Nun-Versus-AI Series 'Mrs Davis' Is 2023's Most Wildly Ridiculous and Entertaining New Show So Far

Starring 'GLOW' alum Betty Gilpin, this happily OTT series battles an algorithm — and never feels like it was spat out by one.
Sarah Ward
April 21, 2023

It was back in March 2022 that the world first learned of Mrs Davis, who would star in it and which creatives were behind it. Apart from its central faith-versus-technology battle, the show's concept was kept under wraps, but the series itself was announced to the world. The key involvement of three-time GLOW Emmy-nominee Betty Gilpin, Lost and The Leftovers creator Damon Lindelof, and The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon writer and executive producer Tara Hernandez was championed, plus the fact that Black Mirror: San Junipero director Owen Harris would helm multiple episodes. Accordingly, although no one knew exactly what it was about, Mrs Davis existed months before ChatGPT was released.

A puzzle-box drama that's equally a sci-fi thriller, zany comedy and action-adventure odyssey, Mrs Davis now follows ChatGPT in reaching audiences — hitting screens, including via Binge in Australia, from Friday, April 21. Don't even bother trying not to think about the artificial intelligence-driven chatbot, or pondering the growing number of programs just like it, as you're viewing this delightfully wild and gleefully ridiculous series, however. There's no point dismissing any musings that slip into your head about social media, ever-present tech, digital surveillance and the many ways that algorithms dictate our lives, either. Mrs Davis accepts that such innovations are a mere fact of life in 2023, then imagines what might happen if AI promised to solve the worlds ills and make everyone's existence better and happier. It explores how users could go a-flocking, eager to obey every instruction and even sacrifice themselves to the cause. In other words, it's about ChatGPT-like technology starting a religion in everything but name.

That premise isn't particularly outlandish, and nor is speculating where artificial intelligence might lead humanity; on the page, science fiction has been theorising about playing god and creations going rogue since Mary Shelley penned Frankenstein. In those footsteps has sprung everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and the Alien, The Terminator and The Matrix franchises to the TRON movies, WALL-E, Ex Machina and Her on the big screen, plus Alita: Battle Angel, After Yang, M3GAN and more. Indeed, endeavouring not to think about the latter — the unhinged horror-comedy that proved a box-office hit earlier in 2023 — is futile while watching Mrs Davis, too. It isn't just the prominence of AI that binds the pair, but the willingness to go all-in on OTT leaps, detours, and jumps in tone and genre. In fact, Mrs Davis thrusts that somersaulting to a gleefully berserk yet magnificent extreme.

The titular Mrs Davis isn't actually married — not to anything but amassing users, then keeping them plugged in — and certainly isn't a person with a surname. In some countries, the AI is called mum or Madonna, such is the loving light that it's seen in by its devotees. But Simone (Gilpin, Gaslit) doesn't subscribe. A nun raised by magicians (The Dropout's Elizabeth Marvel and Scream's David Arquette), she enjoys sabbaticals from her convent to do whatever is necessary to bring down folks who practise her parents' vocation and the show's central technology alike. She also enjoys quite the literal nuptials to Jesus Christ, is divinely bestowed names to chase in her quest and has an ex-boyfriend, Wiley (Jake McDorman, Dopesick), who's a former bullrider-turned-Fight Club-style resistance leader. And, she's tasked with a mission by the algorithm itself: hunting down the Holy Grail.

No summary of Mrs Davis can do its plot justice, or the rollercoaster ride it takes from the get-go. In its opening episode alone, the show throws in the Knights Templar sacking Paris for the fabled treasure to end all fabled treasures, Simone zipping about on a motorcycle in her habit, surreal diner chats between the nun and her husband Jay (Andy McQueen, Station Eleven), a car crash staged by magicians, a shipwrecked man called Schrödinger Ben Chaplin, The Dig) with a cat, Nazis, big Kill Bill vibes — well, it is about a blonde in a distinctive outfit kicking ass and seeking revenge, often while placed against western-esque backdrops — and a factory pumping out hippopotamus meat. There's more in that debut instalment, as there is in each that follows, so much so that any chapter feels as if anything can occur at any time. Battling an algorithm is firmly in Mrs Davis' circuitry, but it never seems like it was spat out by one.

There's a scene approaching halfway through Mrs Davis' eight-episode run where Simone watches a screen, just as everyone streaming the series is doing. When she exclaims "what the fuck?", it isn't the first time that the show inspires that reaction. When this mind-bender isn't nodding to everything that's ever grappled with AI in pop culture, winking at Lost and obviously elbowing Indiana Jones, it's also skewering commercials, bringing Arrested Development to mind and hopping on The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou's boat. It has heists and Arthurian legend, details out of Dan Brown and Robinson Crusoe, secret societies and Hands on a Hardbody-inspired endurance contests, the great Margot Martindale (Cocaine Bear) as Simone's Mother Superior and a comically exaggerated Australian (Daisy Jones & The Six's Chris Diamantopoulos, who definitely isn't an Aussie) as well — and it never stops ramping up its absurdity, its excitement to veer anywhere and everywhere all at once, and those what-the-fuck moments.

Spin all of the above together and out comes infectious, addictive, must-watch-more fun — constantly surprising viewing, too, especially in these commissioned-by-algorithm times. Mrs Davies does genuinely contemplate what technology's constant advancements may mean for humankind; however, it wants to be rollicking entertainment as it does so. To that end, it helps that the show's three helmers each sport experience in twisty on-screen tales that often aren't afraid to take big steps into the unexpected. They direct a series now that's glossily made but always anarchic with its slickness, its pinballing from one out-there development to the next and its pacing, benefiting from Harris' time on The Twilight Zone and Brave New World, Alethea Jones' background on Made for Love and Dispatches From Elsewhere, and Frederick Toye being a Watchmen and Westworld alum.

When Mrs Davies begins, going with the flow is the only response. Although a new burst of idiosyncratic madness is rarely far away, there's always meaning in whatever is happening, with the series examining not just AI and its influence but also parent-child bonds, plus also our species' undying need for both storytelling and something to believe in (and frequently the two at once). And, crucially, at the show's core is the always-phenomenal Gilpin. No matter how eccentric and ambitious Mrs Davies gets, she's its anchor, including while navigating everything that it catapults Simone's way. She's in excellent company — even Diamantopoulos ensures that what could've been a lazy Aussie caricature earns its comedic beats — and she has everyone on- and off-screen along for the ride with her.

Check out the trailer for Mrs Davis below:

Mrs Davis screens in Australia via Binge from Friday, April 21.

Images: Binge/Peacock.

Published on April 21, 2023 by Sarah Ward
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