You can’t keep a good devil down.
Nearly a year after its Fox cancellation, “Lucifer” returns with a 10-episode fourth season at its new Netflix home.
Creatively, the shift came at a pivotal moment for the series. The Season 3 finale found the title character (Tom Ellis) revealing his true devil face to his partner/potential love interest Chloe (Lauren German).
“It is our most emotional season,” executive producer Joe Henderson tells Variety. “For the first time, Chloe and Lucifer have to be honest with each other — and it’s harder than both of them might realize. That gave us so much story.”
There’s also external drama for the would-be couple: The biblical Eve (Inbar Lavi) shows up, determined to reunite with Lucifer, while “Preacher” co-star Graham McTavish pops up as a priest with a tie to an unlikely character.
Here, Henderson and executive producer Ildy Modrovich discuss the freedom that’s come with the shift to streaming, planting Easter eggs in the fourth season and their dream episode.
What conversations did you have with your new bosses at Netflix about how to best handle the on- and off-screen changes that come with something like Lucifer’s reveal to Chloe at the end of Season 3?
Modrovich: Most of the conversation happened [internally] before deciding to go with that moment before Chloe saw his devil face. We had been talking about that moment for three seasons. We were [originally] going to do it in Season 1. Once we made that decision [to go through with it], we had gone through so many discussions about why it wouldn’t break the show, we had a lot of places we wanted to go.
Henderson: When we made the switch from Fox to Netflix, a lot of our plans stayed the same. We pitched them what we had and they loved everything. As we started breaking it, we embraced [that] we’re on a streaming platform. People are going to watch it in a chunk. It’s a different kind of storytelling. We can really explore this in a way where maybe we could have on Fox, but would have had to be brave to try. Whereas at Netflix, we’re really empowered to really explore the aftermath of Chloe learning the truth, and not just put the genie back in the bottle right away. All of season four is about the aftereffect of the realization.
Often when a show changes networks, there is an element of re-piloting or an exposition dump to make sure people know what’s going on. Streaming is a bit of a different world, but were there similar requests?
Henderson: What’s really helpful is they know there is going to be a recap on before. And they have their algorithm to figure out if you haven’t watched recently enough, you’re going to want the option for a recap. They were very empowering to say, “Just tell a good episode. Please have little moments that remind us here or there, but the most important thing is to tell a story that is emotional and pays off the promise of where you left off.”
Modrovich: They’ll also have the previous three seasons right there, whereas on another network, you wouldn’t have that. So if you watch the first episode of season four, you can pause and go back and catch up.
Beyond the premiere, how has the new platform — knowing many will watch it as a binge, viewers will be watching chronologically — shifted your storytelling?
Modrovich: There’s less exposition you feel you need to do — less hand-holding. Not that we really did that before, but you want to make sure everyone is orientated [with network TV]. But in this case, you’re pretty much trusting and know that they are.
Henderson: Before, you’d write towards the end of an episode where it would last viewers a week. You’d want everything wrapped up. You’d want a little bit of a tease so they’d come back, but enough of an ending. But with Netflix, you want them to just keep watching. What was really fun to discover was that shift in storytelling, where these endings had [things] wrap up and the episode was still completed, but you get to end with more of a “I need to see this now” end, which is something we really embraced. We could end on a cliffhanger almost every episode. That was an exciting new toy to play with.
Is the Netflix version of season four the same that would have aired on Fox, the first half of that planned season, or a hybrid of the two?
Modrovich: The last one. When we had 22 episodes, we break it into two halves of the season so it would be 10 and 12. We looked at the first half of what we were thinking we’d do if we came back on Fox and we just ended at that halfway place and blew everything up within that storyline. We made the ending bigger, the moves a little bigger.
Henderson: And we found stuff as we were going, which is always the fun thing about TV. The season four finale is so much bigger than we ever planned it to be, because as we were breaking it, we were like, “Oh.” It allowed us to pivot slightly to make the story even richer.
Modrovich: The priest character didn’t come to fruition until we started. Once we cast Graham, he’s so freaking good and mesmerizing, we were like, “What else can we do with him?”
There’s a bit of nudity, longer episode lengths, and other things that wouldn’t have been able to fly on network television. What discussions did you have internally about what lines you wanted to push at Netflix?
Henderson: One of the things that was important to us is there were three seasons of “Lucifer.” We wanted people who watched the first three to be able to watch the fourth. Having said that, we wanted to push boundaries a bit, and there were things we thought we should be able to do that we couldn’t at Fox. It was balancing out how far we ourselves wanted to push it. We’ve got a lot more butt — a lot more Tom butt in particular. And a little more colorful language. Also, one of the things we thought about early on was to keep the runtime from being too bloated. We succeeded in that –but we also realized going to 10 episodes from 22, every scene matters a bit more and you end up putting more in each scene.
Modrovich: We really did cut, proportionally, the same amount. Because we didn’t have concerns about runtime as we normally do, the actors and directors luxuriated a bit. It would be like an hour runtime of our first cut, but we’d still end up cutting ten minutes or longer out of an episode. We got to approach everything from a deeper level, because we didn’t have a gun to our heads, time-wise.
