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'Brave New World': Well-made, just don't expect to be wowwed

Joseph Morgan, left, and Alden Ehrenreich star in

Joseph Morgan, left, and Alden Ehrenreich star in Peacock's nine-part series "Brave New World." Credit: Peacock/Steve Schofield

THE SERIES "Brave New World"

WHEN | WHERE Starts streaming July 15 on Peacock

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The nine-part series is based on Aldous Huxley's 1932 classic about a future (2540 A.D.) where people are artifically engineered and kept happy by the administration of a happy drug called soma, and with unrestricted sex. It begins with "hatchery worker" Lenina Crowne ( Jessica Brown Findlay) who is shipped off from New London on a forced vacation with Bernard Marx (Harry Lloyd) to a theme park, Savage Lands, where park worker John (Alden Ehrenreich) and his mother Linda (Demi Moore) live.

MY SAY Aside from a couple of forgotten TV movies, "Brave New World" has long resisted adaptation, and not for want of trying by many. NBC alone has hacked away at it for years, finally deciding to launch its brave new streaming service with this version.

The challenges speak for themselves: Is "World" satire or cautionary? Utopian or dystopian? The optics of transversing something from the early 20th century to the early 21st are tricky, possibly perilous. History has surpassed "World" too (soma? We have all sorts of  mind-melting drugs.) while the future has turned out to be far weirder than Huxley could have ever imagined.

Meanwhile, Michael Crichton and countless other writers have created similar fictional universes — and TV-friendly ones at that.

A wonder, then, that this newcomer works as well as it often does. The cast is excellent, the writing superior and the direction, too. This even seems faithful, although Shakespeare — "Savage John's" favorite and only author — appears to have been excised. (A shame: the title is Shakespearean, as high school seniors everywhere know.) 

But this "World" does suffer from lack of scale, or at least reduction in scale. This could easily be a Syfy series as well as a Peacock one. It doesn't soar off the screen to wow you, or shock you.

Nor does it exactly clarify what it wants to say about the world we live in right now, at least in the early episodes. Like Huxley and his "World," we too are wrestling with the burden of history and the promise of the future. We're also mindful of just how screwed up our present moment is. 

"Brave New World's" preoccupations are ours, its despair as well. But this newcomer doesn't seem to have much of anything pressing to say about this, other than to reinforce Huxley's core and pretty much obvious point. To be human is to reserve the right be human: Angry, sad, happy, stupid, smart, messy, elated, depressed, silly, smart, jealous, glad, generous …

Or, as John finally, defiantly, declares in the book, “All right then, I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."

Who isn't? What we need is a TV series that tells us how to deal with that. 

BOTTOM LINE Intelligent adaptation, absent a wow factor.

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