TV Review: ‘The Nevers’ – A Compelling Drama That Can’t Quite Focus


The fantasy-drama series The Nevers has come to the end of its first season, creating a buzz around where the show will take the audience to next.

The Nevers features a group of women living in Victorian London who gain strange and mysterious powers and find themselves up against a team of fierce foes. The group of people who wield these abilities are known as ‘The Touched’, with their unlikely acquired powers often subjecting them to persecution. The Nevers subtly pays attention to and discusses class and gender divides and differences, which creates something a lot of audiences can relate to. However, it doesn’t always rise to the top.

Joss Whedon Missed The Mark

Creator Joss Whedon is well known for his previous work on popular shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In a similar vein to those shows, Whedon doesn’t shy away from inputting slight humour into the show, which brings an unexpected and entertaining edge to The Nevers. However, Whedon stepped away from The Nevers in 2020 due to what has been said to be ’personal reasons’ (perhaps due to allegations of him creating a toxic environment on previous sets) – leaving the top spot open to Philippa Goslett, who took over as showrunner. Though Whedon’s departure may have been the right choice, it has left some behind-the-scenes baggage with the show. The change in showrunners, and possibly some bitterness towards Whedon, left things very open and disjointed, ultimately affecting the quality of the show and the narrative.

Ann Skelly and Laura Donnelly in ‘The Nevers’ – Source: Keith Bernstein / HBO

The Victorian Superheroes

Protagonist Amelia True (Laura Donnelly) is the saint and saviour of the show, with her ability to see ‘ripples’ of the future. True runs an orphanage for those who have been trying to live peacefully with magical gifts, similar to that of X-Men’s school for mutants or Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016). In true superhero style, each supporting character wields a different ability. Amelia True’s best friend and confidante, Penance Adair (Ann Skelly), can also see into the future using electrical currents and her otherworldly and out-of-time inventions. Other characters in the orphanage include Myrtle (Viola Prettejohn), who can speak any language, Harriet (Kiran Sonia Sawar), who has the ability to transform any given object to glass, and Primrose (Anna Devlin), who, oddly, is a ten year-old girl who is also ten feet tall.

However, in my opinion, the writers took the exposition a little too far in this regard. Yes, this show revolves around women who receive several magical powers. And, yes, the women are subject to these powers due to an alien spacecraft landing in Victorian London several years before. But was this level of detail necessary, or conveyed in an easy-to-understand manner? Hardly. The Nevers pushes numerous, varying plot lines and characters on top of the audience. Who are we supposed to care for? We spend the entire season believing that Amelia is our true protagonist, but the abundance of characters with separate narratives causes confusion. Who are we rooting for here? The excess removes any sort of edge, especially as the show is a mystery. Is it truly a mystery if the audience knows too much?

The World of the Victorian Era

Victorian London is captured perfectly in The Nevers, the set featuring everything one would expect from a period series. However, one aspect that is slightly more fantastical are the inventions of Penance Adair. One of her creations, for example, is an electric speaker named Brightener which is used to amplify a song across the entirety of London. Although it is to be understood that The Nevers features aliens coming to Earth in a spaceship, Adair’s inventions almost border upon the impossible.

Applause For Social Commentary

That said, The Nevers does get one element right. The focus on social class and the elite versus the poor narrative is engaging and well done. Many of the antagonists, such as Lord Massen (Pip Torrens), are older, white males in charge of large groups of people, with Torrens perfectly displaying the vested interests of these individuals who wield large amounts of power. The Touched threaten the balance of the status quo, and therefore we see them being sought after. Another antagonist, Hugo Swan (James Norton), believes that the Touched are the future and presents his ideas to Lord Massen, who disagrees. However, the audience quickly learn that this potential ally actually views the Touched as a commodity – they are a product ready to exploit.

The class elements of this series shed light on various societal issues that have spanned generations; looking at these topics through a fantasy lens created a brand new conversation surrounding them.

Rochelle Neil in ‘The Nevers’ – Source: HBO

Overall Verdict? It’s A Lot

There’s a lot is going on in The Nevers. Establishing and jumping between endless storylines and character arcs all at the same time can create quite an overwhelming feeling. The show includes a group of women with strange powers, workers strikes, a forbidden sex club, an overly experimental doctor, and what I can only describe as a magical female Jack the Ripper all within six episodes. Although it is in typical HBO style to cram a lot into their first season—lest we forget the first season of Game of Thrones—the show writers may have benefitted from stepping back to evaluate whether this was necessary.

The Nevers has received a ton of praise and popularity but also a lot of disdain. Audiences crave this sort of fantasy and mystery, and the show excels at showing a variety of complex and unusual characters with immensely deep character development. However, overall, it has to be said that this show contains too much for the average viewer. Time will tell if audiences remember The Nevers, or if its fate is to become yet another HBO drama.

The Nevers is currently airing on Sky Atlantic and streaming on Now TV.

Words by Luke Severn

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