Prime Video’s adaptation of William Gibson’s mind-bending 2014 novel, The Peripheral, has been a long time in the making, and showrunner Scott B. Smith likely needed every last minute of that time to translate the complex but heartfelt story for the small screen. The Peripheral follows Flynne Fisher (Chloë Grace Moretz), a woman in a dead-end tech career who uses a strange headset to escape into an otherworldly, futuristic metropolitan London. If the series captures even a fraction of the novel’s brain-melting twists and turns, it’s bound to be quite a ride.
Although Gibson is perhaps best known for his earlier cyberpunk stories, Smith sought to capture the more contemporary novel’s sympathetic characters to reach beyond a hard sci-fi audience. “Obviously, I came in so respectful of Gibson, and my first version of [the adaptation] was just trying to just be completely loyal to the book, and it wasn’t really working,” admits Smith. “So being able to step into the temple of Gibson and smear some mud on the walls, I think, was kind of a breakthrough point [while still] holding close to the characters and letting them guide me into the story a little bit.”
Fellow executive producer Greg Plageman, who took a similar approach when he helmed CBS’s Person of Interest, felt engaged by Smith’s approach. “Scott really grappled with the book before I came aboard and just did a heroic, Herculean job of grounding it,” Plageman says. “Gibson’s world-building is incredible; his characters are amazing. Scott really made it accessible to me, the same way I feel like Person of Interest had real heart to it. I feel like that is the anchor of The Peripheral as well, and that’s something I think we both brought to the table.”
Before the full reality-hopping story takes hold, viewers will meet Flynne, who works at a 3D printing shop, and her brother Burton, played by Jack Reynor. “Flynne is working at Forever Fab as she was in the book,” confirms Plageman. “Burton is home from a war… and Flynne is the center pillar of the family. She’s the rock helping her brother, helping her mother, but she’s carrying a lot, and she doesn’t have a lot of sunlight in her life. So when this adventure opens up for her, I think as a viewer, and certainly, as a reader of the book, you feel that opening and that lift and excitement.”
Beyond the escapist adventure that viewers will be pulled into, The Peripheral has at its core the relationship between Flynne and her brother, a bond that Smith says was assisted by a similar closeness between the actors on set. “Chloë and Jack, the two actors that we got for the roles, felt like siblings as they were filming,” he says. “They became really close, and I think that comes through in their performance. You feel like they’re brother and sister and that there’s this lifelong love between them.”
Plageman agrees that the family relationships in the show are what viewers will latch onto first. “You want the audience to care about something, and you definitely care about this relationship. In the same way, you care about the relationship with their mother, which I think is integral to the show,” he says. “A great access point for Flynne Fisher is that you immediately identify with all the aspects of her life… her circumstances and her father being gone, her mother being terminally ill, and all these things.”
The deeper lore involves Flynne’s side job participating in VR games for wealthy people, which leads her to the titular peripheral, a headset that connects her to a world across the Atlantic that’s unlike any game she’s played. “The Peripheral is referencing how Flynne Fisher’s character can access this future London world,” says Plageman. “What’s great about this is, given Flynne’s circumstances, having the ability to access another world opens up this almost Cinderella aspect to the show.”
The fairy tale nature of escaping the small southern town of Clanton to the big city provided an opportunity to create a visual contrast between realities. “We worried sometimes about transitions between the worlds like, oh, do we need to make that more a story point?” says Plageman. “And then even as I’m looking at the color, there’s a warmth to Clanton. It’s almost got this sun-kissed glow about it. And then future London is a little bit more blue and cyan and that kind of thing. You can really tell the difference between the cosmopolitan and the rural here.”
Whether viewers come to this show as fans of science fiction, puzzle box mysteries, or family drama, The Peripheral has it all. “There’s something in here for a lot of different demographics in terms of its sci-fi appeal, in terms of the gamer aspect of the show,” says Plageman. “Obviously, Chloë and Jack bring their own fans… and speculation about what could happen between now and then in future London. So many things evolved so quickly in the world these past few years; it was a little startling. There is a relevance to the show that I think you’re going to find that is underneath a little bit harrowing.”
The Peripheral premieres on Prime Video October 21st.