Alibi V.29 No.31 • July 30-Aug 5, 2020 

Idiot Box

Future Imperfect

“Brave New World” on Peacock

Brave New World
Peacock

Once upon a time, science fiction stories existed to give us glimpses into far-flung futures, worlds that we either aspired to or feared of becoming. From Jules Verne’s centuries-spanning sociological speculation Shape of Things to Come to the push-button simplicity of “The Jetsons” to the miniskirt-clad twentysomething deathwish of Logan’s Run to the damp and dour inhumanity of Blade Runner, science fiction has provided us with portentous blueprints of our myriad possible futures. But since the turn of the latest century, science fiction seems to have shed a lot of its prognostication skills, offering up oddly familiar “futuristic” worlds that are little more than thinly veiled metaphors for our own modern society. Look no further than red-hot sci-fi offerings “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Westworld” for proof. Aside from a few plausible, “near future” technical additions and some amping up of select paranoias, the shows neatly mirror the look and feel of today’s iPad-and-smartphone-filled world.

In taking on Aldous Huxley’s seminal utopian/dystopian novel Brave New World, NBC’s newly launched Peacock streaming service follows this trend, boiling Huxley’s prescient novel down to a world that—preponderance of pre-poured concrete architecture aside—is comfortingly (or discomfitingly) familiar.

“Brave New World” keeps the overall framework of Huxley’s work. Sometime in the future, the city of New London is a caste system of genetically engineered humans—from the “perfect” intellectual Alphas to the dimwitted worker drone Epsilons. Privacy, monogamy and unhappiness are considered primitive and selfish. Everyone lives in a happy, drug-enhanced world of bliss. Lenina Crowne (Jessica Brown Findlay from “Downton Abbey”) works at the Hatchery, birthing the next generation of test tube citizens. But she’s unsatisfied and finds herself drifting toward an exclusive sexual relationship with one of her co-workers. This aberrent behavior attracts the attention of her quietly efficient boss Bernard Marx (Harry Lloyd from BBC’s “Robin Hood” and HBO’s “Game of Thrones”), who encourages her to take more drugs and attend more orgies. But deep down, Bernard has his own doubts about his place in this rigidly structured society.

Lenina and Bernard’s lives take a radical turn when they opt for a vacation in the “Savage Lands.” What amounted to a “primitive” Native reservation in New Mexico (in Huxley’s original book) has been updated to a trailer trash theme park “educating” visitors on the horrors of ancient life (complete with phony reenactments of Black Friday sales and shotgun weddings). Here, our city dwellers cross paths with the story’s other major character, John the Savage (Alden Ehrenreich from Solo: A Star Wars Story), an equally dissatisfied future human—albeit on who grew up without the benefit of mood-enhancing drugs, holographic wardrobe changes and flying cars.

The show jazzes up Huxley’s chilly original story with some heavy-handed satire, a god-like computer (gotta have one of those) and plenty of bullet-riddled revolution. (To say nothing of Demi Moore, who shows up as John’s drunken, half-dressed, sexy wreck of a mother.) Lloyd pulls off the most successful character, vacillating between happy obedience to his wonderful society and a vague, gnawing doubt that his perfection isn’t quite perfect enough. Findlay looks good in the part and injects a bit of passion into the proceedings. Ehrenreich, on the other hand, comes across as distinctly bland stripped of Han Solo’s roguish charisma.

Between its regular orgies and its Hunger Games-like love for well-armed class warfare, the show is never boring, that’s for sure. But for all its effort, it really never gets a handle on Huxley’s text. Back in 1932 when it was published, Brave New World offered a wildly imaginative look at a scarcely conceivable future. It anticipated such scientific advancements as assisted reproductive technology, genetic engineering and psychological conditioning. And it pretty much nailed the free love and drug culture of the 1960s almost 40 years before Woodstock buried it all in a field of mud. But Peacock’s “Brave New World” fails to do any of that. It feels less like a farsighted glimpse into a future world of wonder and more like what it is: An unoriginal, corporate groupthink-produced sci-fi soap that uses successful contemporaries like “Westworld” as a photocopied blueprint.

Season 1 of “Brave New World” is available now on Peacock.