Joss Whedon’s creative signature has earned him millions of fans over his 24-year career as a showrunner and filmmaker. His characters are self-aware quip machines who banter like their lives depend on it. They also kick butt and squad up with allies to form distinct butt-kicking crews. In Whedon projects, people with power are morally bankrupt and his heroes fight for freedom until one of the good guys dies symbolically. These concepts have been gently remixed to form the Buffy the Vampire Slayer blueprint, the Firefly cypher, the Dollhouse effect, and the Avengers rubric. 

With the latest application of his style, call it the Nevers configuration, it’s clear that Whedon has less of a creative signature and more of a single notebook page of ideas he’s been using since the late ’90s. 

The Nevers is a fantasy HBO drama about a group of Victorian women who spontaneously developed magical powers, called “turns” in the show. Some of these women have neat turns like seeing flashes of the future or blasting fireballs from their hands, while others have the power of being unusually large. Society views these powered women with contempt, so most of the main characters live together in a group home owned by a wealthy benefactor in a wheelchair, and if this sounds like X-Men it’s because yes, The Nevers is the X-Men in petticoats. 

It’s difficult to point out exactly what is wrong with “The Nevers” because the show struggles to make an impression in any category. 

The idea of superpowered people living in a home together isn’t owned by any particular franchise, but even though it seems unfair to call The Nevers out for being derivative, rest assured that almost nothing else in this show feels original enough to make up for it. Its two main characters Amalia True (Laura Donnelly) and Penance Adair (Ann Skelly) are distillations of Whedon’s obsession with dainty women beating people up and waify mechanical geniuses, respectively. The dueling plotlines of a theatrical serial killer in London and a greater government conspiracy against powered women amount to a genderbent Jack the Ripper and yeah, the X-Men again. Even its porny moments, which exist to remind the audience that this show is what happens when you give Joss Whedon a nighttime slot on HBO, read as boobs-out homages to shows that have done sexposition slightly better.

It’s difficult to point out exactly what is wrong with The Nevers because the show struggles to make an impression in any category. The first four episodes of six were provided for review and the memory of watching them vanished as soon as the credits rolled on that fourth episode. Watching them again helped, but the show’s touch is so light with regard to characterization and plot that being asked to name more than five characters at gunpoint would result in certain death. 

The only exception to this is Amy Manson as the aforementioned serial killer Maladie, who despite being Ripper-ish is the only person who understood an assignment Joss Whedon forgot to pass on to the rest of the cast and did not complete himself. Maladie’s deranged energy and staccato speech makes her the only discernible personality on screen and it’s a shame that her electricity goes unmatched. If more characters had her recognition that things ought to be ten times more bonkers than anyone is pretending they are, The Nevers might have stood a chance. They don’t; it doesn’t.

Thus outlined are Joss Whedon’s creative sins with respect to The Nevers on HBO. This show is derivative, self-plagiarizing, and boring. Whedon’s personal sins are greater and more pressing. Since 2017, when his ex-wife Kai Cole penned a letter accusing him of using his credibility as a “feminist” showrunner to manipulate women and engage in numerous affairs, the trickle of information suggesting the fan favorite director is abusive and dangerous has become a flood. Actors Ray Fisher, Charisma Carpenter, and Michelle Trachtenberg have shared disturbing anecdotes about his on-set behavior dating back to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and continuing through his work on Justice League. In an allegedly unrelated move that nonetheless occurred in the midst of these allegations, Whedon left production of The Nevers after the first six episodes and will not return for the planned part 2 of the series. 

The Nevers may get better when Whedon is no longer involved. It also may not. As it stands, the show is airing proof that Whedon’s former proficiency, which insulated him from experiencing the consequences of his disturbing actions, has vanished. Many people use the weak excuse of an abusive creator’s “genius” to absolve them of or ignore their poor behavior, but even if Whedon  deserved that title that’s no reason for studios to continue to expose talent to him. With The Nevers, it’s clear Whedon is no genius, just a man who’s beaten a handful of formerly good ideas into the dust.