Prime Video Wants To Transport You To A Dull, Incoherent Future

Jan 10, 2023

Few recent sci-fi programs have premiered with the same fanfare and anticipation as Prime Video’s “The Peripheral,” dropping its first two episodes on the Amazon streamer on October 21st with a weekly rollout to follow. It’s got that Bezos money, the two main voices behind “Westworld,” and source material by the beloved William Gibson (it’s loosely based on his 2014 novel of the same name). And yet, almost from the very beginning, it’s a clunky disaster. The third season of “Westworld” was criticized for being a little hard to follow but it’s a straightforward narrative compared to this cluttered mess of a show, one that gives viewers almost no actual characters to care about and doesn’t have interesting enough ideas or style to make up for its hollowness. It’s a show that feels purposefully opaque as if being incoherent is a replacement for being smart.
READ MORE: ‘The Peripheral’ Trailer: Chloë Moretz Does Sci-Fi For ‘Westworld’ Creators Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy
The core inciting incident of “The Peripheral” is admittedly intriguing. It’s everything that’s built on that incident that smothers it. In the premiere, the show introduces Flynne Fisher (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her ex-Marine brother Burton (Jack Reynor), who live with their dying mother in a crumbling America in 2032. In just ten scant years, virtual reality simulations will be way more immersive than they are now, and Burton makes some cash by playing sims for customers who want better scores. One night, Flynne takes on the role of her brother’s avatar in a new sim and travels to London in 2099, where she breaks into a corporation to steal a secret and encounters some neat future tech. The problems start when Flynne and Burton realize that the sim wasn’t actually a sim but a sort of time travel, a way to send someone’s consciousness into an avatar that exists decades into the future. And it’s dropped the Fishers into a fight for power that will extend back to their present day.
Clearly, promising echoes of “The Terminator,” “The Matrix,” and “Westworld” ripple through the concept of “The Peripheral,” but the writing of the show is like a flow chart that never circles back to the beginning, just adding new bubbles along the way. Six episodes in—all that was sent to press—the writing is still intent on building out the world of this show instead of actually doing anything within it. It’s a show with no stakes because the writers have no interest in relatable, grounded goals for their characters. The people in the world of this show are pawns on a philosophical chessboard that’s driven by so much sci-fi mumbo jumbo that it becomes increasingly impossible to care who wins. Every other conversation is weighed down with so much pretentious meaning that’s never tied back to anything relatable. “Westworld” often succumbed to this problem, but it had a core idea about what it means to be human that it could always fall back on, and a great ensemble to sell its more out-there ideas. It also remembered to be fun every once in a while, something that “The Peripheral” almost entirely ignores.
More of this could be forgiven if “The Peripheral” created interesting worlds to explore, but it doesn’t bother. It takes place on two tracks that compete in terms of hollow clichés with the cheesy North Carolina accents of the present day competing with the mostly exaggerated speech patterns of the future—which are a bit British and a bit nonsense. The writers don’t even bother to clue viewers in on why the future looks and sounds a bit weird until the fourth episode, which includes a literal “World History” museum presentation in one of the most blatant exposition dumps in years. “The Peripheral” loves an exposition dump—everyone is always talking about what they need to do and what they need to overcome to do it—and yet even they don’t go anywhere. It’s also barely interested in action, throwing in a few scenes here and there that feel like watching someone else play a bad video game.
To be fair, there are a few interesting performances buried in the nonsense. Eli Goree, who played Cassius Clay in “One Night in Miami…,” continues to display notable star power as Burton’s BFF. His sheer charisma sometimes shocks “The Peripheral” to life and he’s the easy MVP. Reynor and Moretz, who are often good, don’t fare as well, dragged down by inconsistent non-characters. And the dismal future that this show imagines is populated by performers dragged into this show’s miserable tone in a way that allows none of them to stand out. You can almost see the actors getting bored by their own lines.
The problems with “The Peripheral” almost all come back to writing (although it’s depressingly flat in design terms too). It’s a show that seems to be actively fighting viewer investment, complicating itself further with each passing episode. There’s a difference between trusting the viewer to follow a complex season-long plot and the feeling that a show is being made up as it goes along. “The Peripheral” is constantly throwing in new characters and ideas instead of pushing forward the ones it set up in the last episode.
Six hours in, the stakes and worlds of “The Peripheral” have barely been defined more than they were during the premiere because this is a program that only the people who wrote it could love. Showrunner Scott B. Smith, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy exploded the world of Gibson’s novel but never bothered to put the pieces back together into something interesting. [D]

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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