First Impressions: Joss Whedon’s The NeversThe Dark Herald
That’s my first impression in a nutshell. It’s incredibly boring.
The Nevers is a new show on HBOmax that premiered this weekend. And it’s Joss Whedon’s first since Dollhouse, eleven years ago.* And this is absolutely a Joss Whedon show. It’s got it all.
Women beating up strong men? You bet!
Sassy comedic dialog? Of course!
Vague sexual tension between all the women on the show? Naturally!
Good looking women fighting in their underwear? What did you expect from a feminist?!
Spidery, cold, creepy feeling as if you now have thin layer of oily slime all over your body just by having watched it? It’s a Joss Whedon show!
In a nutshell, this show is a steampunk X-Men and the X-Men are all women, or Diverse POCs or Gamma males. The Mutants are called the Touched, a word that can either mean “touched in the head” or “touched by the divine.” It depends on whether you are viewing them as a patriarchal oppressor or a progressive suffragette.
Embarrassing as this is for me to admit now, there was a time that I looked forward to a new Joss Whedon show.
Actually, that’s not quite true now that I think of it. What I looked forward to, was a show that Whedon had outlined but then turned over the everyday show-running duties to Tim Minear. Sadly, Tim was too busy or tired of dealing with his own successful productions to run this show for Joss.
Nonetheless, Whedon’s name on a TV show was more than enough to get me interested and looking forward to it. This was long before I read any of his tweets or found out about just how much of a Hollywood Gamma Goblin he really is. Be that as it may, he would reliably deliver on nerd-friendly fair. I was never really into Buffy, but I still love Firefly despite his involvement. Angel had its good seasons too and Dollhouse had an intriguing sense of mystery to it. I was prepared to give this new one a fair shake. Sadly, it’s now obvious that Joss has lost his fastball.
The show opens in London in 1896. You see a random set of Victorians going about their Victorian lives through a grey-blue lens filter. Then one of them commits suicide by jumping into a river. At the end of the first show, we see a giant steampunk-alien-space Jesus-fish fly over London and spray the city with magic piss from its tail. If one of the droplets touched you, you got superpowers.
How your superheroes get their superpowers is usually the weakest part of a superhero story. It’s rare that they do anything to earn them or pay a heavy price upfront in order to acquire them. And, the Nevers is definitely of the “Just a Gift” school of superpower acquisition. I suppose there is nothing really wrong with it. If you put some effort into it, “Just a Gift” can be pretty intriguing. My favorite “Just a Gift” in recent years was in Larry Correia’s Hard Magic series.
But in this case, Joss Whedon had this flying, atomic, magic-fish visual in his head and it was really overblown. There was semi-angelic quality to it and that is always off putting coming from an atheist.
Anyway, the Professor X in this show is a widow named Mrs. True.** She runs the Orphanage (Professor X’s School for the Gifted Youngsters). She sets off with her bestie, the super inventor Penance Adair to interview a girl who is Touched. The working-class father is vaguely concerned for his daughter whose speech has now become incomprehensible. She can’t work that way, you see. The girl’s mother is a Christian and therefore an object of absolute contempt and ridicule by the show’s writer. Ignorant, bigoted, hypocritical, and cruel. It turns out the girl is speaking in just about every language on Earth, except English.
While the women are making a pitch to have the girl sent to the Orphanage, Mrs. True has a quick-cut vision of the future. She runs upstairs to see the girl is being dragged out of the window of her room by hooded men. Mrs. True then starts kicking their asses in Buffyesque fashion. Why do I get the feeling that a sheen of oily sweat breaks out on Whedon’s head and his fingers start trembling when he writes one of these scenes? Anyway, Mrs. True snatches the girl away from her kidnappers. She, the girl and Miss Adair jump in their carriage take off at a trot. The assailants take off after at a gallop on saddle horses. No real way for a single cold-blood to outrun three hot-bloods. However, after some snappy Whedon dialog that ruins the tension of an action scene, the three women suddenly go roaring out of the rear of the carriage in one of Miss Adair’s three-wheeled, highspeed horseless carriages. Leaving me feeling a little sorry for the horse that had to go lugging two women, a carriage, and a perfectly functional three-wheeler all over London.
Exposition time. We see a meeting of the Patriarchal Central Committee or whatever they are called. They control everything. And there is a quick discussion that brings the audience up to speed. Or at least any audience members who have never heard of the X-Men. Lord Massen (AKA Discount Tywin Lannister) takes over the committee meeting, declaring that the Touched are a threat to their entire society as it undermines the authority of the patriarchy.
We meet a few more characters. A police detective who appears to be a decent sort just trying to do a dirty job. An Oscar Wilde type who runs this series’ equivalent of the Naughty Hellfire Club. Being a pervert is a good thing in this world unless you are a member of the upper crust, in that case, you are being an evil hypocrite. There is also the socially awkward, probably on the spectrum young man who has to push his sister around in her wheelchair. The sister is named Lavinia and is played by Olivia Williams. Williams is a good character actress with decent range but on those occasions that Whedon cast’s her, you have the feeling she should be in tight, black leather with one of her high heels planted on the neck of a fat, bald middle-aged man who thought the name Joe was too toxically masculine so he goes by Joss instead.
All of these characters meet up at a performance of Faust where we get to say hello to one of the antagonists of the show. Maladdie, who is basically the Joker. Maladdie kidnaps some Touched girl at the theater who sings hypnotically. Mrs. True takes off after Maladdie and manages to lose most of her clothes in the pursuit. Then Mrs. True and Maladdie fight in their Victorian lingerie.
Okay, Whedon, who is the real hypocrite here? If the subject ever came up, and I had to have women strip to their bras and panties for a fight scene, I’d never pretend that this was somehow empowering and liberating for the women in question. I would never tell myself that I was a better person for doing this.
Joss Whedon is the kind of feminist who views feminism as a kind of sexual carbon-offset. It is purchasing an Indulgence. You buy the Indulgence by loudly and obnoxiously espousing feminism, after that, you can luxuriate yourself in creepy and sexually abusive behavior toward women. Because you’ve earned the right to do by showing what a good person you are.
Anyway, that’s basically the first episode.
The only thing I can recommend about it was Nick Frost’s turn as the Beggar King. The head of organized crime on the East End. He was having fun with it.
This show looks like it’s going to spend all of its time dunking on that old reliable strawman of Victorian moralists being complete hypocrites.
Also, the pilot was a boring mess and that is entirely on its creator. After Avengers, he seems to have decided that he’s a lot better than he actually is. He couldn’t pull off the Victorian drama and make it interesting to watch.
All of the long slow shots through various color filters absolutely reeks of unmerited pretension. Above all else, it was dull, boring, and tedious. I kept looking longingly at the streaming bar and willing it to be farther to the right than it was. I don’t know if I can finish this series. It’s so much worse than Falcon and the Winter Solider.
Ultimately, Joss Whedon is a second-wave male feminist who is getting left in the dirt by the new girls in town, who don’t need any man to help them. Not that it matters, they won’t be getting any more of that help in this series because his behavior finally caught up with him and Warner Media fired Whedon off of his own show.
Okay, I’m done here.
*Unless you count Agents of Shield and I’m not sure he did anything more than put his name on that one.
**Have you ever noticed that every freaking SJW on the planet calls himself “Truth” on the internet?