Stan Lee’s Lucky Man S01E01 “More Yang Than Yin” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Sky 1, Fridays, 9pm
Writer: Neil Biswas
Director: Andy De Emmony
Essential Plot Points:
- Harry Clayton is a cop with a gambling addiction that has wrecked his marriage. But he still can’t avoid the attraction of the London casinos.
- After another round of bad luck the casino bass bars him and demands he pay his debt.
- However Harry’s luck turns when meets a mysterious woman who tells him where to place his bets on the Roulette table and she’s right every time.
- Harry repays her with a shag. She repays him by leaving him to wake up alone in the morning with a magic bangle he can’t take off around his wrist.
- Harry’s luck keeps up. He avoids getting crushed by falling bricks and his evangelical new boss misses some evidence that would show that Harry is a bit dodgy.
- Harry’s daughter is knocked off her bike by a car, but she’ll survive. This is the scriptwriters making a point! Mysterious woman returns to explain the point in case we don’t get it: luck comes with a cost… Yin and Yang and all that.
- Oh and she was supposed to give the magic bangle to somebody else, but she didn’t because seemed like a “good person”. But the guy she was supposed to give it to is angry and wants his bangle? Who might that be? She can’t reveal that yet… she’s a mysterious woman acting mysteriously, after all. She can’t just give the plot away in the opening episode.
- Meanwhile there’s some crime going on. The casino boss dies; a Soho pleasure palace boss loses one of his girls and seems scared; a young guy who’s permanently angry is somehow involved and it all ends up in boat chase on the Thames.
- Harry is not good at boat chases. Cue cliffhanger with Harry in the water and another cop drowning under the capsized boat while some villains approach brandishing machetes…
Cynic-Man – a little-known superhero created when he was bitten by a radioactive movie blogger – might suggest that Stan Lee’s involvement in Lucky Man probably went little further than a dinner conversation where went, “How about a guy who’s super lucky?” Because aside from the the opening credits there’s very little of a comic book vibe to this lavish, new Sky 1 show. It feels more like a family-friendly Luther or Silent Witness with a supernatural twist that it’s ever so slightly embarrassed by.
So we have the dodgy but essentially decent cop with his one great character deficiency – gambling – with a gruff no-nonsense boss who’s out to nail him, investigating slightly seedy cases an incredibly gorgeously shot London. So far, so much like so many other British cop shows; just change the location and the one great character deficiency to suit. It does benefit from an effortlessly charming performance from James Nesbitt, a man who can flesh out any role by simply turning the blarney up to eleven. Reveiwers used to moan about professional Cockneys on telly, but Nesbitt shows that being professionally Irish is a noble and worthy trade.
Then comes the twist. This cop, Harry, is given a magic bangle that gives him… well… the luck of the Irish. (Except that we’ve just seen its previous owner commit suicide which doesn’t seem particularly lucky but you have to assume this behaviour will become clear in the coming weeks). Now this – according to the pre-publicity and the Stan Lee connection – makes him a superhero. But Harry doesn’t come across as potential superhero material. And neither does his newfound luck feel like a superpower.
What this opening episode lacks is that one big “Wow!” moment when the luck really kicks in. A ludicrous moment of stupendous luck that makes the viewers’ and Harry’s jaw drop. The grandstanding moment. The signature moment. The Twitter-igniting moment. The one scene where all week you’ll be going, “Did you see the bit where?” The one that’ll be in every, “Previously on…” montage from here on in. The bit where luck does feel like a superpower.
Instead we get some falling bricks and electricity short-out. Cynic-Man is snorting in derision.
It looks like we are going to get that moment during the boat chase at the end but we get a cliffhanger instead. Cliffhangers in a programme about luck? Who can spot dramatic problem here? Not the scriptwriter, clearly.
This first episode of Lucky Man, then, is perfectly watchable if unexceptional cop show with plenty of amusing dialogue (“Look, I have patched for my addictions” “They have patches for porn?”) and a serviceable procedural plot. There are some subtle allusions to some of Stan Lee’s superhero tropes – especially in the dynamics between the regular characters – that suggest that he may have had more of a hand in the basic structure of the show than Cynic-Man believes, but ironically, in a show where there are no other comic book trappings they simply come across as clichés rather then amusing archetypes. Sienna Guillory’s Eve is barely more than plot exposition in motorcycle leathers, though in keeping with the grand tradition of such characters she only ever delivers half the information necessary for no discernible reason and vanishes as soon as she might actually start being useful.
Let’s hope episode two has a bit more fun with concept. After all, we can’t let Cynic-Man win!
- The theme tune and credit sequence are the most comic-book thing about the show.
- Nesbitt can’t help but be watchable; he brings a lot of charm to a not particularly fleshed-out role (and we would put a bet on him having ad-libbed, “I haven’t a baldy,” when he drops back into ultra-Irish mode in the conversation with his brother –nice touch).
- It looks great, like a stylish spy thriller, and uses lesser-used London locations well.
- The central concept is intriguing, it just needs to have more fun with it.
- For some reason we really enjoyed the fact that DS Suri Chohan is a quiz show demon.
- Cliffhangers which have a character in mortal danger really don’t work when said character has magical luck powers. It’s bleedin’ obvious something lucky is going to get him out of it. In fact, seeing him survive by some extraordinary stroke of luck would have been a far better ending to the episode.
- Because, let’s face it, the standard of “luck” we see here is all low-rent, pretty ordinary stuff. The show needed one big display of super luck to really capture the audience’s imagination.
- Tonally it seems a little unsure if it wants to be glossy or grim.
- A lot of the characters come straight out of the stock (character) cupboard and it’s unclear if this is just writing on automatic or a meta-gag at the expense of Stan Lee superhero comic tropes (the grumpy boss out to expose the hero; the competitive work mate; the sympathetic workmate).
And The Random:
- Yes, there’s a Stan Lee cameo! He’s signing at London’s Forbidden Planet though with a Belisha Beacon obscuring the first bit of the word “Cult” in their sign some viewers might have assumed Lee was signing at an “Adult Entertainment Megastore”.
- The theme tune is “Lucky Man” written and performed by Corrine Bailey Ray.
- In the ’90s director Andy De Emmony worked almost exclusively on sitcoms, including the entire seventh season of Red Dwarf (1993) and the entire third season of Father Ted (1998) as well as three episodes of Spitting Image. In the 21st century he moved onto dramas like Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa! (2006) and Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story (2008). More recently he directed The Bletchley Circle (2012) and the upcoming supernatural thriller Him (2016) which you can read more about here.
- No less than three actors who’ve had major roles in Luther are recurring characters on Stan Lee’s Lucky Man: Steven Mackintosh (Harry’s unpleasant boss – he was in the whole of the first season of Luther); Sienna Guillory (the woman who gives Harry the magic bangle – she was in four episodes of season three of Luther) and Darren Boyd (the contemptuous fellow cop – he was only in half an episode of the recent Luther two-parter but he had a very memorable exit).
Review by Dave Golder