come closure. There’s talk of a third season, perhaps two two-hour movies, but there is enough here for a mini-break.
One thing about the show bugs me, though. I wonder why John Luther traded his sleek loft apartment (with purple sheets on the bed) from the first season for the grimy, roach hotel with peeling wallpaper where he lives in the second season.