by Cara Winter
10 things that went through my mind upon watching the pilot episode of the UK’s LUTHER
- “Nice, Idris Elba. He must be the aforementioned “Luther”. Good day to you, sir. Looking fit.”
- “Hmm. He’s kinda angry.”
- “Woah, wait, he’s the good guy? He just let that guy die! Or, maybe even caused that guy to die! But I thought this was a show about a cop!”
- “Oh, he is a cop. Woah…”
- “He’s so angry. What’s he so angry about?”
- “Dang, he just kicked in that door.”
- “And his estranged wife is standing right there, watching him kick in her door. I’m a little afraid for her.”
- “Maybe she should call the cops – oh, wait.”
- “Okay, he didn’t hurt her. He can stay. He’s fierce. I like him. This is awesome.”
- “Wow. This show could never get made in the U.S.”
So, imagine my surprise to hear that LUTHER is going to be remade, here, in the US.
If you haven’t seen it, the original LUTHER is an interesting show. The formidable and god-like Idris Elba portrays the title character, a complicated detective who is consumed by his work. He’s ruthless, obsessive, and more interested in results than in doing things ‘the right way.’ When he gets angry, it’s visceral, and you feel afraid for those around him (or excited that some bad guy’s about to get it!). And when he softens, and his vulnerability is laid bare… you feel afraid for him.
It’s a good set-up, well-written and well-acted. So why wouldn’t it work in the States? I think it could. But here’s the rub: Will American TV executives put an African American man in the lead of a dark and complicated show, portraying a guy who isn’t “nice”? Will executives (in this case, those who work at Fox) allow us to see an African American male lead who’s strong, human, and flawed, complicated and deeply emotional, one who’s NOT a drug dealer or some other negative stereotype?
It’s a really interesting question, isn’t it? It’s rumored that Elba isn’t going to play Luther in the American version. If not, who is? (If they cast a white dude, I’m literally going to destroy my television and move to Uzbekistan. Or at least I will figuratively.) Of the major networks and cable outlets, Fox seems to be doing a better job than most of casting African American men in comedic roles, and a few supporting roles… but a leading man? Complex, conflicted, ruthless, and uninterested in the moral high ground? NOPE. Not one. Not yet, anyways.
Why? Why hasn’t this been done before? And why would it be so ground breaking to do it now? Sheesh, I mean, I can’t count the ways. But surely you’ve heard or read some of these stats, like… 1 in 3 black men in America will spend some part of their lives incarcerated, or 48% of African American men don’t finish high school, let alone go to college. In other words, the kids are not alright. Why? I could go on for ages, but we won’t (here); suffice it to say, anyone who doesn’t think that most African American men face horrible discrimination — in the classroom, within the justice system, and in society at large — is either a fool, or has been brainwashed by Fox News.
So if you write a show about an American “Luther”, race relations are going to have to come up. They MUST play at least SOME PART in why Luther is the way he is… or else the whole thing is a horrible lie. I mean it, people, this isn’t a sitcom! You can’t show us this guy’s personal demons, and his dark side, and his vulnerability, and ignore have the fact of his race, considering what race means in America! You just can’t.
So what this means is, they’re going to have to ‘go there.’ Luther is poised to become the first show in America to spend even a little bit of air time talking about race relations. And if they do, and if they can really and truly re-create Luther as he was in the UK, and if they can find someone as enigmatic and compelling as Elba to play the lead… it’ll be the most influential show on American television since M*A*S*H.
But… will they? Do they have the balls?
Listen, Fox, if you’re reading this… and I dearly hope you are… please know that we, your audience, want you to ‘go there’. We are praying that you will. Actually, I think we really need you to. Because when Luther gets upset, when he puts his fist through that door, guess what? This amazing thing happens… we feel for him. We have empathy for him. And empathy… is the whole ballgame.
Cara Winter is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.