These days, seeing a show with hype “from the creators” is not necessarily a cause for concern. The amount of homework that needs to be done its muddled final seasons are just plain stupid. The good news is, if you’re still doing homework, you can ditch it. Your time for learning complex sci-fi narratives is better spent on The Peripheral.
The main reason for this is that keeping up with new series from Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy is much easier. That’s not to say that it’s not a challenging idea. General scheme: The two worlds are connected by advanced technology used by various factions for good and evil.
Helpfully, the events of Periphery unfold through the eyes of a young, blonde female protagonist — a lookalike of Westworld’s Alice in Wonderland figure, Dolores. Except Flynn Fisher isn’t a murderous intelligent robot. It is taken from the pages of the source material 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 virtual space.
Chloe Grace Moretz might be the perfect choice for the role of the good Flynn. Moretz is from Georgia, so her sharp southern accent is what a southern accent should sound like. Flynn and her ex-soldier brother Burton — Midsummer’s Jack Raynor, 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 “the sim.”
In an alternate reality, Flynn and Burton face great rewards and even greater danger. The best part is seeing Flynn, a gamer more experienced than her brother, become the Chosen One, crucial to the secret group’s grand plans in the Future London game.
An even better part is whenever Flynn gets over his innocent girl stuck in the town. Unexpectedly, she beats someone in the game, making up for her many weaknesses in real life, including being bullied by local drug dealers.
Unlike Amazon’s recent slow-burn sci-fi effort –and — The Peripheral has a lot more than a few ashes to fuel its narrative. More than one major plot point detonates in the first episode. There are a lot of intense, sometimes merciless actions.
Still, for better or worse, over-the-top Westworld -esque characters have found their way into this new world. Future London is populated by a group of smartly dressed men in power who gesticulate, speak and pontificate in grand style. While the stark contrast between up-and-coming Londoners and rural Americans seems like a deliberate choice, it still makes you chuckle from time to time.
The scariest (and funniest) part of The Peripheral is the character who literally says, “This can all be pretty confusing, even for us. Maybe we should just deal with the most immediate things and trust that the minor details will fall into place.” It sounds like Clemens Posey’s character in Tenet (directed by Jonathan Nolan’s brother Christopher) saying, “Don’t try to figure it out. Feel it.”
Still, The Peripheral isn’t as stunning as it could be. Of course, the alternate realities and unfamiliar technological terms start to pile up. You will need to learn the “plug” (parallel timeline); “jockeying” (games on behalf of other people); and “peripheral” (an android into which someone’s consciousness can be inserted). But the design of the double show of the near future is surprisingly minimalistic and intelligently integrated. Some of the technology – digital arrows on the road that show where automated cars are going – must exist in our world. Dystopian feels like what Joy and Nolan were really going for with Westworld.
Sometimes simple is better. Joy and Nolan strike the right balance between likable, relatable characters and their journey down a labyrinthine rabbit hole of technology gone wrong. In other words, The Peripheral creates just the right amount of immersive power without breaking the illusion.
Episode 1 of The Peripheral is out on Prime Video on Friday.
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