One critical side effect of the Age of Too Much Goddamn Television is that writing about anything more than a year old feels increasingly impossible to do without opening on a confessional note: Forgive me, O Readers, for I have sinned. It’s been half a season, a whole season, more, since last I watched [insert relevant TV show here]. Nevermind how sound my reasons for abandoning any of television’s (even slightly) elder statesmen are—the sense that I ought to lead with some kind of exegetic mea culpa for having done so at all is hard to shake.
Fitting, then, that the latest mea culpa rattling around my keyboard has to do with FOX’s canceled “Devil decamps to Los Angeles” procedural, Lucifer, whose long-awaited fourth season, which drops this week, marks the devilish IP’s second coming as a Netflix Original Series. And I don’t just mean fitting because Lucifer Morningstar’s whole deal is running cheeky circles around the very concepts of sin and confession and repentance—I mean fitting because Lucifer’s whole deal as a television show, from its promising premiere to its gradual stultification under the broadcast season model to its eventual cancellation by FOX and rescue by Netflix, ticks every box needed to turn a critic from a fan to a lapsed viewer to a hopeful repentant ready to give confession.
So here I am, confessing: Forgive me, O Readers, for I have sinned. It’s been sixteen episodes, two major character deaths, and one too many self-defeating swerves away from the humane morality beating away beneath Lucifer’s overwhelming hubris since last I checked in on the City of Angels’ favorite devil. But in making the move from FOX to Netflix, Lucifer seems to have found its way back to its Season One groove—and I’m ready to reclaim my faith.
When Lucifer premiered in 2016, viewers were immediately smitten with both its high-concept premise—the Sandman comics’ King of Hell (a sinfully charming Tom Ellis) has a midlife existential crisis, moves to L.A., and takes up with the LAPD—and execution—the incredible soundtrack! the remarkably robust mythological worldbuilding! the astonishing variety of interesting female leads! In checking in on the series midway through its second season, Paste’s own Trent Moore called it “funny, savvy, and actually a joy to watch,” noting rightly how rare it is for any show to earn such praise in television’s bloated consultant/police procedural space. In those early days, watching Lucifer pull off so much savvy myth-meets-procedural fun week after week—on broadcast television, no less—often felt like watching the actual Devil get away with (sexy, sexy) murder.
But then the suffocating reality of a 24-episode season set in, and by its third year in the broadcast mines, Lucifer was losing track of its central narrative threads as often as it was finding ways to weave them into something new and interesting. More and more episodes began to feel like filler, and more and more often, the contortions the show wrenched itself into to keep Detective Chloe Decker (Lauren German), Lucifer’s romantic foil, from just believing he was the damned Devil were simply too ludicrous to believe. The Season Three finale finally maneuvered Chloe into seeing Lucifer’s devil-face in all its monstrous glory, but as FOX’s cancellation shortly thereafter demonstrated, that was far too little, some dozens of episodes too late.
This, I am happy to report, seems to be a truth Team Lucifer is acutely aware of now that they’ve found a new home at Netflix. After 55 episodes spent teasing but never following through with Chloe buying into the reality of who (and what) Lucifer really is, Season Four propels her from fleeing to Rome for some primary research on what kind of danger Lucifer’s being the King of Hell might pose on, like, human existence, all the way through to believing in the angelic nature of his soul in a tight 10. Fast, tense, and dramatically dense, that, to hear the cast tell it, seems to be the show’s new guiding principle. Gone are the airy filler episodes of overlong seasons past; gone are any nonsensical backslides in character development meant to keep the story from burning itself out ahead of broadcast schedule.
What does that leave behind? Well, just about everything that made Lucifer so fun and innovative from the beginning: Amenadiel’s (D. B. Woodside) back-footed angelic earnestness. Mazikeen’s (Lesley-Anne Brandt) stone cold demonic awkwardness. Linda’s (Rachael Harris) human steadiness. Dan’s (Kevin Alejandro) counterbalancing ambivalence. Ella’s (Aimee Garcia) boppy cheerfulness. Little Trixie’s (Scarlett Estevez) wry self-possession. Chloe’s shining moral compass. Lucifer’s hidden, self-hating brokenness. The killer soundtrack. Tom Ellis’s abs. Add Inbar Lavi (Imposters) as Lucifer’s effervescently naïve old flame, Eve—yes, that Eve—plus Maze singing the sexiest cover of “Wonderwall” that’s ever been sung, and a big dance finale too sublime to put into words, and you’re cooking with some real (dramatic) Hellfire.
If any part of Lucifer’s OG formula doesn’t quite survive the move to Netflix’s binge model, it’s the cases of the week, which do at least improve on the third season’s most eye-rollingly on-the-nose cases, but not by much. In the grand scheme of things, though, this isn’t much of a loss. As fun a genre mash-up element as the procedural was in the beginning, that aspect of Lucifer was always more of a scaffolding within which the solid structure of the show’s more compelling emotional/supernatural story could be built than something that mattered on its own—that that scaffolding can more or less fall to an eternal second place in such a short Season Four without the internal structure collapsing is a sign of strength in Lucifer’s new 10-episode model.
For all my fellow lapsed viewers out there who might also be ready to believe in Lucifer again now that its storytelling parameters have changed, know that it is possible to jump right into “Everything’s Okay” (4.01) without catching up on what you missed at the end of Season Three. That said, as the deaths of both Charlotte (Tricia Helfer) and Cain (Tom Welling) significantly shape the interpersonal dynamics between everyone in the ensemble cast in Season Four, scrolling back a season in your Netflix queue to catch “Quintessential Deckerstar” (3.23) and “A Devil of My Word” (3.24) wouldn’t be a total waste of time. (“Boo Normal” and “Once Upon a Time,” though technically included in the third season episode count, now exist more or less outside of canon, having been filmed for a would-be FOX Season Four before the show was canceled. They’re fun—the latter is even narrated by God, as voiced by Sandman creator Neil Gaiman—but they are entirely unnecessary to understand things in Netflix’s official fourth season.)
For everyone else out there, if you want (or need) to take a cathartic breath before diving into the new season, there is this short “Nine Circles of Hell” reunion special, which features Lucifer’s six principles in a cozy roundtable chat about the chaotic period between cancellation and renewal, their most sinful (or not) work habits, and the moral and existential truths we should all be looking forward to joining the series in grappling with in Season Four—and, hopefully, beyond.
Or, you know, go ahead and just jump right into Season Four. Let the fictional criminals of Lucifer’s Los Angeles seek absolution for awhile.
All four seasons of Lucifer are now streaming on Netflix.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She
can be found @AlexisKG.