The Peripheral on Prime Video is based on the book of the same name by William Gibson. What’s better than a sci-fi show that builds up a fascinating futuristic world populated with intriguing characters and ideas that make you go “ooooh”? Yes, TWO fascinating futuristic worlds...
The year is 2032, and we're in Canton County, Blue Ridge Mountains in the aftermath of a civil war where times are hard and prices and suspicions are high. And so ate some of the residents. Flynne (Chlöe Grace Moretz), is in her 20s and struggling to look after her sick mother and pay for her medication.
Her ex-soldier brother Burton (Jack Reynor) is making money by being a gamer online for hire and after Flynne helps him complete one job, he reveals that he has a “big” opportunity lined up.
The big job is using an experimental headset sent by a mysterious client. Once you put the headset on, you don't need a controller as you ARE the avatar and you control it by thinking. This means you can feel what the “you” in the game is feeling too. Including pain.
As the better player, Flynne goes first and finds herself piloting a body in 2099, London. A voice in her head is talking her through a James Bond like mission: fast bikes, glamorous cars, a high society party, seduction, and violence. When she goes back the next day for the next part of the mission, it all feels a little too real. And then when Flynn gets back to her time, it seems that the two worlds are connected in ways she can’t yet imagine. What would people in the future want in this past? And why would the future need someone from the past?
This is an ambitious sci-fi that has lofty aspirations of combining philosophical conversations, complex manipulations of time, and the power of the state and corporations and how they use people. Oh and most definitely that sci-fi fave: the dangers of tech and robots taking over.
If you’re thinking some of this sounds familiar then maybe that’s because it’s produced by some of the same people responsible for Westworld and Person of Interest - namely Noreen O’Toole and Jonathan Nolan. If you’re a fan of those, you’ll probably go for this too. And if you thought they had some glaring flaws, well, firstly: ME TOO, and secondly, The Peripheral has some similar flaws - complicated, lots of po-faced serious chats explaining the plot, one dimensional characters - but, there is more variety and intrigue here. We also get some innovative technology in both timelines and spectacular action sequences that match - even surpass? - what you might get on the big screen. Invisible cars, biological tech, and telepathically linked soldiers are just a few of the devices deployed.
Now I like nonsense stuff that has convoluted plots and ridiculous mysteries that keep popping out of other mysteries like a magical Russian doll; think of a show that kept adding twists and not properly resolving them and I probably enjoyed it. BUT I absolutely understand anyone that bails on this because they say “the heck is that now?” one too many times. I did occasionally feel like I needed a glossary to keep track of the jargon (stubs, polts, the Klep, peripherals) and expanding cast of characters in both timelines.
And I’ll also acknowledge that I can often enjoy things that aren’t any good.
The Peripheral has some grand designs that would have even Kevin McCloud exasperated at the scale and opulence. For the $175million budget, this series delivers some impressive visuals - but that’s a bit like saying “hmm, this £20 cup of coffee has a real coffee taste.” Does anyone pay £20 for a coffee? I bet someone does.
So yes, it rightly looks good. It also sounds good. The soundtrack is fun, although perhaps a little more surefooted and in the Blue Ridge Mountains setting with some bluesy rocky country tracks livening things up - thanks for getting me into Colton Wall.
That sort of describes this series for me too - one half feeling more accomplished than the other. In fact, the 2032 sections probably have more in common with a western in terms of the characters and set up; the storylines and relationships here are much easier to follow and connect with. When we step to the London of 2099 it’s a tad more chaotic and harder to keep up with. Although once T’Nia Miller shows up you can pretty much forget the plot and just enjoy her being smoothly terrifying.
If you’re thinking of giving this a go, a quick heads up - the first episode is LONG; it's close to 70 minutes long. But it does give you enough to know what it’s all about, what the show is going to be like, and it ends with a suitable cliffhanger. So you’ll know if it’s something you want to have front and centre of your viewing vision or…if it’ll remain on the periphery.
My biscuit rating? A Viscount. Can sometimes be a bit hard to get into, and you might enjoy the contrasting flavours as a bit of a luxury - or just a bit confusing.
You can stream all of season 1 now on Prime Video. I was all prepped to tell you that Season 2 had been confirmed when right after finishing writing this it was announced that the renewal had been cancelled and the whole show was now shelved. They blamed the strikes. Of course they did.