April 12, 2021

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “The Nevers”


THE NEVERS:  Sunday 9PM on HBO

The arrival of HBO’s THE NEVERS introduces a continuing series that’s also, in a sense, a limited one.  It was initially meant to be the latest original franchise from creator/auteur/showrunner Joss Whedon, the inventor of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe and director of the first two Avengers movies.  But as everyone now knows, Whedon has been emphatically canceled after accusations that began with Ray Fisher’s charges about Whedon’s behavior on the set of his failed midstream revamp of Justice League, and which came to encompass the entirety of Whedon’s career. HBO’s parent company unceremoniously cut Whedon loose after the first 6 episodes of The Nevers had been completed, and replaced him with Philippa Goslett, who may follow Whedon’s blueprint or do something distinctly different in her as-yet-unscheduled episodes to come.

The premise of the story will presumably be unchanged.  LIke HBO’s The Leftovers, although in a far pulpier style, The Nevers concerns the aftereffects of an extraordinary event:  on a day like any other in 1896, what appears to have been a spaceship flew over the city of London and literally sprinkled a variety of people, mostly but not exclusively women, with magic powers.  Three years later, no one consciously remembers that the otherworldly craft ever existed, but what are called “the touched” live controversially among them.

In a sprawling cast, our main two protagonists are among the touched.  Amalia True (Laura Donnelly) who was apparently in the midst of drowning herself at the time of the event, and who survived with the ability to see glimpses of the future and what may be superhero powers, works with Penance Adair (Ann Skelly), who can see and manipulate energy to create fantastical inventions.  Together they run an orphanage that protects the touched that they can find, including a giantess and a girl who had no exposure to foreign languages but can only speak in them.  The orphanage’s patroness is Lavinia Bidlow (Olivia Williams), who may or may not be aware that her brother Augie (Tom Riley) is among the touched.

However, there are other, less admirable groups.  Maladie (Amy Manson) was on her way to an asylum when she received her powers, and she’s no less crazy now, leading an assortment of the touched as she brutally murders people for reasons as yet unclear.  Hugo Swan (James Norton) appears to be planning to strike it rich by opening a bordello of the touched.  Lord Massen (Pip Torrens), at least initially, occupies the trope position of the harrumphing nobleman who wants all challenges to the ruling regime eliminated.  There’s also an actual mad scientist in the person of Dr. Edmund Hague (Denis O’Hare), who performs horrible experiments on those with powers and seems to have his own dangerously mutated minions.

It’s a lot, and clearly the intent was to play out these various threads over more than the 6 episodes Whedon completed.  The opening episode, despite its hour-plus length, has enough going on to keep one intrigued, and while Whedon’s dialogue indulges his taste for quips and mission statements, he keeps all the project’s balls successfully in the air.  Donnelly provides a magnetic center to the action, although it’s unclear at this point whether Manson and Norton are overplaying or providing an intentional broader tone to their scenes.

The Nevers (a phrase never alluded to or used in the opening hour) is handsomely budgeted in the HBO A-level manner, and while Whedon has never been his own best action director, the set-pieces are inventive enough to be fun.  Whatever may be said about the show’s creator as a human being, there’s a reason he’s been in demand by networks and studios for over two decades.  It’s extremely unlikely that there will be any call for “the Whedon cut” of The Nevers‘ future, so we’ll see how far he was able to take his concept and then how it fares with new hands on the controls.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."