Brave New World is the latest attempt to bring Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel to the screen. This is the third time for an official adaptation, and also the third version on television. There was a long-mooted feature film adaptation with Leonardo DiCaprio and Ridley Scott attached, but that version went by the wayside around a decade ago. This new version is the first attempt to make it into a long-form series, but the show got shitcanned pretty quickly, becoming the first major cancellation on the NBC-affiliated streamer Peacock.
Even most of those who haven’t read the book have a basic idea of what Brave New World is about: a dystopian story set sometime in the future where the population of New London are pacified by drugs, media and free love, and monogamy, privacy, money, family and history are forbidden by the state. The showrunners have added a wireless system named Indra that connects the population, something Huxley obviously didn’t conceive of in 1931. Then counsellor Bernard Marx (Harry Lloyd) and Lenina Crown (Jessica Brown Findlay) end up on a trip to the Savage Lands, where John (Alden Ehrenreich) lives. After a violent rebellion, he ends up coming to New London, and not everything goes to plan.
Grant Morrison is one of the writers on the show, which sparked some interest in giving Brave New World a shot. Morrison wrote the anarchist comic book The Invisibles, and also did a memorable run on Doom Patrol, which is clearly what the current HBO MAX show is drawing upon. The best parts of Brave New World are probably down to their (Morrison recently came out as non-binary) contribution, which indulges in all the druggy philosophizing (everybody knows Huxley was tripping balls when he wrote the novel) and the hedonistic lifestyle in New London. When reviewing the show, the Daily Mail used the headline “Brave Nude World,” and Morrison posted on their Twitter holding the paper up and laughing at the ridiculous headline.
The main issue with the show is that it clearly wanted to be the new Westworld, but without the huge budget and with the fact the characters are deliberately drugged-up blank canvases, it was always going to be hard. It’s still nice to see sci-fi with heady ideas can find a home on one of the more pedestrian streamers. The performances are all fine, although besides Alden it’s just solid British character actors who have done lots of TV. You do get the sense that they needed another name or two in the cast, especially for the role of Marx, who is as much the protagonist as John.
Brave New World is incredibly flawed. It will piss off plenty of the source novel’s fans, and probably won’t gain it too many new ones, but the series is certainly better than the poor critical reception would lead you to believe. It more or less feels like a complete story, even though the authors have taken great liberties with the novel, and only got through about half of the story. The production design and for the most part the special effects are pretty impressive, although I wish there was more to care about. It shows why Nineteen Eighty-Four will always be better, because the plight of everyman Winston Smith emotionally grabs you.
The release from Dazzler Media has no extras. The episodes are spread over three discs, each containing three episodes.