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Amazon’s #1 Show Is a Giant Sci-Fi Thriller Based on a William Gibson Novel, but It Has Mixed Reviews

Chloe Grace Moretz wears a futuristic gaming headset in Amazon Prime Video's 'The Peripheral'

After finally finishing my Rings of Power watch, Amazon served up the trailer for the show it wants to make the Next Buzzed-About Thing. With a big budget and big names attached to the production—Westworld’s creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy serve as executive producers, Hollywood star Chloë Grace Moretz is in the lead role, and the story is adapted from a book of the same name by legendary cyberpunk pioneer William Gibson—The Peripheral looks slick and splashy. It gives off vibes of The Matrix meets Ready Player One and Ghost in the Shell, with a dash of Ozark and hints of Ender’s Game in its suggestion that a seeming virtual “game” set in the future could be far more than it seems. According to FlixPatrol, which tracks what’s trending in streaming, The Peripheral is currently #1 on Amazon Prime Video. Now that the series is nearly done with its first season, however, a pressing question emerges: is it any good?

Our own Chelsea Steiner had a positive outlook on The Peripheral back when it debuted in October 2022, yet suggested we’d have to wait and see how things evolved. “Much like WestworldThe Peripheral plays with questions of reality, time, and the nature of existence,” she wrote. “But will the series be able to ground itself in coherence, a challenge that Westworld has struggled with as it gets more and more esoteric?” General reviews for the show appear to be mixed from the get-go, though audience reactions have trended more positively as the series progressed. It currently has an 8.1/10 audience rating on IMDb, with particular praise for the penultimate episode of the first season. Rotten Tomatoes‘ audience score is a healthy 88%, whereas accumulated critics’ takes have given The Peripheral a 76%—still fresh, but essentially a C if this were a school report card.

Critics were decidedly at sea back in October, when members of the press were sent the show’s first six episodes (of eight) to review. Lorraine Ali at The Los Angeles Times felt the whole thing was befuddling, summarizing the show’s plot and her take thusly: “[the series] is set in the near and far future, the natural world and virtual reality, Appalachia and London. Connecting all these places and spaces is a new VR ‘game’ so advanced that it blurs the line between the physical realm and the simulated experience, leaving players — and viewers of the show — incredibly confused.”

Meanwhile, other reviewers loved what they were watching. “The Peripheral is the most important cyberpunk adaptation since Blade Runner,” wrote Ryan Britt for Inverse. Britt felt the series was “cyberpunk reborn for a modern audience,” and asserted that despite “a lot of moving sci-fi parts,” the plot was easy to follow. Excitingly, he says that there is “a propulsive denouement at the end of every episode,” which is an element that tends to hook me. CNET’s Jennifer Bisset called the show “an addictive puzzle box.” Demonstrating how much critical viewpoints can differ, over at The Playlist Brian Tallerico wrote that The Peripheral wants to “transport [us] to a dull and incoherent future,” and that “almost from the very beginning, it’s a clunky disaster.” Tallerico felt “[e]very other conversation is weighed down with so much pretentious meaning that’s never tied back to anything relatable,” while the series “seems to be actively fighting viewer investment, complicating itself further with each passing episode.” Whether fans of the show or not, critics have praised compelling performances by Moretz and the rest of the cast, as well as detailed production design boosted by Amazonian budgets.

It may come down to whether the viewer is a fan of cyberpunk and futurist simulation/gaming/time-travel/mind-twisting plotlines in general. Writing for TheWrap, Karama Horne concluded:

Despite the stunning cinematography and outstanding production and costume design, “The Peripheral” can be a little confusing if you’re unfamiliar with time-traveling tropes, virtual reality avatars, and gaming side missions. In other words, if you didn’t make it through “Westworld,” you will probably have difficulty understanding this series at first. But if you are a fan of cyberpunk crime drama anime like “Ghost in the Shell” or “Psycho-Pass,” or are looking for something to scratch that “Westworld” itch, “The Peripheral” is a joy to watch.

Considering how enthusiastic audience raters were about The Peripheral‘s seventh episode, “The Doodad,” which dropped on Thanksgiving, it could be that the show is ending on a strong note and trending in the right direction. The eighth and final season one episode, “The Creation of a Thousand Forests,” is set for December 2nd, 2022. I’ll be adding The Peripheral to my to-watch list, because this sort of content tends to gel with me, and I’m curious where I fall on that critical spectrum. Have you been watching The Peripheral? Is it worth hooking into this series? Tell us in the comments!

(image: Amazon Prime Video)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.