Set an alternate steampunk Victorian London - where certain people (The Touched) have special abilities - the first six episodes of The Nevers are now available via Sky Atlantic.
Created by Joss Whedon, this was to be his "big return" to television, but his past caught up with him and he stepped away from the project, hopefully only leaving his fingerprints on these first half-a-dozen episodes.
Overall, the show was better than I was expecting, but it's still a bit of a shambles, jumbled and uneven, never quite equalling the sum of its parts.
It's also, on a surface level, not that original.
The Touched are created by an alien space craft shedding a cloud of spores over London (which is very similar to the backstory of George RR Martin's shared universe of Wild Card novels, that are also due to be turned into a live-action HBO show at some point) and then they are offered shelter in an "orphanage", run by Amalia True (Laura Donnelly), which is, for all intents and purposes, Professor Xavier's school from The X-Men comics and movies.
Don't forget, in the early 2000s, Whedon had a lauded run on Astonishing X-Men, so he didn't have to look too far for inspiration.
But before we throw the baby out with the bathwater, we cannot forget that there were many other writers, directors, producers etc involved behind the scenes of The Nevers, as well as a huge cast of performers.
In fact, there's probably a surfeit of characters (again, I cite The X-Men comics) and interweaving plotlines that may add an air of real life verisimilitude but also makes it difficult to get attached to anyone beyond Amalia and her best friend, Penance Adair (Ann Skelly), an inventor and the source of much of the serial's steampunkery.
Then we get the whole 'big reveal' in the sixth episode of where the alien ship came from and Amalia's connection to it, that, at first, almost feels like a bait-and-switch, but I'm hoping that actually won't play too big a part in the show going forward.
The Morlocks to Amalia's X-Men are a group of superpowered villains fronted by serial killer Maladie (Amy Manson) and includes the perception-manipulating Colonel (Mark Benton) and pyrokinetic 'Bonfire' Annie (Rochelle Neil) in their ranks.
Echoing Wild Cards, the extent of The Touched's abilities vary greatly, one girl is just 10 foot tall, but appears to have no other special talent, and Penance's ability is to "see electricity" (or something, it's a bit vague), but really she could have just been said to be supersmart.
But then you have a woman who can turn things to glass by breathing on them, another who can cause objects to shatter at her touch etc
Most of these "turns", as they're termed, are quite interesting and often unique, for every one ripped from the pages of The X-Men you'll come across something you've never seen before.
A point is made from the get-go - and it's a very Whedonesque one - that majority of The Touched are women, but then it quickly turns that around by introducing, either directly or indirectly, an increasing number of men who also have these gifts.
As an HBO show, expect gratuitous female nudity and an oddly exponential growth in f-bombs as the season progresses.
It's not exactly Game of Thrones yet, but has that potential to tell a sprawling, even globetrotting, epic if allowed to shift focus in that maner.
Ultimately, six episodes isn't really long enough to judge this kind of serialised storytelling.
By the end of the mid-season finale, we'd learned a lot more about the origin of all these minor superpowers, and the backstories of a few of the central characters, but more questions have been posed in the process.
The Nevers is expected to return later this year with the remainder of the season, which should - all being well - have considerably less Joss Whedon involvement.
If I wasn't certain that the season was definitely continuing, these six episodes alone would have been frustratingly obtuse and not worth anyone's time.
As it is, I think the show has potential and has a future, perhaps with steadier hands on the tiller.
And, unless I missed something, I have yet to figure out why it's called The Nevers.
In the meantime, you can learn more about the many characters and the excellent world-building by perusing the comprehensive fan-generated Nevers Wiki here.
|One of My Favourites: 'Bonfire' Annie Carbey (Rochelle Neil)|