SXSW: “Mrs. Davis

Damon Lindelof and Tara Hernandez’s drama Peacock about religion, technology and (apparently) hippos opened March 14 in Austin.

A nun teams up with a hostile artificial intelligence to find the Holy Grail. This synopsis sounds like it was written by an AI, but it’s actually from Damon Lindelof and Tara Hernandez, who premiered their eclectic drama at South by Southwest on Tuesday.

At the premiere, star Betty Gilpin described the show as “No Country for Old Looney Tunes”, then laughed, saying that they now split “the two normal episodes”. Costar Jake McDornan described the scripts as “mad libs that got out of hand”.

“The mission here is ‘Keep Austin Weird,'” Lindelof said ahead of the March 14 premiere. “‘Ma’am. Davis will hopefully do just that.’ In the first two episodes, the crowd laughed at the scripted jokes, visual gags and general absurdity, including several high-octane action sequences.

Hernandez and Lindelof joined forces in early 2020 and were already preparing for the collaboration when the outbreak of COVID-19. As they bounced around ideas and came up with Zoom, Lindelof recalls her colleague wishing there was an algorithm or app that could tell her what to do, so “Mrs. Davis” was born.

“It’s nun vs. artificial intelligence, plus lift and joy and silliness and weirdness,” Hernandez said, noting that the early ideas were much darker than the final product.

“‘Post-apocalyptic’ loses its charm when we’re in the middle of an apocalypse,” Lindelof noted.

Flyers say "DO YOU SEE THIS DADDY?" in large, bold text, with a photo of actor Betty Gilpin, who is often advertised as a blue nun "Mrs. Davis"

“Ms. Davis” flyers in downtown Austin during SXSW.


In the days leading up to the premiere, nuns appeared in downtown Austin to promote the series, telling people they were looking for Mrs. Davis and asking SXSW attendees and locals to do the same. Flyers at the Austin Convention Center and nearby streets and facilities featured Gilpin as Sister Simone and read, “DID YOU SEE THIS APACIA?” in large, bold text.

“The goal is to bring fans to a kind of worldly experience here,” Peacock’s VP of brand marketing Jo Fox told IndieWire at SXSW. The festival’s intersection of entertainment and technology seemed perfect for a show like “Mrs. Davis,” and the activation included layers of stimulation and mystery surrounding the show. Anyone who snaps a photo with one of the activation nuns and posts it on social media with the Peacock tag will be eligible to win prizes like Uber codes and AirPods (which play a big part in the show). The nuns also handed out “maps” to help find Mrs. Davis, which ended up using local businesses as vouchers for free food and drink.

“The commitment to social media and people posting has been strong,” Fox told IndieWire. “And then, as you’ve seen, it’s just the surprise and joy that people keep taking pictures of the nuns and interacting with them and asking them to sing.”

During the previous day’s conference panel, the creators shared inspiration for the upcoming Peacock series, from Pinnocchio to Willy Wonka to a line Hernandez accidentally appropriated from “A Knight’s Tale.” The intersection of artificial intelligence and religion speaks to Lindelof’s own “religious obsession” related to how “terribly manipulative” he finds Wonka.

“What is religion if not ‘Am I being manipulated?’ question,” Lindelof asked at Monday’s panel. He looked around the room and his eyes caught the handful of peacock nuns scattered in the crowd. The crowd chattered nervously, including Peacock’s hired nuns scattered around the conference room.

“Sorry, sisters,” he added.

“Ms. Davis” premiered March 14 at SXSW. The first four episodes aired April 20 on the Peacock.

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