These days, seeing a show with the tagline “from the creators of” is not necessarily a call for excitement. The amount of homework to follow in its complex final seasons, it’s just silly. The good news: If you’re still doing this homework, you can ditch it now. Your time studying complex sci-fi narratives is better spent on The Peripheral.
The main reason for this: The new series from Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy is much easier to follow. That’s not to say it’s not challenging for the mind. General Scheme: Two worlds are connected by advanced technology that is used by various factions for good and evil.
It helps that the events of The Peripheral unfold through the eyes of a young, blonde, female protagonist – not unlike Westworld’s Alice in Wonderland figure Dolores. Except Flynn Fisher isn’t a murderous sentient robot. It comes from the pages of the source material for The Peripheral: a 2014 novel by influential cyberpunk writer William Gibson. If you haven’t heard of Gibson, here’s how influential he is: He coined the term cyber space.
Chloe Grace Moretz might be the perfect choice for the role of the good Flynn. Moretz is from Georgia, so her singing southern accent is what a southern accent should sound like. Flynn and her ex-soldier brother Burton—Midsommar’s Jack Rayner, whose accent also sounds realistic, even though he’s not from Georgia—live somewhere in rural America about 10 years in the future. They provide medicine for their ailing mother (Melinda Page Hamilton) by working various jobs, including playing a virtual reality video game known as a “sim”.
The alternate reality prepares Flynn and Burton for great rewards and even greater dangers. The best part is seeing Flynn, a gamer more skilled than his brother, become the Chosen One who is crucial to the grand plans of a secret group in the game Future London.
The even better part is every time Flynn gets over her stupidity of the innocent girl stuck in a small town. Unexpectedly, she ends up hitting on someone in the game, compensating for her many vulnerabilities in real life, including being bullied by the local drug dealers.
Unlike Amazon’s recent efforts to slow-burn sci-fi —and — The Peripheral has a lot more than a few scraps to fuel its narrative. More than one major plot point detonated in the first episode. Tense, sometimes brutal action scenes abound.
Yet for better or worse, Westworld-style over-the-top characters have found their way into this new world. Future London is populated by a group of smartly dressed people in power who gesticulate, proclaim and pontificate in grand fashion. While the stark contrast between would-be Londoners and rural Americans seems to be a deliberate choice, it does occasionally elicit a smile.
The worst (and funniest) part of The Peripheral is a character who literally says, “Everything can be pretty confusing, even for us. Perhaps we should stick to the most urgent things and trust that the secondary details will fall into place. ” That sounds like Clemens Posey’s character in Tenet (directed by Jonathan Nolan’s brother Christopher) saying, “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.”
Still, The Peripheral isn’t as compelling as it could be. Of course, the alternate realities and unfamiliar technological terms start to pile up. You will need to learn “stub” (parallel timeline); “jockeying” (playing games on behalf of other people); and “peripheral” (an android into which one’s consciousness can be inserted). But the design of the show’s near-future dual is surprisingly minimalistic and smartly integrated. Some of the technology—digital road arrows pointing where automated cars are headed—must exist in our world. Dystopia seems like what Joy and Nolan are really going for with Westworld.
Sometimes simple really is best. Joy and Nolan strike the right balance between likable, relatable characters and their journey down the labyrinthine rabbit hole of technology gone wrong. In other words, The Peripheral creates just the right amount of mind-blowing power without breaking the illusion.
Episode 1 of The Peripheral hits Prime Video on Friday.
Movies coming in 2022 from Marvel, Netflix, DC and more
See all photos