Brave New World Review
Peacock, Comcast, and NBC Universal’s new streaming service debuted Wednesday, and while the service isn’t emphasizing original content to the degree that some of its competitors have, the Peacock did put out a handful of original series, one of which is Brave New World, the latest take on Aldous Huxley’s famous novel from 1932.
The series, which is also debuting on Sky One in the U.K., sports a nice look and a talented cast culled from the ranks of previous prestige shows. But unfortunately, it doesn’t quite hold up, especially to the numerous, better takes on the dystopia genre that streaming services have been rolling out in recent months.
Brave New World, if you’re not familiar with Huxley’s novel, is the story of a dystopian city called New London, which has a rigid hierarchy, one challenged only by hero John the Savage. It’s a story so Orwellian that George Orwell once accused its author of plagiarizing it from his work.
Another notable thing about Brave New World is that despite its popularity and influence, it’s never had a successful movie adaptation, in the nearly 90 years since it was written. It was made into TV movies, in 1980 and 1998, and while Ridley Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio were said to be working on a new movie version about a decade ago, it never went forward.
This is not, needless to say, easily adaptable material, and unfortunately, the new TV series fails to break the streak. While the visuals are amazing in places, the plot is inert, and the characters shallow. And the storytelling, at least in the early episodes, proceeds at a crawl.
The series also has several fake TV commercials, which don’t do anything to alleviate the widespread confusion over the different tiers of Peacock, and which ones do and don’t have ads.
Leading the cast of Brave New World is Alden Ehrenreich, who had standout turns in Hail, Caesar and Rules Don’t Apply, both in 2016 before his movie career hit a screeching halt with his turn in 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, which the subjects of leaks that his acting required additional acting coaching.
I always thought Ehrenreich got a bum rap from that, as he was far from the biggest problem in that movie, and Brave New World represents his chance at a comeback. He’s fine in the lead role, but not quite enough to rise above the lackluster material he’s given.
Also in the cast of Downton Abbey veteran Jessica Brown Findlay, Game of Thrones’ Harry Lloyd and Demi Moore, as the hero’s mother.
The music supervisor is probably the most valuable player of the series, sprinkling in such perfect choices, on the first episode, as Goldfrapp’s “Happiness,” and ending with the final chorus of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees.” But when that’s the case, it’s probably not a very good show.
One way, among many, that Brave New World falls short is that this sort of dystopian storytelling is done so often these days, yet usually much better than this. Take Black Mirror, for example. Or FX/Hulu’s amazing Devs. Or The Handmaid’s Tale, or even the (also lackluster) TNT version of Snowpiercer. None of them have the literary pedigree of Brave New World, but they’re all better shows.
Brave New World, whose showrunner is David Wiener, had been developed at a couple of other networks, including Syfy and USA. Its arrival on Peacock- as well as its less-than-prominent place in the advertising for it- indicates that the new streaming service might serve less as a place for high-end programming, but rather as a dumping ground for stuff with no other obvious place in the NBC Universal constellation.
The entire first season is available to watch on Peacock.