'The Peripheral' review: Chloë Grace Moretz anchors solid sci-fi distraction

Flynne Fisher (Chloë Grace Moretz) in The Peripheral (Prime Video)
Flynne Fisher (Chloë Grace Moretz) in The Peripheral (Prime Video)

With fully immersive avatars, time-travelling conundrums and elements of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, Prime Video may have hit pay dirt with its new sci-fi series The Peripheral, streaming from 21 October.

By streamlining the literary descriptions of steampunk author William Gibson (Neuromancer) into a generational family drama, Emmy-nominated producer Jonathan Nolan (Westworld) sits alongside creator and head writer Scott B Smith (A Simple Plan), fashioning a time travelling character study. One which puts Chloë Grace Moretz front and centre as Flynne Fisher, who consistently anchors this series in the here and now, and makes it work.

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Alongside her brother Burton (Jack Reynor) she cares for their mother Ella (Melinda Page Hamilton), who is slowly dying from a brain tumour. Burton is ex-military and carries the remnants of enhanced tactical augmentation, which manifest themselves through haptic implants.

Burton (Jack Reynor) in The Peripheral (Prime Video)
Burton (Jack Reynor) in The Peripheral (Prime Video)

Based in Virginia circa 2032, beneath the blue ridge mountains, Flynne works in a hardware store by day but plays immersive virtual reality combat simulators for cash by night.

Beyond that, she maintains a close friendship with Billy Ann Baker (Adelind Horan) while small town mentalities, high school crushes and petty rivalries define public opinion elsewhere.

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In the opening two hours this Prime Video techno mash-up spends as much time building those relationships, as it does immersing audiences in the science fiction elements of this tale.

Watch a trailer for The Peripheral

Small town big bad Corbell Pickett (Louis Herthum) also makes as much of an impression in these opening hours as anyone else, ensuring that the central narrative theme continues to revolve around family, even when The Peripheral transports itself forward in time to London circa 2099. He may feel like a supporting player in this sci-fi hybrid melodrama, but Corbell is essential alongside the consistently solid Moretz in keeping this series grounded.

Although the pivotal plot thread might appear to hinge on earning money for her mother’s medication, there is something more profound at play here. The Peripheral is fundamentally about relationships past, present and future. It raises questions around consciousness, sense of self and our increasingly reliance on technology to make sense of the world.

Connor (Eli Goree) in The Peripheral (Prime Video)
Connor (Eli Goree) in The Peripheral (Prime Video)

Written in 2014 and concerned with capitalism and its need to turn human beings into a commodity for trading, this Prime Video adaptation works hard to establish connections between different characters on different timelines, while ensuring the drama remains cohesive. Nowhere is that bond maintained more effectively than between Wilf (Gary Carr) and Flynne, who connect early on through augmented reality.

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As her time within The Peripheral is extended, Flynne begins to understand what it means to inhabit this space, while two storylines begin running in parallel. One involving a small-town feud between her brother Burton and Corbell Pickett, while in London she becomes entangled with the mysterious Lev Zubov (JJ Field) and his associates Ash (Katie Leung) and Ossian (Julian Moore-Cook). From that point on things get even more convoluted, as subterfuge conflicts with emotional trysts and flashbacks offer a deeper insight into motivations.

Right now, whether or not The Peripheral could potentially compete with Westworld in terms of scope is debatable. Adaptations of so-called science fiction classics have often ended in mediocrity, as the ideas which exist within these novels gets lost in translation. However, maybe this Prime Video title marks a resurgence in the genre that Apple TV+ may have inadvertently kickstarted with Foundation – an extremely good take on the Isaac Asimov magnum opus that deserved a bigger audience.

Wilf Netherton (Gary Carry) and Flynne Fisher (Chloe Grace Moretz) in The Peripheral (Prime Video)
Wilf Netherton (Gary Carry) and Flynne Fisher (Chloe Grace Moretz) in The Peripheral (Prime Video)

Other comparisons worthy of note would include Minority Report with Tom Cruise, I, Robot featuring the eponymous Will Smith, or for something more benchmark audiences need look no further than Blade Runner. However, The Peripheral sets itself and in some cases improves on those examples, by really bringing a warmth to the genre. Making it feel less clinical, less calculating and more humane than most science fiction adaptations have a right to feel.

To find that warmth and humanity audiences need only look to Chloë Grace Moretz, who brings an intriguing combination of strength and fragility to her portrayal of Flynne Fisher. Whether in a potential future absorbed inside an avatar, or back home with her boots on the ground defending family, this underrated character actor offers Flynne a tangible moral centre.

Other standouts beyond that central performance include Eli Goree as Connor, a multiple amputee who not only weighs in at certain pivotal points, but sports one of the coolest wheelchair expansions ever to grace a small screen.

Beyond that, The Peripheral proves to be a solid sci-fi distraction with an engaging ensemble cast. It might not set the world alight in quite the same way as Westworld, but it will hopefully shine a light on Chloe Grace Moretz who deserves to be a bigger star.

The Peripheral premieres on Prime Video from Friday, 21 October. Watch a trailer below.