Mrs. Davis Is The Most Audacious New Science Fiction Series Since Westworld [SXSW 2023]

Trying to describe "Mrs. Davis," the new Peacock TV series from creators Tara Hernandez and Damon Lindelof, will be a tough hill to climb for any pop culture critic. I feel like I've settled on "The Lonely Island riffing on Neal Stephenson," but there's also shades of Chuck Jones, early Kurt Vonnegut, Lindelof's own "The Leftovers," and even the classic Vertigo comic book "Preacher." It's goofy until it's sincere, outrageous until it cuts to the bone, frustrating until it's ... Well, until it's not.

One thing is for sure: it's the most audacious science fiction TV show I've seen since the early episodes of HBO's "Westworld," and the two episodes that screened at the SXSW Film Festival make a hard sell for the Peacock streaming service. What was once a footnote in the streaming wars has increasingly distinguished itself by taking big swings, and this is certainly a big swing. I can safely say that I have never seen a show that feels quite like "Mrs. Davis," and I'm fascinated to see how audiences respond to something that coils itself around a half dozen different genres and tones, refuses to answer questions until it's ready to do so, and then readily engages in one of Lindelof's pet themes: faith versus science. But with more outlandish comedy.

Maddening, addictive

A full review of "Mrs. Davis" will run closer to release, from a critic who has had a chance to see the full season. But I felt the need to sound the alarm here. Fans of Lindelof's previous work, including "Lost," "The Leftovers," and "Watchmen" will find some of his recurring interests at play here, but Hernandez is the showrunner, and it's clearly her vision that will throw folks expecting something familiar for a loop. Her show is funnier by default than Lindelof's other work, a bit more barbed and a whole lot sillier — there are times when "Mrs. Davis" feels like Monty Python's take on the Chatbot plaguing modern institutions, or "Hot Rod" if the characters were staring down a impending dystopia with no easy escape.

What you need to know: Betty Gilpin (outstanding, as always) plays Simone, a nun in an alternate 2023 where life is dominated by an all-powerful artificial intelligence named Mrs. Davis, which has quietly taken over the world by making life easier for everyone. Simone, whose intense (and bizarre!) backstory is drip-fed throughout the two episodes I have seen, finds herself in conflict with Mrs. Davis. Chaos ensues. Satiric scabs are pulled. Surreal imagery is employed. There is more than one grisly beheading. Quite frankly, it's as maddening as it is instantly addictive.

Getting away with something

There's a messiness by design inherent in the first episodes of "Mrs. Davis," which makes my comparison to clockwork precision of the excellent first season of "Westworld" a strange one. But the two shows can't help but feel spiritually connected — they're both sci-fi visions that feel like someone is getting away with something. When "Mrs. Davis" rewrites the rules of its entire universe in episode two, I found myself feeling something I wish I felt more often these days: like I had the rug truly and properly pulled out from under me. This show is downright dizzying.

Will it stick the landing? That's a conclusion I'll let the /Film critic who reviews the whole season make. But I do know that Hernandez has me in her grasp, and that while she's operating in Lindelof's playground, she is absolutely not playing by his rules. As Peak TV gasps for air, "Mrs. Davis" sprints into the room with an adrenaline needle sticking out of its chest, screaming. Let it in, I say. 

"Mrs. Davis" will debut on April 20, 2023 on Peacock.