A nun, cowboy and the Pope walk into a bar … This may sound like the beginning of a dumb dad joke, yet it is within the realm of possibility in Mrs. Davis. Peacock’s ambitious, sprawling, messy new series is unlike anything I’ve seen before, and thus, hard to describe without spoiling anything.
Premiere date/time: Thursday, April 20 at 3:01 a.m. ET
Where to stream: Peacock
Episodes: Four at premiere; eight total (hourlong)
Even if I included massive spoilers in this Mrs. Davis review, the show is such a wild ride that it defies explanation. You have to see to believe — a phrase that itself is one of the many themes. The kitchen sink quality of the various genres and tones makes sense when you consider the backgrounds of co-creators Tara Hernandez (The Big Bang Theory) and Damon Lindelof (Watchmen, The Leftovers, Lost).
The elevator pitch of the show is that it’s about what happens when artificial intelligence becomes so powerful, it is essentially a deity. Yet, while AI triggers the plot, so much more is going on in Mrs. Davis. At times, all the pieces don’t quite come together, but it’s incredibly entertaining to watch the haphazard effort.
This review of Mrs. Davis contains light spoilers.
Mrs. Davis review: Algorithm as god
Much of Mrs. Davis is set in our present day (meaning 2023), but with one big difference: the world is ruled by an AI. Like if Siri and ChatGPT had a smarter, savvier baby. Called Mrs. Davis in the United States, and by other names elsewhere, this algorithm has amassed an immense amount of power through its benevolent actions. Famine, war and joblessness? Nonexistent. As one devotee explains, “The world was broken. But the algorithm fixed it.”
Millions of people blindly follow the algorithm’s commands, delivered through earpieces. Yet, some are not among the legion of followers, including cynical nun Simone (Betty Gilpin). She blames Mrs. Davis for her father’s death, the full story of which is slowly revealed via flashbacks to her childhood as the daughter of magician-tricksters.
Simone is joined in algo antagonism by her ex-boyfriend and former rodeo rider Wiley (Jake McDorman). He leads an underground resistance movement filled with bros who are desperate to regain a feeling of control over their lives. Their mission is to bring down Mrs. Davis, whatever the cost.
Their reunion is complicated by Simone’s relationship with Jay (Andy McQueen), a diner cook who is more than what he seems. The truth of their connection is as surprising as it is tender.
Mrs. Davis finally tracks down Simone to talk, which is done by a human proxy. This is an interesting, and great, choice, as it removes the coldness inherent in other depictions of AI. It also serves to emphasize the extent of the algorithm’s influence, from school teachers to prime ministers.
Simone is offered a deal: carry out a quest successfully and she can ask for whatever she wants, including Mrs. Davis shutting itself down. The quest in question? Find and destroy the Holy Grail. Yes, I’m serious. Yet as ludicrous as that sounds, things somehow get even weirder and more preposterous. Simone and Wiley are sent on a journey involving the Knights Templar, a hands-on-a-hard-body contest, a sneaker commercial, a sperm whale and the Vatican.
By drawing parallels between Mrs. Davis and God, the show explores the possibilities and limits of technology, but also faith, sectarianism, belonging and groupthink. Should we place our trust in any figure, no matter how well-intentioned, to run our lives?
Mrs. Davis review: No code can manufacture charisma
The absurdity and plot contrivances of Mrs. Davis would fall apart like a house of cards without Gilpin, who proved to be a magnetic performer in Glow. This show would simply not work if Gilpin wasn’t supremely capable of shifting between tones on a dime. She can go from righteously angry to naively baffled to desperately mournful in the space of a scene. Gilpin is called upon to do a lot, and she carries it off magnificently.
She’s surrounded by an excellent supporting cast, the kind that a clever AI would devise. McDornan makes Wiley both amusingly macho and endearingly vulnerable. He and Gilpin share a palpable chemistry, as does Gilpin and McQueen.
Margo Martindale, Elizabeth Marvel, David Arquette, Ben Chaplin and Chris Diamantopoulos all shine in their roles, some of which are designed more to be comic relief.
But even if some characters are outsized and played for laughs, the connections they discover and the emotions they experience feel as real as it gets. As timely as the AI and social media references are, the show is as much about fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. If I had to slap a label on Mrs. Davis, it would be ‘family drama.’
Mrs. Davis review: Verdict
Completely original TV shows and movies are rare, so when one as unique and quirky as Mrs. Davis comes around, I can only be grateful. As this Mrs. Davis review has shown, the show may be trying too hard, and trying to do too many things. But the key word is ‘trying.’
Mrs. Davis really swings for the fences; it may not hit every point or joke, but the effort is enthralling to witness. Lindelof and Hernandez have hinted there might be a second season. While these eight episodes felt like they wrapped up well, I’m down for Mrs. Davis to bat again. The algorithm was just right.