Brave New World: Season 1 REVIEW – Timid Old Nothingness

Spend nine hours in this Brave New World and you'll think 'well, that was certainly a TV show'.

july brave new world

If you’re reading this here, now, then it’s very unlikely that you read Brave New World when it first came out in the ’30s. So it’s surprising that seeing characters calling each other ‘Marx’ and ‘Lenina’ seems suddenly to date it in a way they didn’t on the page. Luckily it doesn’t bring in the novel’s use of ‘our Ford’ as pseudo-religion. The obvious way of updating that would be to invoke the name of Tesla – but that might cause actual brain damage.

Brave New World is at best a mixed bag, where something that threatens to be impressive will be almost immediately undone by something shockingly ridiculous – a leap in logic, ropy choreography, some ham-handed imagery. This describes the show in general, but is particularly applicable to the setbuilding. Half the reason to bring Brave New World to the screen is to have a go at actually creating its dystopia.

The show is clearly trying to depict the world state as full of advertising, but is reluctant to do anything so vulgar as actually filling its lovely sets with advertising. This would give a cyberpunky air to it, at odds with its own sort of streamlined minimalist future. Instead there’s just the occasional hologram, which doesn’t amount to much. And this is a shame, because when it does deal with adverts they can be awfully convincing – one episode actually starts with one, which I have to say did throw me for a moment.

But adverts are the distilled essence of surface-level. Get beyond that, as the show inevitably must, and you find yourself on very shaky ground. The actual creation of its Brave New World happens mainly in the visual sense, but it covers sounds, ideas, manners of speaking as well – it’s trying to create a living society.

However, the show makes it far too clear that it’s only here for the purposes of the narrative, ready to collapse into dust once it’s done. This is never more clear than when John the Savage comes to stay in New London. They’re trying to sell him as disgusted and confused by the world state, but instead it comes off like Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, the good ol’ boy striding easily through this new world by dint of his robust out-of-dateness in contrast to all these fancy-dan futuristic types. Even when he’s supposed to be at his lowest point, you find him striding about looking cool and interesting.

(To look cool and interesting does seem to be the main reason why they cast Alden Ehrenreich – but awkwardly, such a generically attractive man seems more like he was grown in a vat than any of the characters who canonically were.)

More broadly, John is an object of fascination supposedly because he’s the antithesis of all the values of the world state – but not too much of an antithesis. He never, for instance, mentions God or religion, like the denizens of New London he doesn’t know human history, and he’s only concerned with family (or rather his family) because it serves his plotline. There is a fundamental lack of verisimilitude undermining it all, even before we get into how familiar it all seems to the audience of today.

This familiarity is a fault of the source material, although not in the way that makes it sound. Huxley’s novel was incredibly influential, and this iteration of Brave New World shows the scars of the more recent dystopias that followed it – specifically by a soap-operaish focus on adolescent relationship drama. And what’s more, a focus which doesn’t particularly grapple with the fact that it’s happening in a setting where monogamy is an unspeakable taboo. Even the orgy-porgy scenes seem more like a lively night at the club than they do an illustration of a genuinely different value system.

Between the love triangles and the obvious instability of the whole edifice, it comes off like a work of young adult fiction which inexplicably shows frontal nudity. When there’s finally a brooding showdown between its two leads, and the worker bees start rising up, you can be completely certain it’s on its final act.

These bits are from what you’d be obliged to call the main plot, but that’s mainly because it would be the main plot in any Hunger Games-alike. Brave New World itself seems quite puzzled in that regard, lavishing equal attention on many narrative lines which come to largely nothing. If the show was only skipping blithely between them it would be bad enough, but before long you get characters strolling idly though unrelated events like they’re not even happening.

Nina Sosanya’s Mustapha Mond, in particular, exists almost entirely tangentially of everything else that’s going on, wandering around in dark tunnels monologuing – and suffers for it. Because of this, when she actually is the authority figure the character is meant to be, it’s like some weird cameo that can’t be taken entirely seriously.

So it’s perhaps apt that where I do have to praise Brave New World is in the yuks – and given how it turned out they would have done well to focus more on that side of things. The original was of course a satire, and there’s a thin line between that and outright comedy. Be it Harry Lloyd bumbling around as an Englishman abroad, or an interminable romantic moment being cruelly and expertly undercut, these are easily the strongest parts of the show. It’s a pity they seem largely inadvertent.

“It’s quite compelling, but…challenging,” notes the hotel concierge in the savage lands. This adaptation of Brave New World is neither. There’s certainly nothing as challenging as the novel’s sentiment that “most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution”. Here, it is not a matter of ‘here’s what society could become, think about it’, rather it’s a tale of ‘here’s some stuff that’s fictional, and it’s only fictional, and it doesn’t matter anyway, don’t worry about it’. And most viewers will probably be sure not to.

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july brave new world
Brave New World is one of those adaptations which ditches any part of the original that was at all original or thought-provoking, in favour of scenes showing attractive young people filmed in slow motion.