A lot of people right now are wringing their hands about the rapid emergence and popularization of AI. There’s the way it threatens jobs — as anyone working at CNET will tell you — but there’s also the existential threat AI can create, as Elon Musk is wont to expound upon. Science fiction has been clanging alarm bells about AI since basically the birth of the genre. But too often, the upset about artificial intelligence seems to ignore the myriad of benefits it provides. The emergence of a new technology isn’t necessarily something to immediately villainize or praise but to carefully examine.
Mrs. Davis, the new show executive produced by Damon Lindelof and created by Tara Hernandez, lets its main character wrestle with the glory and ruin AI harbingers and creates a show that can be so messy you’ll be baffled. But ultimately, it’s so enthusiastic and watchable that you’ll forgive it is flaws.
The way I’m currently describing the show to friends is “If the Coen Brothers directed a good adaptation of Preacher.” There’s something very early Coen Brothers about the series. It’s vibrant and lush and with a rhythm similar to Raising Arizona or Hudsucker Proxy like you’re watching a folksy American fable instead of just a show about a nun trying to destroy an artificial intelligence.
The nun bit is part of why it feels like Preacher. Both are focused on people with a profound sense of faith who come from backgrounds tailor-made to engender atheism. But also like Preacher, Mrs. Davis is a road trip where the locations are as big a character as the people on the quest.
It begins with a nun named Simone, played absolutely electrically by Betty Gilpin. Simone was raised by a magician (David Arquette) and was always a sharp kid who could spot a fake but also had no issue being a part of her dad’s act, even when it was a little shady. As an adult, she joins a nunnery where she spends her time growing fruit, communing with her fellow nuns, praying, and riding her horse out into the night to find and expose con artists who rely on magic for their grift. She’s aided in her fight against crime by Jay, a kind diner owner she has romantic tension with, played by a very soothing and charming Andy McQueen.
But one day, Mrs. Davis, an all-seeing AI that promises to improve the life of anyone who uses it, comes calling... and calling and calling. Mrs. Davis is enormously popular with most people who commune with her via Bluetooth earpiece. They do what she says because she helps them find jobs, homes, and even emotional fulfillment. Her most successful followers, after doing enough good deeds of their own, earn angel wings only visible through an AR app on their phone. She’s effectively a technogod, providing a new form of faith to compete with Christianity and others. But to Simone’s confusion, no one else seems to pick up on how creepy it is that billions of people have handed over the keys to their life to a mysterious AI with no clear origin or purpose beyond “doing good.”
Each time Simone rejects Mrs. Davis, it goes to more extreme measures to get her attention. Finally, she agrees to meet with the AI, with a kindergarten teacher as proxy. The AI tells Simone that she alone can track down the Holy Grail and destroy it, and in return, it will grant her one wish. Simone’s wish? For Mrs. Davis to shut itself off. On her quest, she’s joined by her cowboy ex-boyfriend Wiley (Jake McDorman).
The show doesn’t hold your hand as it zips from locale to locale and sometimes concept to concept. It’s a fast show, but it’s anchored by Betty Gilpin, who has crafted a genuine character in this Looney Tunes universe she inhabits. She moves from parody to pathos as smoothly as slapstick heroines like Irene Dunne, and you’ll find yourself constantly rooting for her even as you occasionally question her sanity and the sanity of the world she inhabits.
And that world oftentimes feels less focused on the plot than on exploring what faith looks like in a world where artificial intelligence can anticipate your needs and organized religion merely asks for your trust and occasional monthly financial contribution. The show’s take on faith is wild, and I won’t be surprised to find quite a few Christians finding it blasphemous. But there’s something absolutely fascinating about how the show seeks to turn often internal pursuits like praying into something cinematic.
And there’s something welcome about a show, right now, asking us why we put so much faith in machines. I love my TikTok FYP feed, and plenty of people are enamored with ChatGPT, and I’m sure most of the people reading this have some algorithm or app they trust. But sometimes it’s good to take a step back and take stock of our love affair with technology. While Simone the nun might be an avowed technophobe, the show she inhabits is not. Instead, it just asks you to pause for a minute and ask yourself: do you care about that app just a little too much?
Mrs. Davis premieres today, April 20, on Peacock.