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'Lucifer' brings Prince of Darkness to L.A.

'Lucifer' brings Prince of Darkness to L.A.
Tom Ellis plays the title character in "Lucifer." (John P Fleenor / Fox)

In Fox's new supernatural procedural "Lucifer," based on a character from Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" comic and later spun off into a book of his own, the Prince of Darkness, tired of running Hell and a little resentful to have been stuck with the job in the first place, has retired to Los Angeles.

At first, as played by Tom Ellis ("Rush"), he looks like just another entitled Hollywood playboy, handsome in a dark if predictable way, with that almost-a-beard that for some reasons remains fashionable on TV, tooling around town in a convertible, mind-gaming a policeman out of giving him a ticket. His accent, naturally, is English.

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But his waters run deeper. When a (human) friend is murdered, Lucifer, seeking earthly justice, attaches himself to police detective Chloe Dancer (Lauren German) as an unofficial, unwanted partner. He finds he has a taste for the work and a few satanically pulled strings later gets himself named a "civilian consultant for the LAPD" — "not," he jokes, "that there's anything civil about the devil." It's a magic "Castle," basically, with less hope of a romance.

That Lucifer is not shy about proclaiming his identity or his immortality — far from being the Father of Lies, he's thoroughly honest — does not mean anyone really believes him. At the same time, he's having a kind of existential crisis, wondering aloud whether he's "inherently evil" or "dear old Dad decided I was"; he even acquires a therapist (the always welcome Rachael Harris), Tony Soprano style, though he's a better guy than Tony. Paraphrasing the Shangri-Las, one would say that he's good-evil but not bad.

Not a tempter so much as a facilitator, his only superpowers seem to be a forensically convenient ability to get people to talk and a talent for getting out of handcuffs. (He also sings and plays the piano.) "I can't read people's minds; I'm not a Jedi," he says, and though his understanding of human nature is lacking, his knowledge of its pop culture is deep. (He drops a "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" reference as well.)

Lucifer comes equipped with a couple of supernatural associates, the angel Amenadiel (D.B. Woodside), sent by the front office to fetch him back to Hell; and bartender/protector/bad conscience Mazikeen (Lesley-Ann Brandt), who worries that he's getting soft and wasting his time. Although he is not exactly a font of empathy ("What unpleasantness befell this heap of unrealized ambition?" is how he greets the corpse at one crime scene), neither is he the devil he was.

Dancer, who is resistant to his charms ("You're not a Jedi?" he asks), comes with an ex-husband (Kevin Alejandro), also a detective, and a daughter (Scarlett Estevez). And though Lucifer deems children "terrible, taxing burdens," you know from the moment these two meet they're going to have a comical special thing.

And it's more a comedy than not, which, while it might bother fans of its more ambitious comic book, is its saving grace as a television show. A light dusting of Milton notwithstanding, its pitch is mainstream and middlebrow. A decently made series that is neither particularly original nor entirely predictable, it's of a piece with other current Fox series — "Sleepy Hollow," "Rosewood," "Second Chance" — in which cops partner and banter with outsider partners. Lucifer himself, clearly no stranger to television, gets how that game works — the "fish and chips, salt and pepper — the 'He said, she said' of it all." Indeed, the mysteries are almost beside the point; your mileage will vary precisely based on how you like the leads. Take it for a spin.

Twitter: @LATimesTVLloyd

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'Lucifer'

Where: Fox

When: 9 p.m. Monday

Rating: TV-14-DLSV (may be unsuitable for children under age 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language, sex and violence)

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