Have you ever seen those viral videos where an infant tries a new food and cannot process the new experience at first? One taste leaves them wincing and contorting their faces with hilariously cute results. That was my brain as I started watching Peacock’s new science fiction comedy-drama series Mrs. Davis.
Based on the key art and ads I knew it had to do with a nun on a motorcycle on the hunt for the Holy Grail. Once I learned that the nun was played by Betty Gilpen (GLOW, Gaslit) and the creators were Damon Lindelof (Watchmen, LOST) and Tara Hernandez (Big Bang Theory), I was certainly going to watch. My expectations were for a one-joke premise stretched across, easy to digest, amusing fare.
What I got instead was something completely different and it took me a while to process it. I was that baby, biting into my first bite firing off synapses in my brain as I tried to take it all in – unsure if I liked or disliked what I was trying yet unable to stop consuming more. Nuns, AI, Jesus, giant swords, magic acts, Germans, Templar Knights, bull riding, motorcycles. Where was that easy to digest show I had anticipated?
At first, I must admit, while amused I was not sold on what I had just tried. So much so, that after two and a half episodes, I was pretty sure I had enough of the series. Still, the contorted-faced baby in my brain wanted one more bite. Instead of continuing the third episode, I chose to restart the series from the pilot episode and I am glad I did. With some context and a recalibrated set of expectations, my brain better processed what Mrs. Davis had to offer and it is a blast.
Part of the challenge is the density of the material. My brain was just not ready for it because it is a lot. Here’s a brief summary of the plot – hang on. The incredible Betty Gilpin stars as Simone, a nun who sets off on an epic quest with cowboy ex-boyfriend Wylie (Jake McDorman) to find the Holy Grail which was last seen in the hands of a mysterious red-headed woman named Clara.
The task was given to Simone by her husband Jay (Andy McQueen) who just happens to be Jesus and works in a diner. His boss, who we never see, sits behind the closed kitchen doors handing out seemingly random tasks for Simone to take on, this time around the stakes are much higher. Her target is Mrs. Davis, an A.I. (similar to Alexa or Google Home) that has collected data, infiltrating every aspect of human life putting humanity on the quest for wings – a sign of being a good person. If Simone can bring back the Grail Mrs. Davis will delete itself. Got it? Do not worry, I am not 100% I do either and I would not want it any other way.
That really is part of the fun. Every episode, every scene, every conversation connects the constantly moving parts to a bigger world, one that continues to take shape – at least through all six episodes I have watched before writing this review. It is like being lost in a funhouse. Once I realized this twisty and stylish maze unfolds in its own pace and style it was much easier for me to enjoy its madness. Instead of focusing on analyzing and trying to answer all the questions presented (and there are a lot), I released the need for control and got lost in the chaos. In other words, enjoy this funhouse ride for what it is, being lost at times is part of the experience.
It is difficult to discuss the series while avoiding spoilers because the puzzles shift so much at times that what you thought you knew does not always remain the truth. One thing that is a constant is the brilliant work of Gilpin. She has impressed me, ever since G.L.O.W. – a series that deserved more love (looking at you Netflix) which displays her comedic skills as well as dipping heavily into the dramatic.
Mrs. Davis gives Gilpin a chance to let loose as Simone – displaying her full range of comedic skills infused with her impeccable dramatic acting (also checkout her work in Starz’s Gaslit). Some of the wittiest moments creep up when not expected, as Gilpin drops in physical humor or perfectly deadpan deliveries along the way with optimal results. It is obvious both Gilpin and Simone understood the assignment and it pays off for the viewers, especially when the chemistry with Wylie kicks in with some back and forth banter. Wylie makes for the perfect partner for their biblical hijinks – McDorman digs right in with a hilarious wild card swagger making him a joy to watch.
