The Nevers Review: Sparkling Lead Actresses by the way, Joss Whedon’s HBO drama is just getting warmed up in Buffy Season 7
When the first footage of The Nevers was released earlier this year, I remember vividly thinking, “Oh, it’s Steampunk Buffy with corsets!” Now that the dramaI can confirm it’s steampunk buffy with corsets – and that’s no longer a tempting concept for several reasons.
The Nevers is sure to be a piece with Whedon’s kickass girl power oeuvre, which includes Buffy and Dollhouse, as well as elements in Angel, Firefly and Agents of SHIELD. The period drama, which premieres on Sunday (HBO, 9 / 8c). focuses on a (mostly female) group of 19th century Londoners who were mysteriously “touched” by a force that gave them various powers.
These skills – or “twists” in the show’s parlance – range from strangely specific (one character can turn objects into glass with their breath) to almost superhero-like (another can create fireballs with a swirl of their palms). Since society does not understand those who are touched, it fears and reviles them. At the beginning of the series, many of those who were touched therefore live in an orphanage run by Mrs. Amalia True (played by Laura Donnelly from Outlander).
At some point, True calls the orphanage’s congregation a “multicolored circle,” and that’s apt. The description should also be incredibly familiar to anyone who has watched Buffy’s final season, when the show’s central heroine de facto found Miss Hannigan for a house full of young women who might one day follow in her footsteps. If you’ll allow me a little abbreviation for my Buffy fans, we’re essentially seeing the Potential storyline replay, unless this time we know the girls’ names better. And, of course, a shameful and mysterious force tries to turn off those who have been touched for good.
But even if you’re not a Buffy fanatic, there are enough makeovers here to give viewers of Whedon’s other series déjà vu. The heroine grimly on, despite the darkness brewing inside her? The smart buddy with a knack for conjuring up things that will help the heroine do her job? The mad villain who utters free verse between bouts of very bloody violence? The snippets of visions that give the good guys a knife-thin edge? A glowing sphere of unknown origin? Yes, everything is there. Sometimes all that’s missing seems to be a bleached blonde bad boy roaring over his newly acquired, radiant soul.
To be clear, none of the above statements make The Nevers a bad show, just one most unsurprisingly. What hurts the experience is the whedon-ness of it all given recent allegations about his behind-the-scenes behavior over the years. How can an audience advocate female characters created by someone who former female employees claimed was “toxic”, “hostile” and “inappropriate” while on their shows? (In November Whedon announced he had left The Nevers, called the show a “joyful experience,” but said he was “really exhausted” and “resigned to fight my energies for my own life, whatever.” On the verge of exciting change. “.” Whedon remains an executive producer on the show; Philippa Goslett took over as showrunner.)
The bright lights in this dim situation are Donelly and her frequent scene partner Ann Skelly (Viking), who plays the cheeky Miss Penance Adair. Skelly brings a delightful warmth and whimsical depth to Adair, an innovative thinker who can sense electricity and acts as the right woman of True. And Donnelly is incredible to see as True, who distracts with crooked humor, seething with anger – though we’re still not sure what exactly by the end of Episode 4 – and complains that being a good general means not getting too close your soldiers. The cast also includes Ben Chaplin (The Truth About Cats and Dogs) as die-hard Police Inspector Frank Mundi, Denis O’Hare (American horror story) as the depraved Dr. Edmund Hague and Pip Torrens (The Crown) as the decidedly non-contact Lord Gilbert Massen.
Perhaps the show’s premium cable berth will ultimately allow the show to flourish differently from Whedon’s other series, all of which are broadcast on radio networks. Unfortunately, the most noticeable indicator of The Nevers ‘more permissive networking standards to date is the proliferation of breasts for breasts’ sake, thanks to a subplot about an illegal gentlemen’s establishment. Do you know what makes it even more difficult to see this show through a feminist lens? When naked women in a sex club, only present for the pleasure of the men, saunter across the screen … apparently only for the pleasure of the men.
THE TVLINE BELOW: Feeling like Buffy was there and did it, The Nevers is a rerun of familiar tropes by a now controversial creator.