I binged the entire first season of “Brave New World” on Peacock, the new streaming service from NBC. It’s free through my cable provider, Xfinity, which is great because had I paid to watch the show, I would have been enraged.
I freely admit that i am a purist when it comes to literary adaptations, meaning I believe it is more important to be true to the story than it is to make money or attract an audience. If the source material is handled with reverence and care, and a loving attention to detail, the audience will come. It is non-negotiable. I was so disappointed in the new adaptation of “Brave New World” because it strays so far from Aldous Huxley’s absolute masterpiece, so much so that his important and gorgeous themes are lost.
The series is beautiful. It is wonderful to look at, which is fitting as it is perfectly indicative of the hollow, superficial society Huxley warns against. It is a spectacle in its scope and ambition. Many reviewers have claimed it should be Peacock’s “crown jewel,” but those same reviewers highlight the some unforgivable flaws that anyone who has read and enjoyed the novel cannot ignore.
For starters, the series romanticizes, amplifies, and glorifies all the wrong narrative elements. In doing so, Huxley’s message is dumbed down. It is watered down to something superficial and salacious and not worth the viewer’s time. The adaptation creates conflict where there isn’t any, and exaggerates conflict where it does exist, for shock value and shock value alone. Maybe some changes were necessary because the medium changes from print to television, but other changes are unforgivable. For example, John’s worldview and morals and decisions are all heavily influenced by reading William Shakespeare (among others) but all that is erased. There are allusions to pop culture, via a stellar soundtrack, but all the nobility and dignity and romanticism has been removed. It’s devastating because that kind of callous ignorance is the prison Huxley tries so desperately to warn us against. The Savages John comes from do not even believe in their own communal values and there is infighting among them and taints John’s character and makes him what he would never be. It’s so frustraing, and leaves plot holes for the viewers. The showrunner, David Wiener, said he didn’t want it to feel like homework, but navigating the changes to understand the purpose of this wildly, liberal adaptation is exactly like homework. “The most dangerous thing a man can be is a romantic.”
To be fair, the society Huxley predicted in here, so it presents a unique problem for adaptors. However, dumbing it down and making it shiny to keep viewers numb and disengaged and indifferent is a crime. It would be one thing if they only added bells and whistles, but they have also fundamentally changed the narrative to influence and warp audience reactions and manipulate emotions to something other than the author’s purpose. There is no artistic integrity here, like the creators got to the word “orgy” and stopped reading. Kelly Lawler, writing for USA Today, gets it exactly right:
However, the incredibly loose adaptation of the seminal novel is mostly an excuse for Peacock to offer some R-rated content, because it is free of broadcast standards. With more orgies than comprehensible plot points, the sex and nudity in “Brave” doesn’t just cross the line of good taste, it leaps over it with a smirk and a chortle.”Kelly Lawler, USA Today
I watched every episode because there enough glimpses of the truth of Huxley’s novel to keep me going. Also, I absolutely adored Alden Ehrenreich’s performance (he drew his own tattoos for the character!). This might be the perfect vehicle for him, even in spite of the generally negative consensus. They set it up for a second season (we’ll see what happens), but I’m not sure if I’ll watch. They robbed Huxley’s prescient masterpiece of its nobility and dignity and crucial message. I guess that’s why I care so much about the adaptation, even if no one else does.
After all, as John the Savage says with a smirk, “The most dangerous thing a man can be is a romantic.”