The full season of The Peripheral is now streaming on Prime Video.
By Greg Wheeler
When the trailer for The Peripheral came out, it promised a polished, sci-fi experience and an intriguing story that dealt with large questions. While Season 1 of the show fulfills the first of those expectations, it lags behind on the second.
The Peripheral follows the life of Flynne Fisher, a young girl living a simple life in a small town in the year 2032. She spends her time indulging in VR video games called sims. One day she and her brother beta test a new sim that introduces them to a fantastic new world. But Flynne soon realizes there is nothing virtual about this world — it is the future itself.
The 10-episode series starts off well enough. It throws you into two worlds — Clanton, USA in 2032 and London in 2099. A yellow haze overlays the Clanton scenes while future London has the polished steel-and-glass look of any futuristic setting. All the visual check marks of a sci-fi series are present — sophisticated robots, high-end tech and appropriately avant-garde fashion.
But while the high production value reels viewers in, the narrative lets them down. At any given point, it feels like there are five different storylines. And while each of them are intriguing on their own — whether it is the relationship between a nephew and his abusive uncle or an assistant’s politically motivated betrayal — they don’t quite fit together to form a bigger picture. The show struggles to balance out all these storylines leading to a confusing structure.
To make an unevenly paced show even more off-balance, The Peripheral is also peppered with tons of one-on-one conversations. The characters talk to each other a lot. They discuss the future and the past, memories and history, control and violence. While some of these conversations led to the show’s more poignant moments, a majority of them dragged down the pace without offering any special insight.
The creators of the show have mentioned that they wanted to focus on the humanity of the characters. While these conversations make a commendable effort, it falls short of a strong emotional impact. Sadly, some of them just amount to telling rather than showing.
The weak narrative feels like even more of a letdown because of the show’s unique and intriguing characters. T’Nia Miller’s charisma as the primary antagonist is irresistible and Eli Goree does a fantastic job as the disabled Conner. Charlotte Riley’s Aelita takes the cake though. Her sarcasm and inscrutability make her the perfect enigma. It’s a shame then, that she gets such less screen time. It’s a further shame that neither Flynne nor Wilf Netherton, the series’ leading characters, made it to this list. Both are compelling characters but don’t have much in the way of personal growth and, as a result, feel a little flat towards the end.
At its heart, this series could not decide what it wanted to be. And there were several options: a contemplative look at the relationship between technology and humans and how one affects the other; a post-apocalyptic future with three primary political powers in constant struggle with each other; a battle between the past and the future that reflects colonial themes mixed in with a romance. Instead, the show tries to pack all of this into one and it’s like mixing three very delicious meals into one unappetizing whole.
I give The Peripheral a D+.