My fear was it would try to be odd for the sake of being odd. Some series/films try so hard to shock that you realize characters are an afterthought. That is not the case here. While the series often goes wonderfully big, tipping dangerously close to over the top, Gilpin’s nuanced work helps ground it with real pathos and emotion. There is a lot of backstory revealed throughout in bits and pieces; a dysfunctional family with a presumably dead magician father (David Arquette) and disapproving mother (Elizabeth Marvel) plus obvious history with Wylie and a convent of nuns. The quest for the grail is the main focus, but all the smaller details are what satisfies.
For as wild and unpredictable the series can be it dives into the relatable themes that had modern ties. Namely, the influence of technology in today’s world. I do not think there is a better time to explore A.I. than today, as the scary technology has quickly infiltrated just about every aspect of today’s world. From phony reviews on retail websites, to deep fakes (digital face swapping) that have become so good it could possibly start a war one day, down to AI written movie reviews – AI is everywhere, well beyond the examples given here.
(Side note: do not worry about my reviews being AI-written, I am sure to include numerous typos to prove my humanity.)
The concept of a Mrs. Davis AI may have played differently a few months back. But, as the science has caught up to the fiction, the idea of a sentient tech being worshiped by the masses is not far off and may already be here. Mrs. Davis’ algorithm knows what we want and what we need, seemingly fixing the world’s problems while setting humans off on time wasting distractions, err, quests to earn wings. It sounds all eerily too familiar as a generation of people chase likes, follows, and blue checks instead of their dreams.
Magnificent artistic direction ties everything together, always reminding us to not take this all too seriously. The mashup of strong religious iconography combined with old west Americana, British Knights (both the people and the sneakers – love it) and so much more makes it instantly recognizable. At times it is hard not to expect a Broadway type musical number to break out – and do not be surprised if one doesn’t.
There’s so much to unwrap here I feel like I still did not even scrape the surface. The cast includes some familiar faces giving recognition worthy performance in unexpected roles; the always delightful Margo Martindale as Simone’s Mother Superior, plus Chris Diamantopoulos as a wild Australian friend of Wiley’s is a scene-stealer. There’s also Tom Wlaschiha (Game of Thrones) as a mysterious priest and the excellent Katja Herbers (Evil) thrown into the mix. To go too deep into their characters would not only spoil the fun, like everything with this series would also take a good deal of explaining. One thing’s for sure, the writing is infectious with enough witty dialogue and even some action for each of them to share along the way.
Another side note: Anyone envisioning a nun and a cowboy riding a motorcycle in search adventure and thinking it sounds like a kids book, you’re right it kind of does. Let me be clear, it is not for younger audiences, with language and themes that will certainly stir up too many questions on top of those you will have.
Mrs. Davis is a madcap mind-bending adventure, an intelligent take on technology vs religion, family, free will and so much more. So much more it can get a little jumbled at times. Not everyone will stick this series out, but I recommend being like that viral baby trying new foods, taking a taste then going back for more. The unknown can be your friend. Have faith, you’re in good hands – Lindelof is helping steer this ride. His HBO series The Leftovers almost had me quit midway through season one, only to become one of my favorite series of all time.
To wrap up, Mrs. Davis is thought-provoking, violent, bonkers, funny, exciting, clever, witty, and one-of-a-kind. Okay… it is simply not easy to explain. If I were to compare it to something else, perhaps The Good Place combined with the (the criminally under-appreciated) Legion, Lindelof’s The Leftovers, with a pinch of Monty Python – yet that still does not feel quite right. Honestly, trying to explain the series seems futile, it is one you just need to experience.
Slightly resetting my Mrs. Davis bearings put me in the right mindset – it has been a real trip ever since. To be fair, the trip feels like being on a roller coaster in the dark without any safety belts, twisting, turning, up and down, throwing you for loops and quite exhilarating. Jump on, hold on tight and enjoy the ride.
The first four episodes of Mrs. Davis are now streaming on Peacock with more new episodes of its 8-episode season dropping every Thursday.