Tara Hernandez and Damon Lindelof step out of their comfort zones with a Peacock series long on strangeness and short of human connections.
Betty Gilpin is a dramatic arts treasure. Capable of ringing tears or laughs out of any situation she deserves all her flowers and more. She is so good, her portrayal of Sister Simone nearly pulls Mrs. Davis across into great television.
Sister Simone is out of step with an alternate universe 2023. She’s one of the few people who refuses to interact with Mrs. Davis, a world-spanning AI. The buzz is that it (or “her,” as almost everyone else insists on calling the AI) eliminated war, famine, and the rest of society’s ills since its creation. Simone doubts this for a multitude of reasons. For one, she still has to spend her time busting roving groups of magician-con artists blackmailing the unsuspecting outside of Las Vegas. However, her true beef with Mrs. Davis is that everyone’s favorite AI apparently murdered her father, Monty (David Arquette).
Soon Simone gets the offer of a lifetime from Ms. AI herself. If the nun can track down and destroy the Holy Grail, Mrs. Davis agrees to grant Simone one wish. Even if that wish means Mrs. Davis must deactivate itself.
That setup sends Simone jet-setting around the world, often working with her masculinity-obsessed ex Wiley (Jake McDorman) and his team of resistors led by a very amped-up and funny JQ (Chris Diamantopoulos). Along the way, she encounters everything from academic in exile Arthur Schroedinger (Ben Chaplin, largely visually unrecognizable, but his voice immediately gives him away) and his cat, a disastrous union between British Knight sneakers and the Vatican, and her estranged mother Celeste (Elizabeth Marvel). Also, Simone is literally married to Jesus Christ (Andy McQueen), who she calls Jay. They meet up on a mental plane above our reality. He gives her assignments and feeds her falafel. You know, married stuff.
The show also boasts a cavalcade of strong performances. Arquette’s turn as Simone’s manipulative but loving father is another reminder that people wrote him off entirely too soon. Between this and his Scream encore in 2022, it would be great if we were due for an extended “Arquette as reliable character actor” second act. Marvel is an excellent compliment to him as the genius behind the man, eternally on guard for her husband’s con artistry. As Simone’s Mother Superior, Margo Martindale bookends the series with a warm but flinty performance that reminds you why she’s arguably one of the best television actors of the past 20 years.
Mrs. Davis is a show in desperate need of depth that it never achieves.
If there was any doubt, allow this critic to dispel it: Mrs. Davis is a weird show. In tone and presentation, it evokes both the disappointing Preacher adaptation and the disappointingly short-lived Utopia. Thankfully, it never tips into Preacher’s glib sophomoric smirking. For one thing, the jokes are cleverer and more frequently land. Even the obvious ones—Schroedinger and his cat = Schrodinger’s cat, for instance—have an unexpected twist that makes them worth inclusion.
On the other hand, the series also never finds the kind of emotional connectivity that Utopia achieved. The weirdness is fun for a while but ultimately feels hollow. Sure, there’s a certain delight to an endurance event featuring men in medieval helmets trying to keep their hand on a giant replica of Excalibur for unknown prizes but everyone’s reasons either feel obvious or facile. Even with Gilpin’s considerable skills devoted to humanizing her character and the people around her, the series feels more in love with its quirk than its feelings. In the end, Mrs. Davis is a show in desperate need of depth that it never achieves.
Mrs. Davis is fighting the nun fighting the future on Peacock now.