'Mrs. Davis' review: Damon Lindelof's nun vs. AI show is a campy blast

Don't expect it to be "The Leftovers" or "Watchmen," though.


Mrs. Davis is a deeply silly show deeply committed to its silliness. And that's precisely what makes it so much fun. The new Peacock series from Tara Hernandez (The Big Bang Theory) and Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers), pits a nun with a mysterious past against an all-powerful, seemingly omniscient artificial intelligence. Her mission: to find the Holy Grail. You know, another one of those stories. Along the way, there are a slew of messy beheadings, a cheesy '90s-era car chase and a group of villainous German henchman spiritually descended from The Big Lebowski's trio of Nihilists.

If you were looking for another complex genre exercise like Lindelof's excellent Watchmen series or The Leftovers, Mrs. Davis ain't it. But from the first scene of the show, you can tell that he probably had a lot more fun making this. Initially based on a spec script by Hernandez, who also served as showrunner, Mrs. Davis is practically a live-action cartoon, filled with colorful set-pieces and a never-ending slew of zany characters, all set in a world where humans willingly subject themselves to the demands of an AI via wireless earbuds.

None of Mrs. Davis would work without Betty Gilpin (GLOW, The Hunt) as its heart and soul. As Simone, the nun being targeted by Mrs. Davis, she effectively juggles a hard-edged cynicism with an openness to pure devotion. It's hard enough to be a believable action lead, it's even tougher to make that same character seem believably devout. By the time we see Simone racing through city streets on a motorcycle, while also wearing her nun habit, we fully buy Gilpin in the role. It's like seeing Kill Bill's The Bride with a samurai sword — it's sure to be an indelible pop cultural image. (And of course, it hearkens back to Abel Ferrara's cult revenge classic, Ms. 45.)

As a piece of cultural commentary, Mrs. Davis is practically allergic to subtext. It's a nun versus AI, what else do you need? It's easy to draw parallels between religious devotion and the way we live with technology today. That's particularly true when it comes to the explosive rise of generative AI. Is there really a huge difference between plugging in a string into ChatGPT or Midjourney and hoping for an interesting result, compared to putting your hands together and praying for divine help? And if AI ultimately ends up fulfilling our needs more effectively, wouldn't people treat it with a certain amount of religious reverence?

These questions danced around my head as I watched Mrs. Davis, but the series itself is far more interested in goofy shenanigans and soapy plot twists than attempting any serious philosophical exploration. But I suppose even Damon Lindelof needs a vacation sometimes. Your enjoyment of the show will depend on well you sync up with its farcical wavelength. Why is there a group of well-funded, anti-AI militia bros, led by a shirtless buffoon? Don't worry about it, they're hilarious (Chris Diamantopoulos, one of the more memorable VC bros from HBO's Silicon Valley, truly commits.)

Mrs. Davis on Peacock

The idea for Mrs. Davis arrived in the early paranoid phase of the pandemic, Lindelof told us in an interview. During that time of sheer uncertainty — back when we were still wiping down groceries — Hernandez wished for an app that could just tell her what to do. "What if there was something that we trusted?" Lindelof said. He was also intrigued by the role of algorithms in our lives, something he noticed while going down YouTube and Tiktok rabbit holes with his teenage son.

Mrs. Davis was written and produced long before ChatGPT and other generative AI tools reached the public, but its release couldn't be better timed. Despite just making a show about an all-powerful algorithm, Lindelof is intrigued by the new AI tools. "Artificial intelligence is basically coded to give us what we want," he said. "And so, never before in the history of of technology have we had more of an opportunity to get clarity on what it is we want.... What is human existence? What is the meaning of life?"

Mrs. Davis on Peacock

If Mrs. Davis more effectively wrestled with those questions, it would have been another prestigious series for Lindelof. Instead, it feels more like a creative exercise, one that gave Hernandez the opportunity to move beyond the world of sitcoms.

"I think that we we have an unprecedented opportunity for the greatest therapist in the history of of of our species to tell us, here's what you really are like," he added. "For any fan of Douglas Adams, we now have that computer that's going to spit out "42" [Adams' comedic answer to the meaning of life]. I'm just curious to see what it says."

The first four episodes of Mrs. Davis premiere on Peacock on April 20th.

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