Peacock's adaptation of the classic Aldous Huxley novel is way too familiar but has a soapy vitality.

By Darren Franich
July 09, 2020 at 02:19 PM EDT
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Steve Schofield/Peacock

Brave New World doesn’t waste time getting to the orgy, a futuristic hotties-only naked dance set to bumping techno. Party like it’s 1999 and The Matrix sequels might still be good: That’s the pitch on this Aldous Huxley adaptation, a slapdash portrait of revolution, individuality, and the existential sorrow of doin’ it every night. In glimmering New London, Lenina (Jessica Brown Findlay) and Bernard (Harry Lloyd) live affectless programmed bliss, popping the happy pill Soma while they dream of something more. Meanwhile, in a broken land once called America, scrappy John (Alden Ehrenreich) works junk jobs in trash city, dreaming of something equally more.

The series (streaming Wednesday on Peacock) spins Huxley’s novel in some unexpected directions. Even on his most soaring mescaline trip, I doubt the author ever imagined John’s mom as a blond-wigged drunk rocking eternal negligee while flirting with her own son. That character’s played by Demi Moore, working overtime to defibrillate any expression at all onto Ehrenreich’s dour mug. You learn a lot about an actor when you see their Orgy Face, and the poor Solo star looks perpetually stranded here, less Savage than Slightly Perturbed.

It doesn't help that the overall tone veers from media satire to genetic-industrial horror. There is a totally awesome action setpiece at the end of the second hour. Filming that must have been a budget-burner; I've seen six episodes, and a couple look like they're saving money on recycling hallways. Brave New World tries hard to re-modernize its nine-decade-old source material, but all the additions feel like yesterday's futurism. The trendy god-computer makes for a limp central mystery. The reductive portrait of class warfare would’ve felt cheap in a Hunger Games rip-off 10 years ago. Somewhat unusually for a big streaming drama, this show seems to be figuring itself out on the fly. There is a full-blown rebellion in the early episodes, and then nobody really mentions it for awhile.

So the series mostly fails as a globe-spanning serialized saga. But some genuinely sly comedy kicks in once fussy Bernard starts shepherding John into high society. Think Seth and Ryan if The O.C. had worse clothes and more abs, and the incongruously Josh Schwartz-ian soundtrack mixtapes Radiohead and Stevie Nicks with a touch of Goldfrapp. This isn’t a slow-burn Netflix drama with all the big plot points lurking in the finale; there are frequent, cheesy, surprising deaths. By the time the romantic triangle heats up, Brave New World has successfully put the “soap” back in “dystopia.” I swear that pun works if you take the right pills. B-

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