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Mrs. Davis on Peacock is both completely bonkers and a breath of fresh air

Published Apr 23rd, 2023 5:51PM EDT
Mrs. Davis on Peacock
Image: Greg Gayne/Peacock

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In the first 10 minutes or so of Peacock’s eight-episode Mrs. Davis, viewers are treated to a bloody sword battle, multiple decapitations, a hirsute loner on a deserted island, and a nun on a white horse who rides to the rescue of a man who thought he was about to be arrested for a prostitute’s death — but who, it turns out, was really just an easy mark for deceitful magicians. Needless to say, for someone like me taking notes for a review of the show, my pause button quite got a workout. So much so, that I found myself at one point sharing an imaginary high-five with Betty Gilpin’s exasperated Simone.

She’s the nun at the heart of this (drama? comedy? sci-fi cautionary tale?) who says later on in the episode, when confronted with the full scope of what she’s up against in the form of an AI named Mrs. Davis that’s kind of taken over the world:

“It’s … a lot.”

“F**k yeah, it’s a lot,” comes the retort from a scene-chewing member of the resistance who’s just explained everything to her — and, by extension, to us. Thankfully, show creators Damon Lindelof and Tara Hernandez made time to continue that explanation to me, in a Zoom interview about how they made this strange and inventive show, and why.

Mrs. Davis on Peacock: The Nun vs AI

I’m not going to lie: Trying to offer up a neat encapsulation that summarizes Mrs. Davis feels a little like trying to explain the nature of infinity to a turtle. Basically, Gilpin’s Simone is a nun who makes jam and who’s also apparently the last person on Earth who hasn’t yet succumbed to the seductive omnipresence and omnipotence of Mrs. Davis, an AI that everyone communicates with via Bluetooth earbuds.

 “The first seed of this project was a piece of writing from Tara that was about nuns,” Lindelof told me. “And in sort of, like, a very interesting post-apocalyptic landscape that was also funny and weird and strange. I was just like, nuns! Nuns are cool … And then the next thing we knew, we were blowing up horses.”

That’s a reference to one of the most outlandish moments in a TV show that not only doesn’t take itself too seriously — in fact, it winks at us throughout it.

Like in the form of the man on the remote island who I mentioned above. His name is Schrodinger and he has a pet cat (obviously). Later on, “Mrs. Davis” sends Simone on a quest to find the Holy Grail, a mission that the super bro-y resistance squad member JQ dismisses with a fiery speech in his flamboyant Australian accent:

“Algorithms love cliches, and there’s no cliche bigger than the quest for the Holy Grail — the most overused MacGuffin ever!” (which he pronounces as “EV-ahhh,” before adding: “Not to mention, it’s f*****g pretend”).

Tonally, the show is all over the place, held together by an earnest performance from Gilpin, who turns Simone into a character you cannot help but get invested in. You could actually also argue this is the perfect moment for a show like Mrs. Davis that grapples with the tug-of-war between humanity and technology — with OpenAI continuing to imbue ChatGPT with staggering new abilities, Google co-founder Larry Page berating an AI-wary Elon Musk for being a “specist,” and search engines racing to bake AI into products that already do a questionable job of surfacing content.

The perfect dramedy for the ChatGPT era

In terms of the weirdness of Mrs. Davis, I must admit I found myself kind of appreciating it more over time — or, at least, getting accustomed to it. And that’s sort of what you want in the streaming era, right? Show me something I’ve never seen before. And don’t be afraid to try something ridiculous. If you’re not a streamer like Netflix, optimizing for a million different hyper-specific demographics, then swing for the fences — or don’t bother.

Mrs. Davis on Peacock
Elizabeth Marvel as Celeste and David Arquette as Monty in “Mrs. Davis.” Image source: Christina Belle/Peacock

“Peacock gave us just a tremendous amount of trust,” Lindelof told me about Mrs. Davis, adding that: “Truth be told, by the time you get to the end of the eight episodes, you would be an insane person to not go, ‘I wonder how Peacock reacted when they first heard about this one. And the answer is, like: Always delighted, always curious, and sometimes quite worried. And I think we wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Adds Hernandez: “Good creative hopefully comes from things that you’re just interested in. And outside of being a fan of Damon’s work and knowing that he played in that sandbox, just this exploration of what does it all mean, which some people would argue is a faith exploration, and what are we all here for — that’s just of personal interest to me. Always sort of looking outside the here and the now.”

Mrs. Davis on Peacock
Betty Gilpin as Simone and Jake McDorman as Wiley in “Mrs. Davis.” Image source: Colleen Hayes/Peacock

‘The audacity of the show … became mandatory’

Nuns, she continues, ended up becoming a “fascinating” starting point for a show in her conversations with Lindelof.

“As far as what to put our nun Sister Simone up against, technology being the thing that was sort of replacing her … I personally think I have a hard time with change. So the pandemic, as I’m sure many of us experienced, was so difficult. To take this enormous way of life and shift it and become cloistered in our own way. Personally living a quieter existence while being really reliant on technology … it just felt like these were two things that were on my mind, morning till night, and in all the sleepless hours in between. And all you can do for your own therapy is write about them.”

So far, the reaction to the show has been strong — on Rotten Tomatoes, for example, Mrs. Davis currently has an 88% critics’ score and an 80% score — adding one more buzzy series to what’s proving to be a steadily expanding roster of original content for Peacock.

“The audacity of the show basically became mandatory, in terms of its storytelling,” Lindelof said. “Because you don’t know if you’re going to get to make any more than these eight. If you’re gonna live high on the hog, don’t look down.”

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.

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