THE PERIPHERAL is an adaptation of William Gibson’s novel of the same name. As a long-time cyberpunk fan, I was, of course, extremely excited to see anything by the godfather of the genre (though not the only one for those who haven’t checked out Bruce Bethke, Pat Cadigan, Walter Jon Williams, or George Alec Effinger).
Cyberpunk is making a hefty resurgence thanks in part to Cyberpunk 2077 but also the rise of independent publishing as well as a greater class awareness. Cyberpunk is, at its core, a genre about being “****ed by technology” and the idea that while we may advance in our toys, those toys will not necessarily solve any problems if they’re wielded the same way the ones we currently have are.
The premise is Flynne Fisher (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a woman who works at a printing shop in rural America with her brother, Burton (Jack Reynor), in the not-so-distant future. There are strong True Blood vibes here but only in the sense of properly capturing the quiet desperation of small-town life. Burton is a former soldier for the US military and doesn’t have many prospects, so he spends his time hanging out with his buddies. The first big twist is the fact that Flynne, despite living in the middle of nowhere, has excellent wi-fi and has managed to make herself one of the country’s most talented online gamers as a side hustle.
Flynne is given a virtual reality headset that she believes is just a tool for a brand-new crime game akin to Grand Theft Auto. It was meant to go to her brother, Burton, but he passes it along to her since Flynne’s gaming skills are significantly better and he’s been using her to raise his own score while they compete for small amounts of money online. The virtual reality Flynne finds herself in, complete with an avatar that feels very real, is a post-apocalyptic London that has technology far more advanced than her own time’s. To get into the actual plotline further would potentially spoil some genuinely interesting twists but conspiracies, corporate crime, gangsters, and time travel ensue.
The show is genuinely good and benefits strongly from the likability of the leads. Flynne is your every woman protagonist, and you appreciate both her hesitance at putting herself in danger while also wanting to have something in her life that is genuinely exciting. Burton feels like a screw up but his military experience makes him the kind of person who understands the level of threat they’re under. There are also some genuinely funny moments in the show like when the villains put a hit out on Flynne, only to attack when Burton is hosting a cookout with a bunch of his ex-Special Forces buddies (that have access to his gun collection).
The show does have some flaws. It’s clear the writers assumed they would have access to a second season and are taking their leisurely time with the plot. There are a few episodes that get caught up in meaningless diversions while we could be advancing the main plot. Which unfortunately leaves the series on a cliffhanger that will never be resolved. Despite the show being critically acclaimed and popular, it was renewed then cancelled by Amazon Prime due to the writer and actor’s strike. This may impact your interest in the series.
In conclusion, The Peripheral is a very entertaining cyberpunk action drama. The characters are fun, the writing is only occasionally slow, and the world-building is fantastic. Rural America rarely shows up in cyberpunk fiction and the use of it here makes the series stand out a lot more from other cyberpunk series. It’s a damn shame this series was cut short by executive meddling and deserved better.