There’s something quite apt about a book that explores the issue of instant gratification becoming the centerpiece of a new streaming service.
Showrunner David Wiener tells Deadline that he was struck by how prescient author Aldous Huxley’s 1932 book was. “Huxley obviously foresaw a lot of what we would do with technology, but the one thing that he probably couldn’t foresee was how far we would go in terms of the information revolution and social media, and those things seem to be like a very natural extension of exactly what Huxley was warning us against,” he says.
The series, which imagines a utopian society that has achieved peace and stability through the prohibition of monogamy, privacy, money, family, and history, stars Solo: A Star Wars Story’s Alden Ehrenreich, Game of Thrones’ Harry Lloyd, Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay and Demi Moore.
As citizens of New London, Bernard Marx, played by Lloyd, and Lenina Crowne, played by Brown Findlay, embark on a vacation to the Savage Lands, where they become embroiled in a harrowing and violent rebellion. Bernard and Lenina are rescued by John the Savage, played by Ehrenreich, who escapes with them back to New London. John’s arrival in the New World soon threatens to disrupt its utopian harmony, leaving Bernard and Lenina to grapple with the repercussions.
The project has been more than five years in development and has gone through various networks and writers. Homecoming co-exec producer Wiener came on board in February 2018, after a script from Grant Morrison and Brian Taylor.
“The book is a challenging adaptation anyway in that, to a certain degree, he wrote a book that’s an exploration of philosophical ideas, but doesn’t necessarily translate dramatically. Then there’s other hugely problematic aspects of the book, as well, in terms of how he deals with some of his female characters, with how the book intersects with race, and those were things that we needed to apply a more evolved, modern view of it to, and obviously, our sense of utopia is different than what Huxley’s sense of a utopia was,” he admits.
The series takes some of Huxley’s ideas and updates them. “There were a lot of opportunities to take an idea of Huxley’s and then infuse it with our own sense. One great example is, in the book, his Savage Lands are in Anasazi Indian Reservation, and in our story, the savage lands become an adventure park. Both of them serve the same purpose, which is, you know, to reinforce the sense of superiority that people from the new world have when they come to the savage lands. I think that we found solutions that feel resonant today,” he adds.
Many of the themes in the book are still relevant today, but given the Coronavirus and the Black Lives Matters protests, some of them feel even more so than originally planned. “Huxley’s biggest fear was that we would become so sexually stimulated and pharmacologically numbed and distracted, that we wouldn’t look inside ourselves in an uncomfortable way and we wouldn’t look outside ourselves in terms of hierarchies and systems and history in a way that’s uncomfortable, and I think obviously we’re at a point now where it’s become very necessary for people to do that. Actually, it’s never been more necessary,” says Wiener.
The show was largely shot in the UK, at Dragon Studios and Bay Studios in Wales. Wiener says putting together the world was a “monumental undertaking” and lauded set designer David Lee and VFX supervisor Tom Horton as well as the work done by ILM and Territory.
Owen Harris, who helmed Black Mirror: San Junipero, directs the first two episodes. “We really tried to imagine a world that was built according to the dogma of Brave New World. So, it’d be a place where there’s no privacy, so it’s a lot of glass, a lot of open spaces, and a place where the design of the world would push people into proximity to create the energy and connections that are necessary to kind of keep that social body vibrant and alive.”
But Wiener adds that he didn’t want to lean too far into the sci-fi element. “In part because we didn’t want to have a show that might feel dated in a couple years when you look back, and so we went with a more timeless and century modern art deco look, but we also wanted the show to be about the humanity of the characters and not about the trappings of the world itself.”
The show launches on Peacock, having gone through iterations at SyFy and USA Network and Wiener says it built the show to work with advertising, which it will on the NBCU’s ad-supported platform as well as on broadcasters around the world, including Comcast sibling Sky. “The irony isn’t lost on me that we’re making a television show, which is actually almost part of the same media that Huxley was concerned about, and so we don’t expect that irony to be lost on the audience, either, and so we do a lot of clever stuff in terms of making our own commercial bridges from the world of real-world advertising into our characters’ perspective as they consume advertising in their world,” he says.
The ending of the first season has been modified from the book, which also allows the team to plot more seasons in success. “Huxley himself wrote later about writing Brave New World, and upon reflection, he actually kind of questioned his own ending, and I think that, at some point, you know, we actually diverge from the narrative of the novel in such a fashion that it would feel inorganic to try to bend it back to where the novel finishes,” he says.
Wiener says that he is now thinking about a possible second season. “At the end of the [first] season, we leave a lot of interesting questions and open doors that are available. I think will be a lot of fun to walk through,” he adds.
Brave New World is produced by UCP, a division of Universal Studio Group, in association with Amblin Television. Wiener executive produces the series and serves as showrunner. Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey, co-presidents of Amblin Television, also serve as executive producers. Owen Harris and Grant Morrison also executive produce. Brian Taylor executive produces on the pilot episode.