By Dustin Rowles | TV | April 25, 2023 |
By Dustin Rowles | TV | April 25, 2023 |
I used to love to read the novels of Tom Robbins, the best-selling author of Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, Jitterbug Perfume, and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, among other books with strange titles that could be found in airports in the ’80s and in remaindered bins in the ’90s. Part Kurt Vonnegut and part Timothy Leary, Robbins’ novels often combined disparate, eccentric, and often contradictory characters — aliens and redheads, a fundamentalist preacher and a belly dancer, Tarzan and Jesus, a CIA agent who hates the government, a cowgirl named Bonanza Jellybean — with complicated situations to create truly insane fiction.
Throw in a little Neil Gaiman and a dash of Preacher and that is essentially what’s going on with Damon Lindelof and Tara Hernandez’s Mrs. Davis, now streaming on Peacock. I suspect that if one were to do a Google search of Mrs. Davis, “bonkers” would be the word most often used in reviews. It’s appropriate for a show that features, in the opening minutes, several dismemberments and decapitations, a man named Mr. Schrodinger and his cat who are stranded at sea for 10 years, a cowboy nun who answers strange callings, and a world that has been rid of hunger and famine thanks to an algorithm.
Welcome to Mrs. Davis, the most Tom Robbins series ever.
Betty Gilpin (brilliant both here and in Lindelof’s underappreciated The Hunt) is the aforementioned ass-kicking, motorcycle-riding, cowboy nun, Simone. She lives in a world operated by Mrs. Davis, an all-knowing AI, a 21st-century diety. Only Simone is a rare holdout, not exactly a Luddite, but an AI atheist. She’s not religious, but for reasons that will become clear, she loves Jesus. She’s also very good at badminton.
Being a holdout draws the attention of Mrs. Davis, who agrees to permanently turn herself off if Simone can locate the Holy Grail, the whereabouts of which is hinted at in the series’ cold open set in the 1300s. Simone has a husband, but she mostly tends to this quest with an ex, a childhood friend named Wiley (Jake McDorman), with whom she shares a liver. That quest, so far, involves a Pope lookalike, a contest to see who can keep their hands on a giant sword the longest, a €1 million tea cake, and a very very Chris Diamantopoulos character. You certainly can’t accuse the show of being algorithm friendly.
Mrs. Davis is a lot of fun, but like Tom Robbins — who created great characters and could turn a phrase — there’s not a lot of meaning underneath. The series recalls one particular Robbins character in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues who says things like, “I believe in everything; nothing is sacred. I believe in nothing; everything is sacred,” and also frequently “Ha Ha Ho Ho and Hee Hee.” It sounds cool, but it’s mad gibberish. It’s also funny. Lindelof tackled philosophy and religion in Lost, grief in The Leftovers, and racism in The Watchmen, but maybe the dude has tried to answer our questions about the afterlife for long enough. Maybe it’s fair that the heavier themes sit this one out. Granted, there are nods toward the debate between faith and. technology, but (so far), it’s explored only in the most superficial sense. It looks Lindelofian, but it doesn’t feel Lindelofian.
That’s OK because it’s also a blast to watch Betty Gilpin Indiana-Jones her way across the globe in search of a MacGuffin while being pursued by a bombastic, thong-wearing Australian douche played by Diamantopoulos. Mrs. Davis is brimming with pop-culture references, which we are used to from Lindelof, but there are more jokes written into the script than we are accustomed to in his television work. It probably has more to do with Tara Hernandez’s background on The Big Bang Theory. She brings a sense of humor that vacillates between the broad and the specific, which is another way of saying that some of the jokes work, and some do not.
Mrs. Davis is not going to be an all-timer, like Lindelof’s three previous television series. It’s light on theme, and heavy on the absurd. What it’s missing in heft, however, is more than made up for in its unexpected combination of elements, its dedication to batshittery, and its refusal to take itself too seriously. “A sense of humor is superior to any religion so far devised,” Tom Robbins wrote in Jitterbug Perfume, and while it’s not the world’s most profound sentiment, he’s not wrong. Mrs. Davis will not help you process the death of your father, but it may distract you from your grief for a few hours.