TV: Mrs. Davis

One has to admire the sheer chutzpah of Mrs. Davis, an unlikely contraption that one imagines might have just decided to be a limited series to forestall an inevitable early cancellation. An ambitious mess of science-fictional comedy tinged with cheeky meta-commentary, the show couldn’t be more low concept, a weird near-future adventure that pits clever, stubborn nun Simone (Betty Gilpin) against an all-knowing AI algorithm that has assumed control of the world. In between Simone’s hallucinatory visitations with her husband Jesus “Jay” Christ (Andy McQueen), she is enlisted by the AI—known as “Mrs. Davis”—to recover the Holy Grail. If she finds it, Mrs. Davis will deactivate herself. Since this is something Simone truly wants, she undertakes the quest, engaging the help of childhood friend (and anti-Mrs. Davis rebel) Wiley (Jake McDorman). Her quest, which draws her back into the emotional orbit of her estranged mother, takes her all over the world, ultimately solving the mystery of how Mrs. Davis came to be—and what she actually is.

Folks, this show is weird. In many ways, it’s even good weird. With its gonzo worldbuilding, unpredictable left-turny plot, daring experimentalism, and Gilpin’s quirky charms at its center, it really had me pulling for it. But ultimately, while there’s tons of interesting stuff happening, the narrative never organizes it effectively. The reasons for its failure are wiggly; a structural dead end here, a comical over-reach there, periodic tonal misteps, constantly erratic pacing. Occasionally, the dialogue lurches into over-clever self-reference, as Simone and Wiley dissect the narrative tropes their quest is guiding them through. More than once, it undercuts its own own audacity, waving its hands to call attention to its latest jaw-dropping what-the-fuckery rather than simply letting the moment have its impact. There’s definitely something to be said for throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, but in the case of Mrs. Davis, the kitchen just ends up trashed. Gilpin is terrific, unsurprisingly, and the closing episode at least resolves the mystery box in a clever, semi-satisfying manner. The supporting cast is peppered with good people— including Chris Diamontopoulos, Katja Herbers, Margo Martindale, Elizabeth Marvel, and Ashley Romans—who seem to be having a ball. It’s one of those shows you have to see to believe, and for that it’s hard not to at least appreciate. But ultimately its bold, inventive bizarreness never quite feels organic, coherent, or winning.

Betty Gilpin in Mrs. Davis
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