I can’t remember how quickly I got hooked on Buffy. I think I was a few episodes into the second series when I realised how brilliant it was, and if that sounds slow then consider that this is where I started, not catching up with Season 1 until a good while later. (You have to remember that this was a time when we were reliant on broadcast television, box setting wasn’t a thing back then.) I definitely took a little longer to get into Angel and Dollhouse though with Serenity standing apart as the one that had me from the first five minutes. In the end though I have loved all of Joss Whedon’s shows. They just have the most wonderful mix of characters, story, drama, humour and feminism.
Here we are then with The Nevers, Whedon’s latest foray into TV. This also comes after two fun Avengers films and his delightful adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing (as well as Agents of Shield but I’m not sure how much that was ever his project). What we can’t ignore of course is that this follows his surprising fall from grace as well. The growing evidence is suggesting that Whedon can be quiet a nasty bully and incredibly even a bit of a chauvinist. (Thankfully this is now something that can undermine someone’s career even though it was the stereotypical idea of what all Hollywood directors and producers were like for decades. Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, John Frankenheimer, Michael Cimino and Joel Silver were all famous for it.)
As a huge fan of Whedon’s work this was clearly a disappointment and it has not been easy to distance myself from this when watching The Nevers, but he has ‘stepped away’ from the show now and his behaviours should not stop people seeing the efforts of all of those others involved. Funnily enough, my one criticism of The Nevers is that it has too many exposed tits in it so fitting perhaps that it had an exposed tit behind it too.
Still, he’s done it again. It took me a while to tune into the story once more but by the end of the six parts that have aired so far I was totally invested in this show. Joss Whedon might not be the man we thought he was but he is still a brilliant writer and I love his on screen sensibilities even if I don’t like the ones he can apparently exhibit off screen.
If I’m honest the first episode was mixed, with the premise and atmosphere taking a while to settle in. We get group of women (mostly) with random superpowers in 1899 London but at first at seems that they are trying too hard with the aesthetic. A motorised vehicle bursts out the back of a carriage at one point early on and it felt a little obvious and contrived, as if a Victorian Ashton Kutcher was going to jump out and say ‘you’ve been steam punk’d’. Right from the very beginning though there is intrigue and excitement along with the one thing that truly holds these episodes together from beginning to end; the incredible double act of Amalia True and Penance Adair.
Amalia and Penance, played superbly by Laura Donnelly and Ann Skelly, are total opposites but utterly interdependent and their characterisation is probably the best we have seen from this writer, at the very least they are the equal of the wonderful crew of the Firefly class ship Serenity. Critics have compared them to Buffy and Willow but they are more Mal and Zoë, ready to call each other out but trusting each other 100% and total equals despite the apparent hierarchy. Mrs. True is the leader of The Orphanage where disenchanted and rejected women come when their surprising skills get them ostracised and Miss Adair is the one that provides them with lots of cool toys, like the aforementioned horseless cart. Their mission, which is slowly unpacked, is to stand up against some people that are dangerous because they fear these powers and some that are dangerous because they have them. There are numerous other characters as well, it has a bigger ensemble than any Whedon has juggled (although not bigger than the Avengers became subsequently), but they are best discovered as you go along. I will just mention Nick Frost’s Beggar King who has the most captivating mix of amiability and viciousness that redefines the affably evil trope of Hannibal Lecter, Hans Landa and, of course Sunnyvale’s Mayor Wilkins.
With us only having the first half of a full first series at the moment (because of this strong virus) and with Whedon not returning for the rest (because he’s no longer desirous) I was worried that the story as we have it so far might feel incomplete. While there are plenty of things left to explore though, this is not the case. The Nevers 1 – 6 feels like a nicely contained narrative and there is resolution enough to satisfy and tantalise. In fact in a genius move it looked like we were going to get not just one but two big final episodes only for this, in an even more genius move, to go somewhere else entirely. I won’t say anymore about how this all wraps up other than it is totally bonkers; brilliantly, imaginatively, surprisingly, fascinatingly and audaciously bonkers.
So new show runner Philippa Goslet has it all to do with Whedon being both a hard act and not a hard act to follow (for the record though, no one on this show reportedly raised any concerns about how he ran things here and the reason for his departure was officially fatigue). Goslet has plenty of places to take things and it will be interesting to see how different it all feels but I am excited for where this will go. Whether Whedon returns in any capacity remains to be seen but since the title of the show does not feature in the script at any point, never say Nevers seems to be some kind of motto.