Stan Lee’s Lucky Man – Season 1 Episode 1
“More Yang than Ying”
Stan Lee’s Lucky Man introduces us to protagonist D.I. Harry Clayton (James Nesbitt). Clayton is a hard-nosed London cop who likes to blow off steam through excessive drinking and gambling. He’s separated from his barrister wife, and has to arrange to see his daughter at the weekend. So far, so cliché. The story takes a turn away from the traditional one night after Clayton runs up a massive debt at a Chinese casino. He meets a mysterious woman (Sienna Guillory) who seems to bring him luck at the roulette wheel. After spending the night with the stranger, Clayton wakes to find himself wearing an apparently ancient bracelet that he’s unable to remove. He’ll later discover that this charm allows him to control his luck, although in true Stan Lee style there is a downside, powers also come with responsibilites – everything must be kept in balance. Opting for good fortune at the blackjack table may result in bad luck elsewhere in his life…
The plot revolves around two murders and Clayton’s involvement with the Chinese. The victims are Lau, the casino owner and a stripper – both appear to have been strangled and are potentially linked. When working the case, Clayton has to play down his involvement with, and debt to, the dead man. He keeps this from his partner, which causes some friction further down the line. Meanwhile Clayton is also trying to discover the secret of his strange new jewellery, and learning more about the weird effects it is having on events around him. To be honest, the murder plot isn’t all that interesting, and whilst the show tries to ramp up the intrigue, hinting that Clayton’s colleagues are suspicious of his involvement, the gangland murders come across as mundane. A link between Lau and the stripper is established, Lau’s daughter is implicated, but in the end it all serves as a device to further the mystery of the bracelet. And this is just as well, because it’s all we really want to know about. Clayton eventually discovers that he was not the intended recipient of the good luck charm, and this we have to feel will drive the overarching narrative of the season. Why did Clayton end up with the bracelet? Who was it meant for, and how will they go about getting it back?
As a backdrop, London looks great. It doesn’t look like London, but given the Stan Lee treatment, and presumably as a way in for American audiences it is both shiny and glamorous, but also slick and seedy where necessary. Most of the major landmarks are given their designated screen time, but much of the action of this episode centres on Chinatown. The Chinese casino and associated gangsters is such a well worn trope that it almost lends a retro feel to the story, although this does lean more towards old-fashioned, than classic noir (remember, Stan Lee is 93 years old). London Police (that’s right, London Police) headquarters are suitably stylish; all concrete arches and glass. Clayton’s bachelor pad is equally trendy and well kept. We have to assume he has a great cleaning staff, as nothing else about his lifestyle suggests he could maintain this chic apartment. Of course, the Thames also gets to make its cameo, used not only as receptacle for the disposal of bodies, but also as the setting for the episode’s climactic bat chase. The CGI during this section is particularly dodgy, and resembles that of a bad music video, rather than a show of this caliber. Why the creators chose to include it is baffling. Perhaps the prevailing thought was that the episode required a thrilling finale, however it ends up more of a disappointment than a triumph because of the visuals.
Harry Clayton is a somewhat problematic character. Yes, he has his flaws, but he’s also shown to be family man, caring about his wife and daughter. It seems as though the writers are hedging their bets; they never commit to Clayton being a true hell raiser, probably so that he doesn’t come across as an irredeemable bastard. Instead he inhabits a wishy-washy middle ground, never really committing in either direction. He drives an idiosyncratic BMW, lives in the aforementioned converted loft, dresses sharply and presents himself relatively well, despite his all-night benders. Clayton is so stereotypical that it seems impossible to wring any nuance out of this character. And yet, Nesbitt is such a magnetic presence that he just about pulls it off. He’s distilled his cheeky chappie routine into a dry, sarcastic performance that we’ve seen many times before, but it works – he carries the show. Perhaps audiences that aren’t so familiar with him will love it. For those that have seen it before, we’re back in that comfortable place we recognise and appreciate.
Nesbitt’s supporting cast is filled with well known faces, and some good performances. It helps that the secondary characters have storylines of their own, and aren’t relegated to the sidelines of Clayton’s narrative. Stephen Mackintosh is typically slimy as Clayton’s new boss and it’s hinted at that the two cops share a past that will surely be explored later in the season. Sienna Guillory is intriguing as motorbike-riding, leather-clad Eve, the mysterious woman who introduces Clayton to the lucky bracelet. She is our only link to the true nature of the artefact, and is appropriately otherworldly in her brief appearances. Amara Karan and Eve Best also do well in their roles as D.S. Chohan (Clayton’s partner) and Anna Clayton (his estranged wife). They give a convincing picture of what it’s like to live and work with the frustrating Clayton, but are also merit sub-plots of their own. To round it all out, Stan the Man even gets his obligatory cameo.
All in all, Stan Lee’s Lucky Man feels as if it’s operating with a safety net. It’s got the big names, both on and off screen. It’s aiming for a gritty crime narrative; a tough British alternative to the superhero story. And yet it never really takes enough risks. It lacks the conviction to take that leap. It has one foot planted on the safety of the corporate ledge. Don’t be too violent, don’t be too rude, don’t be too out there. Cover all of the bases and please as many viewers as possible. But we don’t want to be merely pleased; we want to be genuinely thrilled and entertained. It’s a shame. Clayton is warned about the yin and yang of his new power over luck – he must maintain the balance between the black and white. In attempting to do so, Stan Lee’s Lucky Man ends up as a muted shade of grey.