NEW YORK (OSV News) – Catholic viewers are bound to take an interest in a TV show whose main character is a nun. Given the prevailing outlook of the media and the culture in general, however, they will likely be wary from the outset about how this protagonist will be depicted.
Such caution turns out to be fully justified in the case of Sister Simone (Betty Gilpin), the central figure in the often-surreal dramedy "Mrs. Davis." All eight hour-long episodes of the series are streaming now on Peacock.
Dicey from the start, the narrative takes a startling turn with a climactic revelation toward the end of the second of the two installments reviewed that makes the program not only theologically deeply flawed but in very questionable taste as well. While the exact nature of this surprise twist cannot be explored for fear of a spoiler, it won't leave believers wanting more.
In fairness, "Mrs. Davis" is not anti-religious in any sense. But it's clear that showrunner and co-writer Tara Hernandez – along with her principal script collaborator, Damon Lindelof – is out to break boundaries and flout convention in her presentation of faith as well as in her approach to storytelling. Yet less reckless innovation would have made the series more palatable.
Despite a murky Dan Brown-style backstory involving the Knights Templar – them again? – the basic outline of the plot is easily limned. In an alternate version of the present day, society is controlled by the artificial intelligence system of the title. Almost everyone has either cozied up or knuckled under to "her" all-pervasive power. One of the handful of holdouts is Sister Simone.
As Mrs. Davis works to co-opt the rebellious religious, some of the show's appreciable assets are on display. Thus Sister Simone and the other inhabitants of her rural convent on the outskirts of Reno, Nevada, are shown to be a happy, close-knit group led by a savvy, though unnamed, mother superior (Margo Martindale).
The incorporation of magic and illusion into the story, moreover – Sister Simone has a family background in the show-business aspect of the craft – leads to more acceptable surprises than the one already referenced. As the program progresses, though, Sister Simone wavers and the inducements to audience interest dwindle.
In addition to the material that faithful TV fans will find problematic, if not outright offensive, "Mrs. Davis" also includes other challenging elements. The most glaring of these is the over-the-top gory violence showcased in the opening scenes set in the Middle Ages. After the Templars meet their doom at the stake, extras meet theirs in a gruesomely graphic sword fight.
Despite her calling, Sister Simone is not above using profanity, and there's a liberal sprinkling of four-letter words throughout the dialogue. Taken together with the weightier difficulties besetting the program, such frequent vulgarity suggests that this is, on the whole, one trip to Reno on which it would be best not to gamble.- - - John Mulderig is media reviewer for OSV News. Follow him on Twitter @JohnMulderig1.