In terms of Nolan brothers productions, “The Peripheral” appears to have been made for people who think “Tenet” and the fourth season of “Westworld” weren’t complicated enough. Adapting William Gibson’s sci-fi novel, this Amazon series again deals with themes of virtual reality and sort-of time travel, but in a grinding fashion that should push it to the periphery of one’s “watch” list, if not off it entirely.
Overseen by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy (the team behind “Westworld,” and the former a frequent collaborator of brother Christopher Nolan, director of the aforementioned “Tenet”), the series unfolds in two future timeframes: 2032 in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which is when and where Flynne Fisher (Chloë Grace Moretz) resides; and 2099 in London, the place where her consciousness goes via a simulation that quickly feels all too real.
Flynne and her brother Burton (Jack Reynor), an ex-Marine with a shoot-first attitude, actually help cover their ailing mom’s medical bills by playing simulations (or Sims), but it turns out they’ve stumbled into a dystopian future, one where Flynne’s alter ego is tasked with combating a shadowy corporation known as the Research Institute.
Unfolding across the two timeframes, Flynne is filled in by her future-incarnation handler, Wilf (Gary Carr), at least in part about what’s going on; still, he initially omits key details, like what happened during the Jackpot, the ironic nickname for a series of catastrophes that depopulated much of the world and spawned the power struggle in which she has become a pawn.
Because of Flynne’s role in that future threats keep invading her present, which is every bit as confusing as that sounds. But the real problem is that the scenes as written by Scott B. Smith (who created the show working with Nolan and Joy) prove long and talky, which might explain why the first three episodes each run over an hour.
Although there’s plenty of violent action and cool futuristic weaponry, “The Peripheral” feels like a mashup of sci-fi ideas put to better use elsewhere, from “Avatar” to “Free Guy,” with a lot in between. Mostly, other than the sometimes-striking set design, there’s nothing particularly distinctive about the villains or the scenario, which feels more convoluted than engaging. (Props, though, for using the Clash’s “London Calling” over the premiere’s closing credits.)
“The Peripheral” doesn’t represent a bet of that magnitude, but given the auspices and genre, the series nevertheless feels like a pretty conspicuous misfire. Granted, the criteria for success in streaming are often difficult to read, but for a show that explores two separate futures, it doesn’t feel like it has much of one.
“The Peripheral” premieres October 21 on Amazon Prime. It’s produced by Warner Bros. Television, like CNN, a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.