Every once in a while, there’s a moment of pop-cultural serendipity suggesting that a bunch of film and TV creators are thinking about the same things at the same time. Consider when Turner & Hooch and K-9 both premiered in 1989, a year when we clearly had a lot of anxiety about dog cops. Or when Deep Impact and Armageddon arrived in theaters in 1998, hearkening back to a nigh-forgotten time when we, as a society, didn’t root for meteors. 2006 gave us a duo of magician-centric dramas in The Illusionist and The Prestige, a prescient prelude to the housing-market collapse. (Because the boom was … an illusion. Get it?)
You get the picture: As David Lynch’s Twin Peaks once warned us, this all happened before, and it’s happening again. Given that Netflix’s Sherlock Holmes spinoff The Irregulars and HBO’s dark Joss Whedon fantasy The Nevers premiered within a month of each other, apparently early 2021 is the moment for alt-history Victorian ensemble-cast dramas mostly about women facing supernatural threats. And so now we are presented with the same problem previous generations have faced with such serendipity: How the hell are we supposed to tell them apart?
For that, allow me to present this handy guide, for use whenever you might come across a clip on social media or an episode in progress.
[Ed. note: Some spoilers for both shows follow]
IS THERE A DISTRESSINGLY LARGE GIRL?
This is probably the easiest way to tell which show you’re watching. If you see a 10-foot-tall child, you’re watching The Nevers. Her name is Primrose, and she’s very sweet, although she doesn’t do much in the show’s early episodes. Mostly, she’s just there, a Clifford-sized girl in search of a Clifford-sized dog. That would be a good addition to the show.
If you don’t see Primrose, we’re going to have to work a bit harder.
IS THERE A SYNTHESIZER?
Time to use your ears. Would you describe the soundtrack as a bop? It’s probably The Irregulars, unless you’re into strings and harpsichords, which is fine, but I want some information on your choreo. Also since both shows indulge in “Victorian sounds,” you need to listen for The Irregulars’ occasional indulgence in a pop song (you can hear Billie Eilish at one point), or for when the score breaks out the synths for its “Oh shit!” moments, which The Nevers does, well … never.
IS ONE OF THE CHARACTERS A PONCY RICH LAD SLUMMING IT WITH THE LADIES?
You’re gonna have to be more specific.
IS HE A NICE PONCY RICH LAD?
Oh, that’s The Irregulars, which features Leopold, a secret prince. Just like Char, from Gundam!
WHICH SHOW IS CO-LED BY A WHITE WOMAN WHO CAN SEE THE FUTURE?
OKAY, WHICH ONE FOCUSES ON ORPHANS?
Also both! The Irregulars is about the street urchins who assist Sherlock Holmes, and The Nevers is about people with strange abilities isolated from polite society, so they’re both very concerned about people deemed undesirable. This is a good thing they have in common! But it won’t help you identify the show your partner is watching in the other room, so next question?
THERE SEEMS TO BE SOME OCCULT STUFF.
That’s The Irregulars! That will probably come as a surprise since that’s supposed to be a Sherlock Holmes-adjacent show, but The Irregulars is hella supernatural. It works, though, honest!
WHAT ABOUT ALIENS?
That one is The Nevers. This is the big twist at the end of the pilot. (Spoilers ahead!) Some magical-looking spaceship flying over London is actually what bestowed strange “turns” (powers) on a random assortment of Londoners, and the show is determined to keep the explanation behind that close to the vest for now. So I can’t really explain any more here, but feel free to use this handy mnemonic: “If it flies in the sky, ’tis The Nevers, says I.”
DID I JUST SEE HITLER?
If you watched The Irregulars, you sure did! You’re also near the very end of the show, so you might want to back up a bit and catch up. The series is pretty good.
WELL WHICH ONE SHOULD I BE WATCHING?
The Irregulars, probably. That’s the one that’s actually British, so you can be smug about that.