British actor Idris Elba ("The Wire") as the star of "Luther"

The 2nd season of BBC America’s psychological crime drama “Luther” (premieres Wed Sept 28) opens with detective chief inspector John Luther playing a solitary game of Russian Roulette. We’re not worried the gun will go off and kill the show’s namesake (played by British actor Idris Elba of HBO’s “The Wire” fame), but the act—performed with a degree of nonchalance, prior to imbibing his morning cup o’ Joe—reminds viewers of the lead’s psychological fragility and dark impulsive streak. The message is sent loud and clear: We’re in for a ride.

 
And it’s an invigorating one. The show centers around the obsessive, brilliant and often self-destructive copper with a penchant for risk-taking and developing complicated relationships with victims—and, on one occasion, with the killer herself. The acting is top-notch across the board, in particular the performances from Elba, nominated for an Emmy for the work this year. As a whole the talented cast achieves realism, despite the suspension of belief required of the audience on occasion, in particular when the script relies too heavily on psychoanalysis to explain the killers’ behavior.
 
John Luther’s uncanny 6th sense for identifying crime suspects is also a reach, but no matter: identifying the murderers at the top of the show leads to more attention paid to the fun stuff—the chase! And, the battle of wits between Luther and the psychos, which prove both a vehicle for the show’s excellent writing and the fine acting chops of Elba and the supporting cast. The camera work nicely reflects the frazzled emotional states experienced by the victims and other characters, and there are plenty of dark London corners into which the cast can foolishly wander. It’s sufficiently gritty, suspenseful and beautifully shot.
 
At TCA this summer, Elba made a surprise appearance at BBCA’s event and took a few moments to share some thoughts with a crowd of eager journos. The Brit grew modest when prodded about the Emmys. He was surprised at the nomination, but for him the real shocker was that the show didn’t get a nod. “I do not, alone, deserve the performance nod in the Emmys. Ruth Wilson, Warren Brown, Steven Mac[intosh]…I mean, all of those I worked with in that show, performance-wise.” On whether or not there will be a 3rd season he mused, “We’d like to make that happen, we really would. The problem is, I actually want to make a film of “Luther.” But I want to support a television arc that preludes a film.” [Since this summer, a 3rd season was ordered by BBC One.]
 
For Elba, being passed up for accolades during a show’s run is a familiar circumstance. Though it now enjoys a cult-like following, HBO’s “The Wire” failed to clinch a Primetime Emmy (though nominated twice for writing). “We didn’t get any salute while we were on,” he said. “We continue to fly the flag because it’s a great piece of work.” Does he reap the financial benefits of “The Wire’s” massive following? Not exactly. On whether he gets paid every time someone rents it on Netflix, Elba remarked, “Well, not really. I didn’t have a good enough lawyer at the time.” His latest project, however, should earn him some dough. He stars in a Guillermo del Toro film called “Pacific Rim” due out in 2013. “It’s a big monsters versus aliens one. I’ve done a lot of high-brow. I want to do a little low-brow.” Fair enough.

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