REVIEW: ‘The Nevers’ deserves better than Joss Whedon

A photo of two women from "The Nevers" hugging.
Although HBO’s new show “The Nevers” is a great watch, the controversy surrounding creator Joss Whedon is outshining it. (Photo from IMDb.)

“The Nevers” was advertised as Joss Whedon’s triumphant return to television. After working collaboratively on high-profile projects such as “The Avengers” this was supposed to be Whedon’s time to shine. However, accusations have risen recently about his abusive behavior on the set of “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer.” And, unfortunately, even though Whedon left the show in November 2020, “The Nevers” will premiere Sunday under a dark cloud of skepticism and hatred for the show’s creator.  

It is a shame that Whedon’s awful behavior is already overshadowing a fantastic show because the first four episodes of “The Nevers” are a joy to watch. 

“The Nevers” combines the feminist magic of “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” with the sci-fi fun of “X-Men.” It is a typical sci-fi show but set in 1899 London, which somehow makes it so much better. After all, who doesn’t love to see Victorian women gain superpowers and fight bad guys? 

“The Nevers” follows “the touched,” a group of individuals (mainly women) who received unique superpowers after a mysterious orb floated over London in 1896. The concept is a little strange, but once you suspend your disbelief, it gets better. 

Our main protagonists, Ms. Amalia True (Laura Donnelly) and Miss Penance Adair (Ann Skelly) run an orphanage for the touched, a place described as a haven for the unique. The pilot episode begins with the pair fighting bad guys and recruiting a new touched girl to come live at their orphanage. It’s a fun introduction to the show and the perfect way to meet two characters whose dynamic is impossible not to love. 

The show shifts from a badass introduction and quickly establishes why the orphanage is necessary. In the three years since the orb appeared, the touched have become ostracized from society and are being hunted down. Their powers or “turns” are incomprehensible to society who views them as satanic and evil. 

The touched are despised by a bitter old men’s club who loathe the fact that “[the orb] came at us through our women” and “not one man of stature was affected.” Watching old men acting resentful and villainizing something that excludes them is the most realistic part of this sci-fi show. 

The anti-modernity and sexist elite class of London is not the only villain. There is also a radicalized faction of the touched, led by Maladie (Amy Manson), responsible for countless murders and disappearances across the city. There are hints of a more horrific villain than Maladie and angry old men, but nothing fleshed out within the first episodes. 

The four episodes consist of super sleuthing, action-packed battles, and wholesome moments of friendship. A collection of nuanced, interesting and well-dressed characters keep this tale engaging. “The Nevers” is chock full of different and intriguing storylines, an enjoyable creative choice that keeps the story moving at a rapid pace and does not allow anyone to get bored. 

“The Nevers” is special because it not only features an intriguing plot and excellent protagonists but also does an outstanding job of creating a fictional 1899 London. The series is set in a beautifully romanticized depiction of the Victorian era. Clothing choices are modernized in a way that would anger any historian yet seem fashionable, old-timey and chic to everyone else. The magnificent production enhances the action-packed script and heightens the overall quality of the show.  

For better or for worse, Joss Whedon’s mark on this show is very apparent. Amalia True is “The Nevers”’s Buffy, a stubborn protagonist who feels the weight of the world on her shoulders, while Penance Adair is Xander, Buffy’s optimistic and loyal best friend. Our heroes embody Whedon’s favorite television character tropes. 

Donnelly and Skelly fill these roles shockingly well and surprisingly naturally. They match the charisma and charm of well-known Whedon characters from “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” and are worthy of filling Buffy and Xander’s shoes.

Unfortunately, “The Nevers” incorporates more than just Whedon’s favorite character archetypes, opting to also include fetishizations of female homoeroticism, one of his favorite elements to add to his shows. In a show where almost all female characters receive male love interests, there is a shocking amount of implied homosexual attraction between the women. 

Whedon forces longing gazes and romantic moments between the female protagonists. Although Amalia True and Penance Adair appear romantically interested in each other, spoiler, they are not. Their on-screen chemistry is incredible, and instead of stopping it at friendship, Whedon takes their dynamic a step further, queer baiting the audience. Whedon has Amalia openly declare that she “fucks men” but then gets our hopes up by having her and Penance romantically gaze at one another.  

Although there is a polyamorous pansexual sex club in “The Nevers,” which adds an important theme of sexual freedom to the show, Whedon’s sexualization of female friendships is queerbaiting and very unnecessary. Whedon’s fetishization of lesbianism is the worst part of this show. 

Flaws included, “The Nevers” is phenomenal. And even though “The Nevers” has a Joss Whedon problem, it’s a spectacular show that everyone needs to watch.   

The first four episodes of “The Nevers” will be released on HBO Sunday.

Review: 4.5/5