There are only about a squillion different ways to sign up for Peacock, with prices starting at free (with commercials) and going up from there. The easiest way to get Peacock, it seems, is to already be an Xfinity subscriber — even better if you have one of those remotes you talk into. Ask me for any more tech assistance and I’ll have to charge you by the hour.
The idea here is, of course, more TV — and never enough. Peacock launches Wednesday with a smattering of original shows, plus a promised cornucopia of favorite old TV shows and movies, along with infotainment offerings (news, some sports, reality shows, late-night shows and a prolonged act of madness called “Today All Day”) from all of NBCUniversal’s brands — including Bravo, USA and Syfy. It’s an impressive tribal gathering that is also an assertion of corporate ownership.
I do wonder about Peacock’s chances against streaming fatigue. Bruce Springsteen is long overdue for a rewrite to his 1992 song “57 Channels (and Nothin’ On)”; we now know that even unlimited options can be a source of emptiness and ennui.
The pluses here include Peacock’s archives (“Parks and Recreation,” “Saturday Night Live,” “30 Rock,” “Cheers,” “Frasier,” “The Carol Burnett Show” and, in 2021, the complete run of “The Office”); to that, add hundreds of titles from Universal’s movie library (“Jurassic Park,” “Schindler’s List,” “Reservoir Dogs”). Peacock is also a way into NBC’s current season, which, in more optimal times, would have included added coverage of Tokyo’s canceled Olympics.
As for original shows, Peacock doesn’t come out on a particularly strong note.
“Brave New World,” a stylish yet sometimes silly update of Aldous Huxley’s 1932 dystopian classic, stars Alden Ehrenreich (“Solo”) as John, a scrappy stagehand at a North American theme park called the Savage Lands, which pays homage to the hideous aspects of human civilization in the late 20th and early 21st centuries — all the vices and behaviors that the carefully modulated citizens of New London long ago left behind, such as getting married, driving cars and throwing elbows at Black Friday sales.
Two VIP tourists from New London, Bernard Marx and Lenina Crowne (Harry Lloyd and Jessica Brown Findlay) take a fast rocket ride to the Savage Lands for a weekend getaway and find themselves caught up in a bloody revolution of the “savages.” They are narrowly rescued by John and his alcoholic mother, Linda (played by Demi Moore, doing a sort of Jessica Lange thing), and the four of them escape back to New London.
Peacock has asked critics not to spoil what happens from there, which is reasonable, given the way “Brave New World” swerves a bit from its original source as well as the CliffsNotes. Fans of Huxley’s novel may consider this fast-moving, modern spin as unworthy. But take it from the guy who loves HBO’s current reinvention of “Perry Mason” and is still getting unhappy emails from die-hard fans who call it an abomination: TV doesn’t believe in sacred texts, nor should it.
This “Brave New World” makes a fairly good attempt to stand apart from other takes, but its ambition seems occasionally constricted by its haste. As John discovers in New London, peace is kept by the fact that its people, who are under constant mutual surveillance (think iPhones, only make them eye-phones) have been conditioned to constantly self-medicate with mood stabilizers and lame entertainment options. This helps keep a pernicious social caste system intact, ruled over by Alphas and Betas — and on down to a servile class of Epsilons.
Some of the visualization of this new world is quite striking; some of it is just dopey, especially when the Alphas and Betas flock to all-night orgies that look like a techno rave being held on a 1990s nostalgia cruise.
Ehrenreich, whom moviegoers either liked or loathed as a young Han Solo, brings the same exact pluck to the role of John, whose utterly human, unmedicated presence tests Bernard’s dependence on New London’s orderly calm; it turns out the city has a bigger crisis brewing behind the scenes. As it unfolds, “Brave New World” fits only the most nebulous sense of the word “interesting,” with its most relevant commentary left behind in the Savage Lands. Where Peacock could use a big bang, the series mostly just manages to look like plain old cable TV.
Less (a lot less) can be said for Nick Mohammed’s torturously stiff British comedy “Intelligence,” which stars David Schwimmer (“Friends”) as a bullheaded American agent who acts as a liaison to a British intelligence office tasked with fighting cybercrime.
Ineptitude abounds, both in concept and in practice, as “Intelligence” aims for an “Office”-like atmosphere of bumbling awkwardness and bad manners. The cast of workers (including Mohammed) manages some LOLs, but Schwimmer struggles to balance a character who is just a little too mean (and too dumb) to be funny.
Aside from a conspiracy thriller that aired on BBC1 last year (“The Capture”), a Dale Earnhardt Jr. reality series (“Lost Speedways”), some kids’ shows (“Curious George”; “Where’s Waldo?”) and a movie based on the USA series “Psych” (“Psych 2: Lassie Come Home”), the only other temptation Peacock has for us is . . . poor Ryan Lochte.
Wait — you don’t feel sorry for Ryan Lochte? This might be news to the 12-time Olympic medalist, because he is duly remorseful about that weird, arrogant incident at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, when he and his teammates claimed to have been accosted at gunpoint after some drunken rowdiness at a gas station.
You may not care anymore (and, in hindsight, it’s stunning to think how much any of us cared back then), but “In Deep With Ryan Lochte,” narrated by Patton Oswalt, tries to put it all right, profiling the athlete just as he’s climbing up from his nadir. He was banned for months from swimming competition because of the Rio incident, and then banned again for an ill-considered Instagram post while receiving an intravenous vitamin drip. Now, at the past-prime age of 35, he is training for one last chance at Olympic glory in 2020.
Lochte has married and fathered two children since Rio, which factors considerably in the footage for this one-hour documentary, making a fairly convincing case that every party boy eventually becomes a man. It seems there might have been hope to make a full docuseries here, following Lochte to the U.S. competitions and, perhaps, to Tokyo.
But covid-19 strikes, things shut down and the cameras pack up and leave. The look in Lochte’s eyes, if I’m not mistaken, is one of increasing worry. Who is he, if no one’s watching him?
Peacock, a streaming network from NBCUniversal, launches Wednesday. For information, visit peacock.com.