HBO’s new fantasy series The Nevers was supposed to be Joss Whedon‘s triumphant return to television with a much more expensive and far less restricted sandbox to play in. But due to controversy from the filmmaker’s personal and professional life, the Avengers director has already left the show, leaving its future in someone else’s hands. However, as the first reviews from critics have poured in, it’s clear this first season carries the trademarks of Joss Whedon television through and through, and that includes the good and the bad.

For those who maybe haven’t kept up with The Nevers, here’s the trailer and plot synopsis from HBO:

August, 1896. Victorian London is rocked to its foundations by a supernatural event which gives certain people – mostly women – abnormal abilities, from the wondrous to the disturbing. But no matter their particular “turns,” all who belong to this new underclass are in grave danger. It falls to mysterious, quick-fisted widow Amalia True (Laura Donnelly) and brilliant young inventor Penance Adair (Ann Skelly) to protect and shelter these gifted “orphans.” To do so, they will have to face the brutal forces determined to annihilate their kind.

So what are the critics saying about the series? Let’s dig into some of the first reviews surfacing online:

Lorraine Ali at The Los Angeles Times found plenty to appreciate, calling it HBO’s next great fantasy series:

“The Nevers” is a joy to watch and a thrill to follow. Supernatural realism, complex storytelling, fantastical powers and topical realties meet in this smart, suspenseful and colorful production. A litany of nuanced characters keep this otherworldly tale grounded. Suspenseful sleuthing and action-packed battles move the story along at a rapid clip. And all the lush scenery and ambitious wardrobe along the way — from London’s sewers to its high society — are a visual candy shop of period nostalgia.

Daniel Fienberg at The Hollywood Reporter: was less impressed and found the show lacking focus:

“The Nevers” is a show in desperate need of focus, and as episodes progress, more and more characters are added and the connection to the richest thematic throughline becomes increasingly tenuous. In familiar Whedon fashion, deaths are leveraged for hollow emotion and every time there’s an opportunity to find new layers in the characters we know, the show gets distracted by something shiny, new and usually less interesting.

A generous take on The Nevers is that it’s a fin de siècle X-Men, or maybe a Victorian Watchmen. A less generous take is that it’s a more expensive version of Fox’s The Gifted, one made without any clear understanding of hour-long cable narrative rhythm, structure or momentum.

Caroline Framke at Variety enjoyed the multiple genres that Joss Whedon packed into the show:

It takes a minute for “The Nevers” to feel like something other than a steampunk “Doctor Who” interlude in Victorian London where, despite stubbornly buttoned-up appearances, things aren’t quite as they seem. The new HBO drama, which follows a group of women who have been “touched” by some mysterious power that grants them extraordinary abilities, unabashedly embraces its cross-section of genres. It’s a historical drama awash in lush costuming and production design. It’s a sci-fi epic unraveling the mysteries of the universe. It’s a screwball comedy and Harlequin romance starring quick-witted heroines, surly detectives and devastatingly handsome heirs. Even when it errs towards the silly, it’s fun and twisty enough to be an engaging page-turner of a show that should grow its own fanbase without much trouble.

Alan Sepinwall at Rolling Stone came away disappointed:

But even if Whedon still had the pristine cult-icon image from the turn of the century, The Nevers would still be a disappointment. It has many of the elements you would expect from a Whedon show, and on a greater scale than any of the older ones, but some pieces only occasionally come into focus. Others leave you wondering why they’re around at all.

Joshua Rivera at Polygon came away liking the world-building but wasn’t enthralled with the series overall:

From the outset, The Nevers is a puzzling fit for HBO. The premium network’s reputation as the standard-bearer for prestige television gives every one of its dramas a sense of occasion, the expectation of television that aspires to push boundaries. The Nevers, however, is astonishingly pedestrian. It’s a straightforward Whedon show with the addition of nudity and a few swear words, and fewer quips than his usual average. In the first four episodes made available to critics, the series slowly builds its mythology: Amalia True and Penance Adair (say their names out loud, you’ll get it) encounter a mysterious cabal of frightening masked men abducting the Touched just as public sentiment toward Touched is reaching its nadir, thanks to the work of Maladie, a serial killer with her own gang of Touched villains. The world is meticulously built, but it has very little spark. Unfortunately, it’s currently most interesting as a referendum on its creator.

Liz Shannon Miller at Collider found both the highs and lows of Joss Whedon’s work to be present:

As someone with decades of familiarity with Whedon’s work, is that both the triumphs as well as the flaws of The Nevers are very much in line with his pre-established strengths and weaknesses. The action is full of inventive touches, the dialogue confident in its wit, and the largely unknown cast is packed with powerhouses and charmers. But the reliance on old Whedon go-tos, like yet another sexually charged and mentally unhinged antagonist, is disappointing to witness. Plus, like so many other Whedon projects, there’s the nod of good intentions towards trying to include people of color in the story, but the few non-white characters here are so far very much on the sidelines — which is especially disappointing when you consider the completely blank canvas Whedon had to work with here.

Finally, Keith Phipps at TV Guide appreciated what Joss Whedon brought to the table to kick things off, but now wonders whether the show will have the same inventive direction now that he’s gone:

There’s a lot going on in the series, in other words, and it will probably take most viewers a couple of episodes to find their bearings. In many ways, it feels like the work of a creator finding his bearings within television again, and figuring out how his vision fits into the more permissive world of HBO beyond allowing for generous amounts of nudity (which it also features). It’s been, after all, a decade since Whedon ran a show featuring characters he created, and he’s mostly focused on films featuring others’ creations since then. By the time a couple of this-changes-everything twists arrive, however, The Nevers seems to be on its way. But with Whedon’s departure, who knows if it will be heading toward the same destination?

The Nevers premieres on HBO on Sunday, April 11, 2021 at 9:00 P.M. ET/PT.

The post ‘The Nevers’ Early Buzz: The HBO Fantasy Show Has All the Staples of Joss Whedon, for Better and Worse appeared first on /Film.