The future has begun to feel awfully familiar these days. Imagine a place of instant gratification, rampant consumerism, self-medication, flesh-baring hedonism and the crippling awareness of everybody’s status, and chances are you have either summoned up the merry warnings of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, written in 1931, or merely recreated the content of any social media feed. (Or, indeed, streaming media menu.)
George Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World (Sky One, Friday, 9pm) tend to trade pole position in told-you-so prescience, depending on the concerns and emphases of the moment, while people weigh up “a boot stamping on a human face – forever” or an anaesthetised society in which “everyone is happy now!” and decide which dystopia called it best.
Both of them make dire warnings about tyranny and conformity, but if one conforms more readily to the tyranny of titillating, formulaic entertainments, it’s Huxley’s.
That still requires some liberal adaptation, though, with the rules of New London here enshrined as "No privacy. No family. No monogamy" and where even the pacifying slogan has somehow been dumbed down to "Everybody happy now!" (As Demetri Martin once put it, Where my verb at?)
Sterile orgies are frequently depicted as an unerotic mass of writhing pink bodies
The main characters are still accounted for, if similarly modified. Jessica Brown Findlay’s Lenina comes to the attention of Harry Lloyd’s pill-dispensing counsellor Bernard for her transgressive pursuit of an exclusive relationship in this world of fascinatingly sterile orgies, frequently depicted as an unerotic mass of writhing pink bodies.
On a holiday to the Savage Lands – imagined as a sort of Westworld for rednecks – they flirt with atavistic concepts like chastity before marriage (“We’re savages!” Lenina coos), before becoming embroiled in a Savage uprising and running into the soulful, authentic and non-manufactured John (Alden Ehrenreich).
In the book, John is distinguished by his knowledge of Shakespeare and a capacity for darker meditation. In a curious play for audience sympathy, though, he gravitates here towards the music of a band long since swallowed by the sands of time. By the first episode’s close we discover this band is Radiohead. Nobody happy now.