Flipping Channels: Able Was I to Watch Luther, 'Ere I Saw Idris Elba



Some folks in the TV universe (not me) feel any and all British productions are infinitely superior to American shows, particularly dramas. But one area where they do seem to have the edge is the psychological thriller — programs that chronicle the impact of criminal investigations or personal crises on both victims and those who handle the fallout from their cases.

A prime example is the detective series Luther, which returns to BBC America Sept. 3 with a 9 p.m. Tuesday-Friday block. Fans can also see separate episodes 8 p.m. Wednesdays. The program has been a dynamic showcase for the exceptional actor Idris Elba, whose portrayal of John Luther earned him a Golden Globe award and Emmy nomination last season (the show's second).

As the third year begins, Luther remains damaged and tortured by things he's done. His willingness to brutalize subjects in pursuit of solving horrific crimes has put him squarely in the crosshairs of a dogged Internal Affairs investigator (David O'Hara) determined to end his career.

The investigator figures Luther's partner Ripley (Warren Brown) may be tired of the situation and willing to turn on him, especially if it means Ripley will be in the clear. This potential double-cross becomes even more problematic when Luther encounters his latest string of wacko criminals, including one vigilante whose exploits are so vile they make Luther rethink everything he's ever done.

As always, Luther's unable to keep people he cares about from getting caught in the crossfire. When they get hurt, that makes things even tougher for him to handle. The new season also brings back a key foe from the past, one whose erotic charm and allure doesn't mask a depraved side he previously had to overcome in order to avoid defeat.

Luther may be the bleakest show on either side of the Atlantic. Anyone even remotely squeamish is advised to give it a wide berth, as are those who prefer their cases wrapped up neatly and their heroes without flaws. But everyone seeking a new drama to obsess over in Breaking Bad's wake is directed here. John Luther is equal parts brilliant, fascinating, thorny, disturbing and rugged, and Elba's tremendous acting could result in a clean sweep at awards time.

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