The book Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is one of the defining pieces of dystopian science fiction literature. It was a revolutionary piece of speculation when it was published in 1932. However, much has changed about our vision of the future in the nearly one-hundred years since Huxley’s book was published. When it came time to adapt the story for modern streaming audiences, it was always going to be interesting to see what form the narrative would take and what elements would be reconfigured.
Most interesting in this iteration is the involvement of Grant Morrison and Brian Taylor early in the creative process, the manic geniuses behind the underloved Happy!. While it looks like they were only involved in a few key moments in the series, their anarchic touch is apparent in the early part of the series. The idea that feels most like their brand of twisted comedy/satire is the Savage Lands, a Disneyesque theme park that showcases the lives of humans that don’t live in the advanced World State. There are a number of dark gags and ideas – for example, an entire attraction based on recreating a store opening on Black Friday – that give Brave New World a flavor all its own.
Unfortunately, the few bits of Peacock’s Brave New World that do stand out as clever or enjoyable are smothered by an overall muted tone that the show can’t quite break out of. It’s evident that this wants to appear as Prestige TV, but in doing so it ends up sacrificing a lot of its uniqueness. There’s a sense that the series wants to be accessible to as wide an audience as possible, but also retain the strong genre weirdness that’s inherent to the property. It’s this kind of dissonance that creates an unsure attitude in what the show wants to be.
Contributing to that is the soap opera level of relationship work written into Brave New World. The eventual love triangle feels so familiar and insipid. That’s depressing for a number of reasons, one of them being that the actors involved are all far better than the material they are being given. Solo‘s Alden Ehrenreich never reaches the level of charming or seductive that the character of John the Savage needs. Whereas Jessica Brown Finley and Harry Lloyd are tamped down in their portrayals of Lenina Crowne and Bernard Marx because the material keeps them there. It’s always disappointing to see good actors struggling to make weaker material shine, and that’s definitely the case with this outing.
There are things about Brave New World that are impressive, even if they don’t necessarily work or contribute to a visionary take on the material. The futuristic society of New London is sharply realized but the conceptualization of everything feels so boring and well-worn. You’ve seen this kind of outlook in sci-fi design a dozen times before in Black Mirror, Westworld, and many forgettable cinematic sci-fi riffs like The Giver or Oblivion. It’s all sleek and minimalistic to the point where everything bleeds together. There’s obviously an argument to be made that this is the point the aesthetic is trying to drive home, but it doesn’t make it engaging or provocative to sit with for nine hours.
Probably the most damning thing that one can say about Brave New World is that it doesn’t ever reach a point where it challenges its audience. The commentary on display is apparent and comes directly from Huxley’s book, but the show doesn’t seem interested in making big thematic waves. Instead, the science fiction of everything becomes a backdrop for meandering plotting and pat character drama. That would be excusable if the plot was thrilling and the conflict between characters was something you could invest in, but the series never finds the right rhythm for either of these elements. As it is, the show ends up feeling as monotonous and indistinct as the dystopia it wishes to criticize.
It’s disheartening to see Peacock’s Brave New World be so run-of-the-mill as the source material allows for a number of exciting interpretations. This show could have gone in any wild direction it wanted, but it opted for a take that feels like the safest possible outcome. By doing so, it comes out feeling like the worst kind of television: something you’ve seen before and that you’ve seen done much, much better.