After a brilliant turn as a criminal in The Wire, being swallowed by special effects and nobility in Thor and punching his black card in Daddy’s Little Girls , Idris Elba is terrific in the BBC series Luther. (Netflix, baby!) He stars as DCI John Luther and serves as the series’ associate producer. Why can’t I imagine an American network series of this quality and originality starring an African American or a Latino(a) actor? We can find a hint in the imdb.com listing for the show. It lists the stars as: Warren Brown, Idris Elba and Paul McGann. Hmm. Reminds me of the recently cancelled Charlie’s Angels (2011) listing which initially omitted the third angel, African actor Annie Ilonzeh from its list of stars. And I did my homework — it’s not alphabetical. Kiefer Sutherland is listed first for 24. I’ll concede that Steve Carell isn’t listed first for The Office but then again, he left the show.
Luther has its flaws. Luther’s odd partnership with a female serial killer often strains credulity. Elba sometimes follows Mel Gibson’s journey into masochism: acid in the face, a nail driven through his hand, a severe beating from a deranged ex-soldier. Acting = physical abuse and torture. His violent outbursts are odds with his own almost painfully moral character. But the second season’s second episode redeemed the show for me. After matyr-like suffering for white crime victims and colleagues, Luther finally stands up for himself. A mother demands that he save her daughter. Luther simply responds, “I’ve done enough.” After brilliant performances but troubling messages from The Help, those three words were like water in the desert. They restored Luther’s full humanity. Not to mention, plausibility.
Good for you DCI Luther and well done, Mr. Elba.