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Get thee to this nunnery: Fun, fast, freewheeling 'Mrs. Davis' is habit-forming

Simone (Betty Gilpin) on her way to a come-to-Jesus meeting.
Sophie Kohler
Simone (Betty Gilpin) on her way to a come-to-Jesus meeting.

This is the way Mrs. Davis ends: Not with a bang, but a wimple.

It sticks the landing, is my point. I'm stating that upfront because you'll get maybe 30 minutes into the first episode of the new Peacock action-comedy series about a globetrotting nun in a pitched battle against a sentient artificial intelligence and think to yourself: This thing has already flown off the rails.

It's true that Mrs. Davis delights in lots of big swings and even bigger ideas, including but not limited to rogue stage magicians; a fake Pope; a resistance movement made up entirely of muscular, sweet-natured himbos; bronco busting; a Middle-Ages-themed endurance competition, a high-tech heist, some light blasphemy, the occasional exploding head, a particularly belligerent whale and a quest for the Holy Grail.

That's a lot of ideas to cram into eight episodes, and I haven't even mentioned the falafel shop, where things get pretty weird.

But if you need an actor to stand in the center of this whirlwind of fanciful concepts and deeply nay, profoundly silly set pieces, you can't do better than Betty Gilpin.

She plays Simone, a feminist nun with a vendetta against stage magicians and the titular algorithm, which has quietly taken over the world by offering its clients nurturing advice.

Wherever the script takes her — and it takes her to many places — Gilpin grounds herself in the real world; her Simone is tough, smart, sarcastic and flawed. She's also easily flustered by her ex, Wiley, played by Jake McDorman. He exudes a befuddled kind of charm while struggling with the dawning realization that he's not the main character but simply the love interest.

He turns out to be only one of Simone's love interests, in point of fact. There's also Jay (Andy McQueen), who works in the aforementioned falafel shop and represents some pretty tough competition for Simone's attention for reasons that will become clear as the series progresses.

It's a kind of narrative turducken: an outer layer of sweeping production values and high concepts with deft comic timing at its center.

Mrs. Davis was developed by Tara Hernandez, who's written for network comedies The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon, and Damon Lindelof of Lost, The Leftovers and Watchmen. That may help explain why Mrs. Davis manages to stuff so many setups and punchlines into its prestige-TV hourlong format. It's a kind of narrative turducken: an outer layer of sweeping production values and high concepts with deft comic timing at its center.

The chemistry between Gilpin and McDorman is sexual and comedic, as it needs to be. The great Elizabeth Marvel turns up as Simone's aloof, calculating mother and Silicon Valley's Chris Diamantopoulos goes full ham as the resistance leader who is prone to emotional outbursts and arrant shirtlessness.

In interviews, the Mrs. Davis creative team posits the central conflict of the series as one between faith (Simone) and technology (Mrs. Davis). But that gets muddy awfully quick because Mrs. Davis treats Simone's faith not as a belief system but as something as dully, objectively real as her motorcycle. The fact is, Mrs. Davis doesn't have a lot to say about either religion or tech — they're just used as anchors to steady the ship in what quickly become some seriously choppy waters.

Mrs. Davis throws just about everything against the wall and most of it sticks; I kept being reminded of how caught up I got in the Tom Robbins novels I read as a teen. There's a joyfulness in Mrs. Davis' storytelling, and an urgency, too — as if it can't wait to sit you down and start reeling off its tale. But there's also an overarching comedic sense that lends the whole thing the kind of structure it needs to reach its weird — and weirdly satisfying — conclusion.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.
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