‘X-Men’ meets ‘Buffy’ in this supernatural steampunk show from disgraced creator Joss Whedon.
“The Nevers” an offbeat sci-fi series on HBO about Victorian women fighting against nefarious forces, is a Joss Whedon show.
That’s important to know at the outset, both creatively and culturally (and you’re not going to hear it from HBO). And that alone may be enough to turn some people away.
Whedon, we created shows including the brilliant “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and the (hot take) overpraised “Firefly”, and directed some “Avengers” movies, has been accused of unprofessional behavior and creating an abusive work environment, both in his recent projects but also dating back to “Buffy”
“The Nevers” is every bit a Whedon show. It’s got strong women protagonists who are curiously adept at fighting. It’s got quirks coming out of its ears. It’s got snappy dialogue (though not nearly as much as “Buffy,” which may be an attempt to make it more “mature”). It’s also got a lot going on, too much. That couples with a slightly cartoonish feel. In some of his shows, this works. In others, it doesn’t. “The Nevers” splits the difference right down the middle.
“The Nevers” is set in London in 1896 after an unusual event has left some of the population, mostly women of middle and lower classes, “Touched.” “Each has a “turn” – some sort of supernatural gift in most cases, though for others, like a girl who is 10 feet tall, not.
Laura Donnelly and Ann Skelly have genuine chemistry
A widow, Amalia True (Laura Donnelly), has started an orphanage for the Touched, a plot choice that certainly invites “X-Men” comparisons. Amalia “ripples” – occasionally sees snippets of the future, visions she can’t control. She’s also exceptionally good at fighting, though that seems to be the result of training, not a turn.
Penance Adair (Ann Skelly), Amalia’s best friend, can see electricity in the air and uses this ability to invent steampunk gizmos that come in hand when fighting evil. Other women with powers include Fireball Annie (Rochelle Neil) who can create and toss fireballs, and Desire Blodgett (Ella Smith); anyone in her presence is compelled to tell the truth.
Amalia is harnessing all these powers, and many more, for some sort of mission that is not spelled out in the first four episodes provided for critics. Instead, it’s hinted at – everyone seems to know there’s some kind of grander plan, just not the details.
Also hinted at: Amalia’s true nature and her backstory.
The Touched are a hot-button political item. Lord Massen (Pip Torrens), a powerful politicial, would just as soon be rid of them, and immigrants as well while he’s at it. It doesn’t help the Touched that Maladie (Amy Manson), also touched, is murdering people in drives with her own group of people with abilities.
Meanwhile, Hugo Swann (James Norton) is opening a sex club with designs on the Touched. He and detective Frank Mundi (Ben Chaplin, in fine grumpier-than-thou form) seem to have some sort of understanding, as Frank tries to find the elusive Maladie.
Should we talk about the Beggar King, a nasty crime boss? Sure, why not, because he’s played by Nick Frost, who excels at characters that just skirt the cartoonish but don’t devolve into parody. Denis O’Hare is also always a welcome presence, as he is here as a mad doctor who gleefully experiments on the Touched, but it;s getting kind of crowded. There’s a good doctor, too – Horatio Cousins (Zachary Momoh), who can heal with his hands.
That’s especially helpful to Amalia, who often needs his services.
Accusations against Joss Whedon are impossible to escape while watching
There’s more than this, even, going on in the story. It’s too much. Bits and pieces are entertaining – Donnelly and Skelly have comfortable chemistry, and Manson is genuinely frightening in portraying Maladie’s danger. But it bounces around so much in the first four episodes that it’s hard to get a foothold on much of anything. Over time that may even out, but time is a tricky element of this series.
“The Nevers” has an unusual scheduling structure – six episodes of the first season that premiere April 11. Then the second half of the season, not yet scheduled, will follow later in the year. Whedon stepped down in November, citing exhaustion. Whatever we see in the second batch may be markedly different from the first, but the first definitely bears Whedon’s stamp.
There’s some good in that on the professional front – while the accusations against him are disturbing, Whedon’s shows often embraced female empowerment, “Buffy” especially. “The Nevers,” too, puts power in the hands of women who are struggling against the bigotry of established society.
But no one watches anything in a vacuum, so it will be difficult for those aware of the accusations against Whedon not to consider them. It doesn’t make the show any better or worse – Whedon’s creative choices do that, not his personal ones.
But you can’t watch “The Nevers” and not think about the latter.
How to watch ‘The Nevers’
Available on HBO April 11
Original article at AZ Central.
This article has been reproduced for archive purposes