Lucifer tackled many themed episodes in its six-season run, from the classic “What If?” alternate-universe episode to the jukebox musical. So for its final season, the creators decided to go where Lucifer had never gone before: the world of animation. “Yabba Dabba Do Me” takes Lucifer (Tom Ellis) and Chloe (Lauren German) into brand-new territory with close encounters of the 2-D kind, and it’s a great final reminder that Lucifer was always at its best when it embraced its goofy side.
The series as a whole, inspired by Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics and Mike Carey’s spin-off Lucifer series, follows Lucifer Morningstar as he quits hell, solves crimes, hangs out with mortals, and eventually replaces God. But in season 6, he decides that before he can be God, he has to help someone he hates. So he and his detective partner and love interest Chloe go down to hell to help season 1 villain Jimmy Barnes (John Pankow) get into heaven.
Unfortunately, thanks to a celestial imbalance wreaking havoc on the universe and Lucifer driving Jimmy mad before his death, Jimmy is stuck in a cartoon version of the wedding Lucifer interrupted in the series premiere. Most people in hell are stuck reliving the moment of their lives they most regret, being tortured by their own guilt. But Jimmy’s hell loop is unusual, and Lucifer can’t seem to control it. The only way he and Chloe can help Jimmy and escape is to play by the rules of the loop’s cartoon universe.
To create the episode, Lucifer showrunners Ildy Modrovich and Joe Henderson enlisted the help of Harley Quinn producer Jennifer Coyle and the series’ animators. The end result: classic Lucifer hijinks (sexual innuendos and ass-kicking) in the form of a Looney Tunes Saturday-morning cartoon. Not only is it a great way to add a bit more camp to an already camp-stuffed show, the animated episode lets Lucifer do what it does best: Layer the action with endearing goofiness, with a side of emotional gut-punch.
The episode leans into animation humor, like when Lucifer realizes he’s a “smoothie” with no genitals, and can’t swear in this made-for-kids world. “I just love the idea of him having to be out of control in a world where he’s normally so much in control,” co-showrunner Henderson told Thrillist about the bit. “He is the King of Hell. And yet here, he’s lost his twig and berries.” But “Yabba Dabba Do Me” is more than just the visual gags.
It takes a few things to make gimmicks like Lucifer’s theme episodes work. First, a reasonable trigger for the episode’s existence. In season 5’s noir-themed flashback episode “It Never Ends Well for the Chicken,” the noir mystery is a story Lucifer is telling Trixie (Scarlett Estevez) about his past. In the musical episode “Bloody Celestial Karaoke Jam,” God himself makes the world use song to process emotions. In “Yabba Dabba Do Me,” it’s Jimmy’s emotional connection to cartoons and Lucifer’s loss of control in Hell.
Second, to really make an effective episode, the gimmick needs to be seen through to the fullest, most absurd extent, like when Lucifer and God sing a duet of “I Dreamed A Dream” from Les Misérables in the musical episode. In “Yabba Dabba Do Me,” that means taking advantage of all the visual gags cartoons have to offer, including Lucifer being flattened into an accordion, and Chloe punching a giant devil so hard, he goes flying through the roof. It’s a fun gimmick that plays so specifically to Lucifer’s strengths — namely, Lucifer’s over-the-top cockiness — that seeing Chloe and Lucifer as cartoons feels inevitable, almost as if they’d been cartoon characters in the real world this whole time.
Lucifer is at its best when it goes full goofy, because at his core, Lucifer is a profoundly goofy character. He’s the devil, but he chooses to run a nightclub in Los Angeles and moonlight as a consultant to the LAPD for fun, while living his life like a wannabe Hugh Hefner. He is truly absurd. And just as he’s at his most lovable when he embraces that fact, Lucifer the series is most poignant and fun when it recognizes just how ridiculous the entire premise is. More importantly, when the showrunners get silly, they embrace the series’ ridiculous potential fully and unapologetically.
That commitment to antic adventure isn’t limited to the gimmick episodes. Take Dan Espinoza (Kevin Alejandro), Chloe’s ex-husband, who started out the series as a dirty cop, and a potential romantic rival for Lucifer. By the end of season 4, he’s a fully comedic character, the show’s lovable idiot. He’s also the emotional center of the final season. By letting the character be unapologetically ludicrous, the showrunners turned Dan into a fan favorite — which in turn makes the end of his storyline in season 5 even more devastating.
By contrast, Lucifer is at its worst when it leans too much into self-serious drama. Like in season 5B, when Chloe went from an independent single mother to a woman so in love with the devil she would quit her job without a second thought and commit to being God’s human “partner.” The entire storyline was a head-scratcher, and it felt forced in part because there was no joy in it. It was too earnest, and without any ridiculousness to balance it out, it reduced Chloe to a one-dimensional character.
Joyless supernatural dramas are common enough on television, but Lucifer stands out when the creators don’t take the tone too seriously. In this golden age of television, it can be difficult to find a show that can have an emotional impact while also not wallowing in the most depressing qualities of everyday life. Lucifer’s silliness makes it a refuge from the darkness of most prestige television. It’s a murder show that isn’t dark and moody, and a fantasy series that isn’t full of beheadings and episodes so dimly lit, you can’t make out friend from foe. As “Yabba Dabba Do Me” shows, when the creators acknowledge that dynamic, and keep Lucifer self-aware and balanced on the edge of comedy, it truly soars.
All six seasons of Lucifer are now streaming on Netflix, with some seasons available for purchase on digital streaming platforms. The pilot episode is streaming free on Amazon.