First announced in 2018, the Victorian-era sci-fi drama series debuted on HBO on April 11. Created by Joss Whedon, the series stars Laura Donnelly, Olivia Williams, James Norton, Pip Torrens, Nick Frost, and Denis O'Hare. Hollywood loves a period drama. It also can't resist superheroes. So why not combine the two? That's what HBO has done with its latest series,’ The Nevers’. Set in Victorian-era London, the premise of ‘The Nevers’ is that a freak event has left a group of individuals, mostly women, with a range of supernatural abilities. Deemed a danger to their patriarchal society, this sorority of outcasts, known as "the Touched," seeks refuge in an orphanage founded by a wealthy patroness.
Episode one opens with a flashback montage introducing the ensemble of – mostly but not all – women in 1890s London. One repairs a broken pump with a clothespin, another queues for an opera audition, another is led away to an asylum, while another drops willingly into the Thames. By the end of the hour we learn that this was the moment that three years earlier, a mysterious and possibly alien airship passed over London trailing glittering motes that entered some and left them with a unique special ability.
Amalia and Penance are relatively well-defined characters; we know that Penance is religious when Lavinia introduces her as a creator and she says “there’s only one creator”, and we know that Amalia is cross and snarky for a reason. The rest feel sketchily drawn, especially the collection of Nevers that inhabit the orphanage. Yes, it feels like it’s being set up like a 19th century Avengers, but we don’t know how much patience we’re going to have to find out more about the other Nevers other than their powers.
There’s also a plot involving Swan and gruff police detective Frank Mundi (Ben Chaplin), where he finds Nevers for Swan. What does Swan want with them? It was only obliquely referenced in the first episode, and we’re not sure how well that story is going to be developed before the first season is over.
Then there is the entire matter of how these Nevers got their powers. When we return to three years prior, we see an alien ship of sorts spread spores all over London, and they absorb into the various people we know have powers — and some that we didn’t know had them. Does that mean there are thousands of them out there? Maybe more Nevers than “normals”? It feels like Whedon has set up a very complex story for himself, one that we’re not sure he’ll have the time to explore the way it should be explored.
The unwieldy parts would disintegrate if not for the performances of Donnelly and Skelly, by far the most compelling parts of The Nevers; Donnelly’s command of both True’s chagrined wit and ever-looming trauma provide the show a much-needed anchor, while Skelly’s bemused, unassumingly askew humor injects refreshing levity to the overweening plot. Their banter and airtight bond are eminently watchable.
There is a genuinely intriguing anchor in their friendship, and in True’s grappling with her intrusive past. Whether or not The Nevers cares to favor its characters over immensity in its later episodes remains to be seen.
Final Score – [6.9/10]
Reviewed by – Ritika Kispotta
Follow her @KispottaRitika on Twitter (https://twitter.com/KispottaRitika)
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