Wednesday 23 January 2019

Luther's no pantomime

Luther (BBC1)
Naked (RTE1)

LUTHER is back! Back from the brink and by the skin of his Persil-white teeth, too, by the sound of it. Wobbly ratings towards the end of the first series of television's most breathtakingly over-the-top cop show suggested that Luther wouldn't survive for a second one.

Well, he has survived. And he's prospering. In so far as one can prosper in a world as ludicrous as the one Luther inhabits. And that, by the way, is the really great news: Luther, played by the brilliant Idris Elba (who will be a shoo-in should Samuel L Jackson ever retire from his post as Officially the Coolest Dude on the Planet), is every bit as deliriously demented as the last time around. Maybe even more so.

Even though we first encounter a depressed Luther, grieving for his murdered wife, doing a Deer Hunter and playing Russian Roulette with his gun at breakfast time, all that dark, troubled and haunted business -- a staple ingredient of most modern cop thrillers -- is really just a magician's sleight of hand designed to distract you from what's really going on here.

Any pretence at any semblance of realism has been quietly pushed into a corner somewhere in order to concentrate on what Luther really is: pure, unapologetic entertainment, packed with thunderous performances, gorgeous, slinky shots of London that make the city look more seductive than it actually is in the cold light of real life, heroically silly dialogue, briskly-edited chases scenes, gaudy, shock-horror violence and, of course, mad killers.

As mad killers go, this opening episode's mad killer was an especially mad mad killer: a student who waylays young women with a potted history of the area, before donning a Mr Punch mask prior to slicing and strangling them to death.

"That's the way to do it!" whack-whack-whack. Or rather slice-slice-slice, strangle-strangle-strangle.

Actually, if, like me, you always found Mr Punch more sinister and creepy than an exploding car full of clowns then this will freak you out completely -- especially in last night's twist closing scene, which I can't reveal because it would no longer be a twist closing scene if I did.

Suffice it to say, "Brrrrr!"

Luther, now working for the "serious and serial squad", is no less supernaturally intuitive than previously. When Mr Punch slaughters a victim next to a meat market, Luther says: "Do you think he's having a joke? Slaughtered next to a meat market?"

When he streams live webcam footage of him killing his next victim to the police station, Luther declares: "This is for effect! This is murder as theatre!" You don't say.

Luther not being a series to do things by halves, it gives us two maniacs for the price of one. Alice, Luther's adversary-turned-VBP (Very Best Psychopath), is back, too, flirting and flaunting her brains, and played with lip-licking relish by Ruth Wilson.

She's the Hannibal Lecterette to Luther's Clarence Starling and they make a terrific double act. How a series this ridiculous can be so much fun, I'm not sure. But it is, so enjoy it before box-set status beckons.

The Arts Lives documentary Naked was literally a case of watching paint dry, and that was what was best about this occasionally meandering film.

Watching artists Sahoko Blake, Una Selby and Nick Miller painting and sketching in charcoal, observing the art of making art, if you like, was fascinating and of more interest than the fact that three well-known people -- Olympic swimmer Melanie Nocher, critic and curator Gemma Tipton, and writer and journalist John Waters -- had had the barefaced cheek to disrobe for nude portraits.

Alongside the vivid work of the artists, the observations of their subjects seemed a little wispy and banal. "We always assume nudity is about sex," said Waters.

Well, maybe. But it can also be about taking a shower, or simply lying in bed asleep. In the nude, obviously.

Luther ****

Naked **

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