Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a seminal series in the history of supernatural television. Not only did the show mark the transition from the episodic adventure series of past decades toward the serialized storytelling of today, with the requisite end-of-season battle with the “Big Bad,” it also redefined what a female hero could be in a genre better known for “final girls” and victims than for female empowerment. The massive influence of Buffy can still be felt today, and rarely more directly than in the new Netflix series Warrior Nun, which comes closer to ripping off Buffy wholesale than nearly any series before it, but somehow fails at the task of plagiarism so badly that it instantly seems more dated than its predecessor, which debuted in 1997.
Warrior Nun is putatively based on a series of comic books by Ben Dunn, unread by me, but the adaptation by Simon Barry (from Van Helsing—but of course) dumps most of the comics’ elements in favor of trying to rebuilt Buffy with a cast of mostly European actors struggling mightily to speak fluidly in English. The series is fronted by Portuguese actress Alba Baptista, whose thudding delivery can’t keep up with the script. Here’s a hint: If you think your show is going to involve a lot of quippy, humorous dialogue, try using actors who can speak English quickly and clearly enough to keep the jokes from sinking like lead balloons. The series even squanders its Spanish shooting locations, taking what should be a beautiful and rich setting and trying its best to make it look like a generic backlot that could be anywhere from southern California to southern Italy. Compare the cinematography to the Spanish locations in fellow Spanish series on Netflix like Elite and Toy Boy, and you will see how much potential Warrior Nun purposely abdicated.
Baptista plays Ava Silva, a dead paralyzed orphan who is resurrected when a mysterious order of Catholic warrior nuns implant an angel’s halo in her back to keep it safe during a demon attack. Just like Buffy Summers before her, Ava is a Chosen One™, empowered by supernatural forces to defeat monsters and evil, possessed of the superior physical gifts of a slayer (err, warrior nun), and beholden to a mysterious ancient secret society embodied by a seemingly bookish older father figure with a dark past. She, too, has a Scooby Gang of sidekick nuns and a crush on a handsome boy whose masculine efforts to rescue her simultaneously charm her and rankle her feminist bona fides. You win no points for guessing the real motives of the mysterious older man everyone calls (an) angel.
But every part of the story of Warrior Nun is a bad copy of Buffy, right down to the evil technology company trying to combine magic and science to open a gate to hell. If you’re going to copy Buffy, maybe copying the weakest of its seasons, the Initiative from season 4 to a riff on the ending of season 5 (with a twist of the First Evil from season 7), isn’t the smartest place to start. There’s even an Anointed One, a little child who will open the gate to hell. There’s nothing to say about him because he has no personality, and that’s true of all of the nuns and their enemies. They mouth words about supernatural evil and tell “jokes” that I was surprised to learn were not translated from Spanish, but they never really click as people. Joss Whedon, for all his many faults, was always good about using a combination of archetypes and specific character traits to make his characters seem fully human from their first scenes. Here, they’re all faded Xerox copies, defined only as regressive stereotypes: book-smart Asian nun, street-smart Black nun, generically evil nun.
Worse, though, is the show’s complete misunderstanding of which parts of its story are interesting. Ava is not interesting. She could be if she actually had some kind of reaction to being resurrected and granted supernatural powers other than to be kind of mopey and to crush on the first cute boy who crosses her path. The bureaucracy of the various Catholic groups involved isn’t interesting either. I wish I could drum this into every screenwriter’s mind: Nobody cares about bureaucratic infighting. The process isn’t interesting or important, only the outcome. Even the demons are boring since, for all their technicolor and silly names, they are just loud screamy things that don’t do much.
What was interesting was the group of misfit squatters Ava fell in with when she tried to escape her status as Chosen One. They were colorful, had different views, and seemed poised to serve as a makeshift team to help Ava oppose the Order. Until they weren’t. Barry systematically eliminated anyone interesting until only the most boring characters remained. That purge included May Simón Lifschitz, the Argentine transgender actress whose character Chanel was the most compelling among the gang, despite appearing for only a few minutes, and German actor Emilio Sakraya, who easily outshone Baptista at delivering lines in English. His character, JC, was an odd one for a show like this—smarter, kinder, more capable, and more likeable than the hero. Sure, he keeps trying to rescue Ava, who is supposed to be nearly invincible, but she keeps managing to need saving. He accomplished more than her for the first half of the series, and then was written out with untidy haste. Personally, I find “weirdly competent, kind-hearted Euro-mutt grifter” a more interesting set of character traits than “depressed, befuddled, angst-ridden Chosen One™.” Maybe “warrior nun” was the wrong concept for this show—especially since Ava is not a nun. I think I’d have rather watched the one about the makeshift family of colorful squatters who travel Europe living in rich people’s empty houses.
But you get the show they made, not the one you want. Hey, Netflix—since Barry wrote all the good actors out of Warrior Nun, can we have the house-squatting show anyway?
