The combination of ambition, seminal source material and slick production values should, in theory, produce an exciting new sci-fi series.
Instead, Brave New World is middling. In its parlance, it would be a gamma when it wanted to be an alpha.
Sometime in the future, society has evolved to a point in which humans are born through artificial wombs and without family.
Each person in New London is assigned a caste and genetically modified to the limits of that caste at conception – alpha, beta, gamma, delta and epsilon – and their station in life is determined purely by their classification.
That means the alphas are revered and have the best jobs and perks and the epsilons don’t even have real names and live only to be service drones.
Everything and everyone functions to uphold the restrictive social order, one in which harmony and happiness is the only aspiration, while they swan around in clothes straight out of a COS catalogue.
Lenina Crown (Findlay) is a beta-plus, a technician who works as a scientist that creates new embryos. Her counsellor Bernard, an alpha-plus, reprimands Lenina for having sex exclusively with another alpha, which is a big no-no.
There is also no privacy, which along with monogamy is seen as selfish and possessive, as vices that seek to destroy the social body. Zut alors!
Monogamy and privacy are values practised by the “primitives” in the “savage lands”, where people live like something resembling our world now, but maybe a couple of steps further towards Mad Max.
An electronic barrier exists between the worlds and no one passes through to the hi-tech side without the proper permissions, but plenty of alphas and betas travel to the savage-lands to gaze at the residents like they’re animals in a zoo, feeling superior as they look down on institutions such as marriage, prison and recreations of Black Friday sales.
One of those savages is John (Ehrenreich), a music-loving prop hand crushing on the wrong woman, and who lives with his alcoholic mother Linda (Demi Moore).
When John’s life crashes into Bernard and Lenina’s, it threatens the intricately built Fordist world of New London.
When Huxley wrote Brave New World in the 1930s, he was drawing on his fears of the de-individualisation demanded by the technological change and social upheaval of his time, as evidenced through Henry Ford’s assembly lines and the centralisation of state power.
It was a chilling vision of the future, and it’s why his book is still on school curriculums the world over.
This TV adaptation doesn’t engage as deeply with Huxley’s ideas, at least not in the first three episodes made available for review, and relies more on story twists and violent shock value – including a vivid, bacchanalian orgy in the first 22 minutes of the pilot.
What Brave New World does highlight that feels particularly relevant to now – and this is actually where that orgy comes in – is mandated happiness. The citizens of this so-called utopia have their “levels” constantly monitored and a mood altering drug called “soma” is doled out of dispensers like pez.
Any time anyone experiences an emotion resembling anxiety, discomfort or, heavens forfend, rage, out pops a little coloured pill. Take it, you’ll feel better even if you end up feeling nothing.
This idea that everything must be harmonious, happy and pleasant is like the kind of unrealistic – and, frankly, banal – vision of the world sold by almost everyone on Instagram. Don’t worry about actual happiness, just pretend that you are.
That orgy is a case in point. On the surface, it looks like a raucous, perfectly choreographed event where everyone is beautiful and high on life (and soma) but like Coachella, people are probably just a bit miserable and exhausted, putting on a front like we know Lenina and Bernard are.
Brave New World gets many of the ingredients right, but there’s a flatness to it. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t really probe questions it’s asking – “What am I? A free human being?”.
Which makes it pleasant but forgettable – so kind of like being on soma.
Brave New World is streaming now on Stan
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