Henderson: A lot of people ask, “Is the show darker?” The answer is yes, but for kind of an unexpected reason. One is the aftermath of what happened. But with 10 episodes, we’re not taking the weird swings we’d take. With 22 episodes, you can do a lighter episode. You don’t really have the time to do that with 10.
Modrovich: In a Season 4, in general, you get to go deeper. You’ve established the characters, the actors totally inhabit them. Now we can shake things up.
Henderson: We’re so lucky to make a season four that I think is our best season. It’s really exciting for the story elements we get to play with — Chloe knowing the truth has so much story — combined with being on Netflix and ten episodes.
Modrovich: The fact that we were canceled and got this new life, it’s like getting out of prison. Everything is a little sweeter. Everything is infused with more love because we got a second chance.
There may not be time for the lighter episodes in the traditional season, but Netflix has sporadically picked up one-off installments as specials. Have there been any conversations about incorporating the lighter elements of the show that way?
Modrovich: Well, I’ve been dying to do a musical episode. Within the the first 10 episodes, every single episode became so important, story-wise [we couldn’t]. I feel like next season, we’ve got to get there. We’ve got to get the musical episode.
Looking at Season 4 specifically, how are Chloe and Lucifer handling the aftermath of the big reveal?
Henderson: It’s such a momentous moment we’ve been building up to. One thing fans have wanted to know is if we’re just going to go back to them solving cases right away. The answer is sort of yes, but mostly no. This is the thrust of the entire season. It allows us to dig into Chloe, how she would deal with it, who she is. This feeling of betrayal from Lucifer and this feeling of frustration with herself for not having seen the truth. It’s been an incredibly exciting thing to play with, and it’s been incredible to see what Lauren German has done. This season is her season; when people see the performance she gave us, they’re going to be blown away.
Modrovich: It was really important for us to put ourselves in her shoes. [Some fans say,] “Oh, we just want Chloe to accept him as he is.” First of all, there’s no drama in that. But there’s no way in real life — as bats— as our premise may be, we really try to ground everything — if your partner or your husband or your sister was the real devil. You wouldn’t just go, “Oh, I love them anyway.” You’d have a real hard time. We just wanted to explore it as real as we possibly could.
What discussions were there in the writers’ room about how to best handle that delicate balance? Some fans will want Chloe to just get over it — especially since Lucifer is charismatic — but this does change almost everything in her life.
Modrovich: It calls into question not just her relationship with Lucifer. Chloe, as a character, is not religious, but all of the stories in the Bible, to [learn] that’s real? It’s Earth-shattering.
Henderson: We wanted to protect Chloe. We wanted to dig into her perspective, because Lucifer is amazing, awesome and we’d like to think we would forgive him because he’s Tom Ellis and he’s charming. So really grounding ourselves in the truth of how devastating this is to her. But, also, it’s different from everyone else who has learned the truth about him: she’s in love with him. Or, at least, feels incredibly strong emotions towards him. We’re going off the greatest whiplash a character can experience — she thought he was wrong and in denial [when he’d tell her he was a monster], but she realizes it was her all along.
Modrovich: Even though Lucifer has been saying it to her, he really hasn’t. He could have shown her [earlier]. He showed Linda his face. He never showed Chloe. There’s a reason: he was terrified of what she would do if she knew he was a monster, not just metaphorically.
How does Eve impact their shaky partnership?
Modrovich: The show is about exploring the ultimate bad guy. So when someone comes in to disrupt our beloved characters, we want the fans to fall in love with them, too. We knew we wanted to have somebody shake things up. We thought how can we turn it even more on its head? How can we have someone come in who not only accepts Lucifer for who he is as the devil, but wants him for that way and wants him to regress? And Eve does it in the most innocent way. She wants to have fun. She wants to feel free.
Henderson: She’s the bored housewife who misses the dark and dangerous guy who made her feel alive. Inbar when she came on, added an extra layer of innocent wonder to Eve that was on the page a little bit. But, boy, she dug into it. We ended up writing to her a lot, because she basically plays Eve like a Disney character. She’s amazed and excited [by everything]. It should be a strange contrast from her innocent to Lucifer’s devilishness, but it weirdly feels like two parts of a whole. Which makes the tricky situation between Lucifer, Chloe, and Eve more challenging.
There seem to be a number of Easter eggs in Season 4. What led to that?
Henderson: We write partially as some of the biggest fans of the show. Usually if it’ll delight us, we know it’ll delight the audience. Netflix really encouraged us [to include that]. They love if you reference things from seasons ago, because then people can go find it.
What else has you excited about this fourth season?
Henderson: Linda has one of our biggest stories of the season. Something happens to her that will change her life forever.
Modrovich: There’s something in the finale that is laying the primer for a musical episode!
“Lucifer” Season 4 premieres Wednesday, May 8 on Netflix.