Roush Review: Powerful Women in a Powerless Time in the Fantastical ‘The Nevers’
A better title for The Nevers, HBO’s fetchingly original if muddled Victorian dark fantasy, might be “The Others.” Or “The Touched,” which is how 1890s society warily regards the women — and a few men — who gained special mysterious powers after being exposed to an inexplicable cosmic version of acid rain.
An allegory of otherness, where the word “nevers” is ne’er heard in the first four of six initial episodes — a second half of the season will air later — this series of female empowerment in a repressive time has more than a little Buffy the Vampire Slayer in its DNA. Joss Whedon created the show and directed the first two episodes (but has since left, claiming “exhaustion” before allegations surfaced of his abusive behavior on earlier shows’ sets), and gifted Buffy scribe Jane Espenson is among the executive producers.
The lively and chaotic series begins on the cusp of the 20th century, three years after the Touched got touched, and these outcasts are forever using their powers to fight for their right to survive — especially the feisty and unflappable Amalia True (Outlander’s terrific Laura Donnelly), a mysterious widow who sees flashes of the future. She houses others of her ilk in a vast Dickensian orphanage with the help of winsome inventor Penance Adair (Ann Skelly), whose steampunk-like contraptions often save the day.
Naturally, these bold and proud women are demonized by authorities, including the Scrooge-like Lord Massen (Preacher’s Pip Torrens), and they’re constantly on the lookout for danger, in the form of conspiratorial plots and the machinations of a classically mad scientist (True Blood’s cackling Denis O’Hare) who seeks to harness their gifts. Muddying the narrative: a female serial killer wonderfully named Maladie (Amy Manson), who’s either Touched or just touched in the head. Regardless, she could give Sweeney Todd a run for his money in the carnage department.
In this lavish world of Grand Guignol, an opera stage is no less dangerous than the underground sex club operated by a hedonistic toff (Grantchester’s deliciously debauched James Norton) who wants to recruit the Touched for his harem. Never!
Or, maybe: Forever?
The Nevers, Series Premiere, Sunday, April 11, 9/8c, HBO