‘Mrs. Davis’ Pits a Holy Betty Gilpin Against A.I. in Energetic Oddball Adventure

It used to be the case that nuns and priests were tasked with facing down Satan. Now that technology is consuming our lives more and more, it makes sense that the devil might be found in artificial intelligence. Quirky, colorful and somewhat disjointed, Peacock’s “Mrs. Davis” is an oddball thrill ride involving the Catholic church that is wholly made for the 21st century. Betty Gilpin is the best feature, easily becoming a likable action TV star. She is reflective enough as a woman devoted to the faith but with the tough exterior of a young Sigourney Weaver. That may sound like quite a leap when describing this series, but it’s one of those odd combinations of creativity, talent and relevance. At times the plot threatens to get too convoluted for its own good, yet it’s never less than fun to follow. 

“Mrs. Davis” begins not in the present but in medieval France, where heretics are burned at the stake and roughneck hunters are searching for the Holy Grail. Cut to the present where Sister Simone (Gilpin) lives in a Reno, Nevada convent with a cheery bunch of fellow nuns. Simone is the more outgoing of the group. She rides horses and even stops con artists from swindling victims out in the desert. The convent also makes jam. But there is another side to Simone. She’s also an operative who takes down targets handed over by Jay (Andy McQueen), who happens to operate a local diner. Who is this nun? That’s one of the show’s involving mysteries. Just as the convent is suddenly forced to close and the nuns assigned new placements, Jay hands Simone a new mission: She needs to bring down an A.I. program known as “Mrs. Davis.” Already spread worldwide, the program has become a broad presence in daily life, encouraging people to do good, speaking to them through ear buds. But many have replaced God and belief itself with total devotion to Mrs. Davis. 

As a premise, this is merely the beginning. Simone’s mission becomes about much more than just destroying the A.I. program. When she comes face to face with a human proxy of Mrs. Davis, Simone is tapped with an extra mission to find the Holy Grail. What? Yes, it’s that kind of show where the opening salvos are very cryptic, operating as narrative brain teasers so you can keep streaming every Thursday. But there is also room here for deep philosophical musings, channeled through popular buzzwords. “Mrs. Davis” is the creation of Tara Hernandez and Damon Lindelof. Hernandez helmed “Big Bang Theory” while Lindelof is best known for his rich adaptations for HBO of “Watchmen” and “The Leftovers.” Their strengths come together here in a curious mishmash. We get Hernandez’s humor and Lindelof’s obsessions with the zeitgeist. Religion, technology and the death of privacy fuel what becomes a colorful adventure romp.

At times “Mrs. Davis” doesn’t know if it wants to be a road adventure or a dark dystopia in the spirit of “Black Mirror.” If you use Mrs. Davis long enough she gives you “wings” after fulfilling certain tasks, but someone warns Simone this really means “it gives you strings.” To tackle such a foe our nun teams up with an ex-boyfriend, Wiley (Jake McDorman), the manly, gun-toting cowboy leader of a resistance group also seeking the destruction of the A.I. entity. Flashbacks reveal how Wiley once gave up his family fortune and took up rodeo riding. Now he’s going globe-trotting with Simone in search of the Grail, with their first stop being London. Wiley’s team features the usual computer hackers feeding information along every stop and tough guys who spend their time training and looking tough (“say it like fucking Braveheart!”). Much of this show has the look and feel of a comic book adaptation, with sudden, quirky twists where Simone’s mother might suddenly appear on the same train ride.

Simone’s origin story feels like some twisted superhero tale. More flashbacks reveal her parents were a rundown magician named Monty (David Arquette) and security expert, Celeste (Elizabeth Marvel). Monty suffered a traumatic death in front of a young Simone, but Celeste is convinced he’s still alive. It is another layer piled atop the various plot threads of this show. None of them have clear pathways as to where it all leads, yet that also adds to how watchable episodes become. Simone and Wiley find themselves in scenarios that entertain as absurd farce, like a medieval festival in England where our heroes partake in a competition where contestants cannot let go of a giant Excalibur sword. This is all before we also get plots involving human-swallowing whales and strange occult rituals by moonlit lakes. Don’t forget the ominous bankers who might have the Grail.

So much plotting crashes together in this show it’s astounding the writers still leave room for the smaller human drama, like Simone obviously liking Wiley but having to grapple with her vows. “Mrs. Davis” is quite original and at the same time exhausting to take in. It’s a testament to the free for all mood streaming can inspire. Betty Gilpin is the glue holding this all together. After roles in “Glow” and “The Hunt,” she soars here, never letting the impressive wardrobe overshadow her performance. If all the crammed genres and stories would breathe a little, Gilpin would stand out even more. Beneath all of the energetic ideas, the main idea of “Mrs. Davis” keeps enough of a challenging spirit by wondering where we will let artificial intelligence take us. We are creatures of belief, whether in ideals, religion or worldviews, and what we feed into the machines might just come back to truly take us over.

Mrs. Davis” season one begins streaming April 20 with new episodes premiering Thursdays on Peacock.