By the end of the series, we’re deep into Catholic conspiracy territory, in the company of the most boring array of Stereotype Nuns. I’d try to hint at the cliffhanger ending, but if you’ve ever watched Buffy, you already know what the villains want. The show’s Spanish locations, perhaps surprisingly, make a poor double for the Vatican, and the climax never achieves the sense of place, space, and grandeur that its storytelling seemed to be aiming for.
After the first two episodes, I was ready to never watch the show again because they were slow, boring, and dull. By the end of the series, my estimation had risen, and I thought of it as merely uninspired and pointless. It fills the time if there is nothing better to watch, but it never makes the case that this was a story that needed to be told. Or, rather, it made the case that this story has already been told, and better, when it was called Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
7/8/2020 10:26:04 am
Dude. Stop the madness. Watch Stargirl and thank me later.
7/8/2020 02:27:20 pm
I watched the Stargirl pilot before it aired, and I tweeted at the time how much I enjoyed it. It's a fun show, but its riff on Smallville doesn't have a lot to discuss because its not much more than its glossy, entertaining surface. The only interesting thing is the bonkers consequences of trying to update a 1940s/1950s timeline to 2010-2020. Unless you're a much bigger DC comics geek than I will ever be, it doesn't leave a lot of room for complex analysis.
7/8/2020 07:23:18 pm
"Complex analysis" is for poor misguided souls who watch bad TV. Vide supra. I said "watch it" not "write about it".
7/8/2020 09:44:27 pm
For Goodness' sake.
7/8/2020 11:15:06 pm
I skim Jason's reviews of bad TV until I realize "Oh, this is more bad TV" then I stop. I don't need someone to watch something I would never watch because it sucks and then write about it. If Jason wants to do it I will defend to his death his right to do it but don't expect me to be the least bit interested.
Buddhist Warrior Nun
7/9/2020 08:03:05 am
The raison d'etre for this blog is a forum for Mr. Colavito to watch and review lousy programs that most here don't want to waste time watching. So cute that you don't think that you need someone to do that but have been the Cliff Clavin of the site for years.
7/9/2020 11:34:58 am
If this is a TV show blog as you claim, you might want to ask Jason why he wastes time on reviewing books, websites, and press releases. It's about shitty TV gotdammit! That's all it's about! Don't question me!
Buddhist Warrior Nun
7/9/2020 05:48:19 pm
Jason has repeatedly discussed that the blog served as a forum for reviewing Ancient Aliens. Then there was America Unearthed and too many other programs to enumerate. All of them on TV. All of them crappy. You have been well represented in the subsequent discussions of his reviews. Some filler here and there devoted to books or other media doesn't change the primary focus.
7/10/2020 01:18:27 am
7/8/2020 07:22:46 pm
Yeah from the sounds of it Stargirl is much better than this. On Netflix I would suggest watching the Last Kingdom.
7/12/2020 10:11:55 pm
I really like "Last Kingdom." But me liking it is NOTING compared to my wife LOVING IT! I am not making this up: We watched the entire series THREE times in one month! It's a lot like we watched all the Patriot games cause my wife was mad about Tom Brady. Now she's mad about Uhtred. Go figure. BTW, the next season of "Last Kingdom" was just authorized. Someone in my house was SO frickin happy, but I won't tell you who.
7/8/2020 08:02:42 pm
I haven't watched Warrior Nun, so I can't comment on its merits or lack there of, but...
7/12/2020 10:18:08 pm
The star of "Warrior Nun" is not at all like Jason portrays her. She is VERY pretty, very sharp, and as I was just saying to my wife, makes sharp and quick jokes that some grumps may not get.
7/26/2020 01:20:32 pm
I just finished Warrior Nun and I found it better than the first season of Buffy.
7/9/2020 01:52:24 am
I thought Babylon 5 (1993-1998) marked the transition to serialized storytelling
7/9/2020 09:31:19 am
Yeah I agree that B5 was where the transition truly started. Its season long story arcs were much superior to what Buffy did
7/9/2020 07:53:15 pm
Agreed. Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine with it's multi season Dominion arc.
7/10/2020 09:40:41 am
Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 aren't monster of the week shows (but could be 'incident of the week' which isn't so different structurally), which Buffy still is despite the arcs. X-Files was also 93 and a multi-season arc staggered around monster of the week episodes but I believe that was much less structured than Buffy.
7/10/2020 12:58:31 pm
I quite about thirty minutes in having spent the previous ten constantly looking to see how much time was left. I just gave up on there being anymore remotely interesting happening. Or, you know, anything much happening at all.
7/26/2020 01:18:35 pm
I just finished Warrior Nun and found it to be much better than Jason's review made it sound. Yeah the first episode had issue but it got much better.
5/3/2023 06:42:25 pm
As a huge fan of joss and buffy , lets understand that the warrior nun first appeared in comics in 1987 and on its own in 94 ....( before the buffy series in 97 starts) so how do we know joss wasnt taking something from it? Just saying.....
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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