When I recently mentioned, in conversation, how much I was looking forward to the second season of “Lucifer,” my friend looked at me like I’d just confessed to a drug habit, funded by mugging elementary school kids or lap dancing for ISIS. (I can read a lot into a look, but this one was particularly judgmental.) Just to make sure I was catching the full measure of his disregard for this particular habit of mine, he said, “You watch that show?”
I used to get profoundly embarrassed when confessing to some of my more “fun” viewing habits. (And I’m not even talking about porn here.) Somewhere along the way, “guilty pleasure” became a sort of mea culpa, meant to mitigate the apparent awfulness of my choices, as if naturally we should feel like terrible human beings for craving entertainment we enjoy. But guilt is a pretty weird overreaction to deciding what you like to watch on TV.
I had no plans, whatsoever, to fall in love with “Lucifer.” Before season one debuted, I saw the trailer and expected the worst. A show about a handsome Devil, running wild in a “Zoolander”-esque Los Angeles, populated by really, really ridiculously good-looking people? Wasn’t that at least three levels of redundancy on display? I’d surely lose all intellectual credibility if I so much as watched the trailer one more time. But eventually, I decided to hate-watch the pilot anyway, because I was in that kind of mood.
And then I got hooked. Yes, the cast is really, really, really ridiculously good-looking. But also, the show displayed more depth and cleverness than I was expecting. It weaves its story away from clichés more than you’d expect. Angels sometimes do bad things. And the Devil is trying to do the right thing.
But what really won me over was how the anti-hero’s journey unfolds, as the Devil discovers his own humanity. Not so different, in terms of shame and shamelessness, than the guilt and remorse we often feel around our own human impulses — to have fun, to enjoy life in whatever way we choose, to just laugh when that pleasure arrives in the form of those shows that make a certain kind of guy wrinkle his nose at you in superiority, despite never having seen an episode.
As Lucifer finds himself developing feelings for police detective Chloe over the first season, his vulnerability around her literally makes him mortal — in other words, human. To paraphrase Shakespeare, if you cut Lucifer, or shoot him, or shank him, or perpetrate any other kind of action sequence malfeasance upon his person, does he not bleed? After falling for Chloe, the answer becomes YES. He even passes up the opportunity to shag her in one episode, because: Feelings. (That’s two really, really ridiculously good-looking people refraining from shagging because of feelings. In Los Angeles. Do you see what I mean about unexpected story decisions?)
Lucifer’s storyline offers a pretty great parallel for all kinds of vulnerability. Possessing and professing love, or even deep like, for anyone or anything makes you vulnerable. Wearing your heart on your sleeve opens you up to ridicule, even danger. Vulnerability means you might get hurt. Heartfelt enthusiasm makes people so nervous it’s almost a form of bravery: Loving something earnestly is to invite the chance that someone — even someone we know, or love; and of course on the internet, anyone at all — to lash out. When your life or performance is built on not caring about anything, someone else’s sincerity calls that performance into question — and provides an easy target to prove how much you really don’t care.
When you claim something as a “guilty pleasure,” you’re saying two things: First, that it gives you pleasure, and second, that it does not give you pleasure: It gives you just enough of the right kind of pleasure, and you must buy back permission for whatever surplus pleasure you derive by first apologizing for it — that sounds fishy to me. Sounds like you’re playing a game, and you didn’t even know you’d been drafted.
Entertainment, in its infinite forms and diversity, can always use more gravity, the spice of intellect, the deeply complex puzzle games that we all enjoy from time to time. Diversity in front of, and behind the camera, is vital to our country’s survival and for society to thrive. There are a lot of things that can be added to the mixture — but it seems like most critical conversations are more interested in taking things away.
When a man dismisses a woman for watching a television show, for example, it’s not just about telling the woman she is stupid: It’s also explaining something about the world to her, about what is of value, or to be valued, and what is to be discarded. There is a hierarchy of things that are good, and things that are bad, and you need to be as terrified as he is: Be absolutely sure that you’re choosing your show correctly, praising the right things in the right conversations and at the right times, picking fights about which show is “better” in the right moment. All the things that stress him out so much he needs to passively aggressively attack anyone who’s not playing the game.
That’s silly, isn’t it? What a social nightmare that is; all the twists and turns and ornaments and detective work, just to appear naturally intellectual and superior, without any effort of stress at all. Why not just … Like the things that you like, and ignore the things that don’t interest you, and stop trying to get approval from people for it?
We may not entirely know why so many of us, like my friend, would prefer not to take the easier route — but Lucifer would tell us it’s because they’re afraid of getting caught, vulnerable, unawares. We do it, automatically and without thinking about it, because it’s easier than the idea of someone catching them being human.
Sounds exhausting! Not much like pleasure at all.
“Lucifer” airs Mondays at 9:00 ET/PT on FOX.