‘The Peripheral’ Review: Prime Video’s Latest Series Is Convoluted But Has Promise

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Like many of their new shows this year, Prime Video has clearly put a lot of money behind The Peripheral, a new sci-fi thriller based on the novel of the same name by William Gibson. Executive produced by Westworld creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy and bolstering an impressive cast led by Chloë Grace Moretz, Jack Reynor, Gary Carr, and Eli Goree, among others, the new series has all the makings of a hit for the streaming platform. Even looking simply at the trailers for the series, it’s hard not to be intrigued by the marketing for the show, including curious-looking androids that could be plucked straight out of Westworld and action scenes inspired by The Matrix.

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The Peripheral takes place in the near future, where we meet Flynne Fisher (Moretz), who lives with her ex-Marine brother Burton (Fisher) and their mother (Melinda Page Hamilton) while working at a 3D printing shop. It’s abundantly clear that Flynne is much brighter than her circumstances may lead you to believe, so much so that she finds much of her family and friends rely on her for help. Flynne ends up covering for her brother one night with his shift inside a virtual reality game that looks all too real. While inside the game, she makes a shocking and startling discovery, thus entrenching her into a conspiracy that poses a threat to everything and everyone she thought she knew.

From there, it’s hard to go further into The Peripheral‘s story without ruining any of the surprises that the series has in store for its audience, and also from this point, the series becomes increasingly harder to follow, with a convoluted plot that will leave even the most hard-core sci-fi fans scratching their heads and rewinding the episodes in an effort to decipher what’s even going on. The series has plenty of similarities to other popular genre titles, initially with a set-up akin to Ready Player One, a bleak but realistic-looking future that isn’t too far away complete with technology that could be announced within the next year. As the episodes progress, the series starts to bear more of a resemblance to The Matrix, complete with Moretz sporting a black leather outfit and finding herself in an unlikely romance, as well as going up against shady officials like T’Nia Miller‘s wonderfully monotone Cherise.

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Even with a plot that becomes more and more overcomplicated, there is something that makes The Peripheral so inherently watchable, at least for its pilot episode. Thanks to the level of detail in its direction, including the cyber-punk streets of London and small-town America, the scope and scale of the series shockingly never feel too jarring or distracting. In fact, it’s the worldbuilding that The Peripheral does best. From the strange giant statues that stand toe to toe with the buildings in London to the backstories of each of the characters, even how the series plays around with different sci-fi tropes like time travel and cyborgs, some of it may seem a little too familiar, but there are other aspects that are fresh and exciting.

Flynn’s first outing into the streets of London in the pilot is particularly enchanting; it’s hard not to be compelled by how this real city suddenly looks like it’s the map of a video game, complete with arrows, guiding Flynn’s avatar to a luxurious mansion. We’ve seen recent films like Free Guy play around with this, but The Peripheral‘s approach is more punk-rock compared to that film’s bubble-gum pop approach. There is a clear effort to make The Peripheral stand out; sometimes it works great, while other times its derivative and overcomplicated nature gets in the way. Black leather can only take you so far.

The performances are another standout in The Peripheral. Moretz is no stranger to the action genre; she broke out in a big way with her role as the pint-sized vigilante Hit Girl in Kick-Ass and reprised the role in the sequel, shared the screen with Denzel Washington in the first Equalizer film, and faced off against a gremlin-like creature on a B-17 in Shadow in the Cloud. Her role in The Peripheral shows once again that she makes for an excellent action star. Goree, who is coming off of his scene-stealing turn as Muhammad Ali in One Night in Miami, is another major highlight of the cast in the role of Connor, a former Marine alongside Burton, who lost both his legs and one of his arms overseas. While initially not as present in the first couple of episodes, Connor is taken in some unexpected directions, and Goree is able to pull it off perfectly. The central villains, played by Miller and Louis Herthum respectively, make for an intimidating presence, and you can tell just how much they are enjoying themselves in their roles.

The deeper one gets into The Peripheral, the more confusing it becomes, and with each episode clocking in at around an hour, the pacing starts to fluctuate, showcasing a pulse-pounding action sequence one moment and then trying to insert a romance that doesn’t always work in the next. Characters will come and go from the story, and with so much happening on the screen that begs for the audience to pay close attention to every frame, the series may prove to be not so satisfying for those looking for a new show to sit back and watch on the weekends now that Rings of Power has concluded and House of the Dragon is nearing its finale. It’ll be interesting to see how The Peripheral will wrap itself up in its remaining two episodes, and whether the series will have a future on Prime Video beyond its first season. It has a lot of promise, and when it works, it’s one of the most exciting new series on television, but there are quite a bit of issues holding it back from being the next genre hit.

Rating: B-

The Peripheral premieres on Prime Video on October 21.



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Las Vegas News Magazine

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