IIf you’ve heard anything about The Nevers, HBO’s overloaded fantasy action series about a motley crew of supernaturally distressed women in Victorian England, likely in a relationship with creator Joss Whedon.
The reputation of the once exalted spirit behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse, as well as The Avengers and his ill-fated work on Justice League, has soured in recent years after several actors, including Buffys. Charisma carpenter and justice leagues Ray fisher made public allegations of intimidation, verbal abuse and the creation of a toxic environment on set. Whedon left Nevers in November 2020, citing personal reasons (Philippa Goslett resumed as showrunner) and HBO has since taken great care to outrun the series from its creator, a difficult task given its signature Whedons that differentiates the series from equally expensive Victorian supernatural dramas such as Amazons Carnival Row, the vast X-Men universe , or Showtimes the macabre horror staple Penny Dreadful.
Despite the showrunner change and writing credits from Jane Espenson, Kevin Lau, and Madhuri Shekar, Whedons’ fingerprints are all over The Nevers (along with the first episodes title credits as director, writer, creator and executive producer). The four episodes made available to critics bear the mark of a creator of infinite and inflated latitude, favoring sumptuous and indulgent sprawl over synthesis. Plots rise from an unexplained supernatural event that (mostly) marks women of weird and idiosyncratic talent to a banned sex club, a Jack the Ripper serial killer, deranged doctors, cruel underground experiments, union strikes and the fate of the British. empire, among other ideas. It’s unfortunate, given the female action hero premise, that such thematic paddling is sometimes absorbing in isolation but, as a chaotic chorus, can’t muster the charm needed to replace Whedon’s off-screen baggage.
Nevers opens with a big bang: an unexplained origin and method of eclipse that covers 1896 London with a shower of strange talents (or diseases, depending on the view). Three years later, the women affected, overwhelmingly young, are stigmatized and feared, hijacked in the shadows of society by men in power and chased away by masked horsemen still unexplained. Many have found refuge in, true to the comic book form, an orphanage run by Amalia True (Laura Donnelly), an ironic and seasoned fighter, resisting her slowly revealed traumatic past whose turn allows her to see the ripples of the future.
Trues Motley coven features a fledgling family of Avengers-style women with turns ranging from the seemingly benign quirk Harriet (Kiran Sonia Sawar) turns ordinary objects into glass, Myrtle (Viola Prettejohn) casts any random tongue, Primose ( Anna Devlin) is 10 years old and 10 feet tall in superhero style weapons: Annie (Rochelle Neil) rolls and distributes fireballs with her hands. The one person True trusts, best friend Penance Adair (Ann Skelly) perceives electric currents and looks into the future with her anachronistic inventions, a three-wheeled motorized car, tiny goggles, a megaphone.
The Siege of the Touches begins early and continues, confusingly, on all fronts, from masked men to haughty Lord Massen (Pip Torrens), who fears they may have come to us through our wives (who our empire quivering to a halt by the whim and ambitions of those for whom ambition has never been meant. Her societal elite compatriot Lavinia Bidlow (Olivia Williams) supports the Trues Orphanage but seems less altruistic than ‘She does not appear, and disapproves of the association of her younger brother, Augies (Tom Riley), with the libidinous Hugo Swann (James Norton). This is somehow linked to the murderous rampage of an uncomfortably unbalanced Sickness (Amy Manson), the embodiment of a turn gone wrong pursued by Detective Frank Mundi (Ben Chaplin).
Thats still omitting some other players (like a non-supernatural mafia boss known as The Beggar King), all four episodes ultimately exhausted my ability or desire to keep track of the mess. There are hooks to watch out for: action sequences in corsets, if you’re at it, or a verbal swordplay at the opera about change and chaos and an appreciation of diversity over diversity. preservation of the status quo. Disposable lines suggest racism in this mostly color-blind version of Victorian London. Black doctor Horatio Cousens (Zackary Momoh), for example, mentions that a week with the Bidlows, which sponsored his move from Jamaica, has him made you want to swim back. There is a general, slowly freezing righteousness of fighting for the ostracized, led by women, which is slightly marred by the sex club scenes of breasts for breasts sake.
Those heavy parts would fall apart if it weren’t for the performances of Donnelly and Skelly, by far the most convincing parts of The Nevers; Donnellys’ mastery of both the grieved spirit of Trues and the ever-looming trauma provides the show with a much needed anchor point, while the bewildered and unpretentious Skellys brings a refreshing lightness to the oversized plot. Their joke and hermetic bond are eminently observable and not present enough for the first four hours.
There is a truly intriguing anchor in their friendship and in Trues grappling with his intrusive past. Whether or not The Nevers cares about prioritizing its characters over vastness in its final episodes remains to be seen, but I imagine viewers ‘patience with Whedon’s verse and Nevers’ bloat will be slim.
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