Mrs. Davis is a story about artificial intelligence — in fact, the Peacock show's very title comes from the in-universe name for the algorithm that has taken over their world. The protagonist, a nun named Simone (Betty Gilpin), seeks to destroy the AI as an affront to God. Other characters aid the resistance for their own reasons.
It takes a long time to make a TV show, especially one as creative as Mrs. Davis. It just so happens that this one premiered on Peacock this spring, right as ChatGPT and other so-called "AI" tools have exploded in popularity and notoriety.
So, is it fair to look at the struggle against Mrs. Davis as a model that viewers should follow with real-world equivalents? We asked the cast and creators for their thoughts.
Elizabeth Morris/PEACOCK Betty Gilpin on 'Mrs. Davis.'
As a parent, Gilpin finds herself pulled in different directions when it comes to advancing technology.
"I think about it a lot," she tells EW. "I have a two-year-old, and I am trying to limit her exposure to screens. So far, she's not addicted. I snatch my phone away if she tries to grab it from the table, but then I myself can't pee without watching a YouTube video. So I'm telling her it's poison while I'm fully addicted to it."
Gilpin continues, "I hope that our generation is just driving without seatbelts. We don't know how to use it for good. We're just addicted to the dumb part of it, and then the next generation will know how to use it to save the world — but maybe I'm just telling myself that. I don't know. It's terrifying."
Within the show, the resistance against the AI is led by the hyperbolic muscleman JQ (Chris Diamantopoulos). In real life, Diamantopoulos has a more nuanced view of technological development. He cautions against getting too scared by inflammatory statements about new inventions.
"In this day and age, when information comes at us from every direction and is so readily available at all times, it's easy to get panicked about chatbots or AI or deepfake technology. But if it's utilized as a tool, it can be magnificent," Diamantopoulos says. "You think I don't want to see a de-aged Harrison Ford in the new Indiana Jones? Of course I do! Now, I don't want to watch a two-hour movie with a de-aged Harrison Ford the whole time. That's not interesting to me. But using it as a tool is marvelous."
Elizabeth Morris/PEACOCK Jake McDorman and Chris Diamantopoulos on 'Mrs. Davis.'
Diamantopoulos continues, "we're human beings making the stories and human beings watching the stories. The minute that ratio shifts to technology making the stories, the human beings watching are gonna go, hang on a second. What? I'm not getting anything from this.' That's the alchemical nature of this business we do. It's like how great filmmakers can make films that don't work, that leave you going 'oh god that sucked.' They didn't set out to do that, it's just that we're all flying by the seat of our pants, and there's always that last little intangible sprinkle of fairy dust that's not in our hands. And it's definitely not in the chatbot's hands. That's the kind of thing that happens when human beings collaborate using all the tools that they have at their disposal."
Mrs. Davis co-creators Tara Hernandez and Damon Lindelof are certainly amused at the timely relevance of their show. They were initially inspired to write a story about overdependence on technology during the doldrums of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Zoom suddenly became an essential part of everyone's lives.
"As humans, we all need help and guidance, and we certainly did during the pandemic. We were just craving direction and help," Hernandez tells EW. "Whoever or whatever steps forward to fill that void and provide the answers is something that we all get excited about. It does feel like ChatGPT is the thing of the moment. So I'm curious what the real applications will be when it moves beyond novelty, or fad, or how we're going to see it implemented into our lives in a real and tangible way. That's a curiosity of mine and will continue to be, and we just happened to write it down and build a show around it when we did."
Lindelof, meanwhile, says that his views of AI have changed for the worse since working on Mrs. Davis.
"Artificial intelligence, algorithms, chatbots, Alexa, Siri, these were all a part of my life before I started working on the show," Lindelof says. "Our feeling about algorithms and AI coming into Mrs. Davis was like, 'Oh, they're kind of dumb.' That's what's funny about them: They're really, really good at one thing, but there is this Rain Man quality to algorithms where they can play blackjack, but keep them away from the bathtub."
But now, he says, "I'm certainly more worried about the usage of algorithms and AI than I was when we first started it. ChatGPT generally does unsettle me, but purely on the narcissistic, egoistic front of, 'is this thing going to get very good at my job within five years?' The idea of someone saying to Tara and I, 'You don't really need a writer's assistant anymore, just turn on ChatGPT. It will take notes in the writers' room and it will edit that into a cohesive eight-page document every night.' And then you go, 'Well, but we want a writer's assistant because writer's assistants are future writers, and the way that they learn how to be future writers is by sitting in these rooms.' Tara was one. I was one. And so, once you eliminate the apprentice position, then who's next?"
That is now a question that is being hotly debated amidst the ongoing writers' strike, where the Writers Guild of America is proposing strict regulations on the use of ChatGPT and similar technologies in the screenwriting process. How and when AI will be used as a tool by human creatives are questions still to be divided.
In the meantime, the fictional struggle against AI comes to a head in the Mrs. Davis finale next week on Peacock.
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