Amazon insiders criticize the renewal of their own show, The Peripheral, in an eye-opening new report. Executive produced by Westworld creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, The Peripheral tells the story of Flynne (played by Chloë Grace Moretz). Looking for purpose in her life as she cares for her ailing mother, Flynne’s an avid gamer alongside her brother Burton (played by Jack Reynor). This leads them to test out a new system from a company that allows Flynne to unlock her dreams, but also puts her life at risk.
After debuting on Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service in October 2022, The Peripheral season 2 was confirmed this past February. In a new report from The Hollywood Reporter, which looks at the state of Amazon Studios, the decision to renew the sci-fi show draws heavy criticism. In one passage from the report, which is included below, Amazon sources say The Peripheral had “lukewarm audience engagement” and “probably should have been canceled.” Nolan and Joy declined to comment. THR states:
Amazon recently renewed The Peripheral, a sci-fi drama from Jonah Nolan and Lisa Joy that cost close to $175 million for eight episodes (sources say their final eight-episode season of Westworld at HBO cost about $140 million). Amazon has ordered six additional hours of The Peripheral despite what sources say has been lukewarm audience engagement. “It probably should have been canceled,” says an insider.
“But they made a megadeal and the political capital they would lose with Lisa and Jonah would be too great. And they have other shows coming.” Fallout, the next show from Nolan and Joy, is also “extremely expensive,” says a source. Nolan and Joy’s deal has been worth at least $20 million a year since they signed on in 2019. One insider calls the Nolan deal the worst example of Salke’s mantra that Amazon is “a home for talent.’” He adds: “We cede decisions to powerful producers. We hold the line on other producers who do great work for us.”
How The Peripheral Represents A Streaming Dilemma
Running through the report, and similar ones about other streaming platforms, is the question of what subscribers want to spend their time watching. Looking at some of the biggest shows in the last six months, there’s a case to be made that audiences want to see dramas that would not be out of place on broadcast television. The Night Agent, which had a stellar debut on Netflix, could easily have been an action primetime series on ABC. With some changes, Wednesday easily fits as a CW teen soap. Poker Face, which finally broke through for Peacock, is a case-of-the-week murder mystery that doesn’t require serialization.
This doesn’t mean that there is no place for weirder genre experiments like Swarm, which is reportedly performing well for Prime Video. However, it does perhaps suggest that with several new shows debuting each week, often all at once or in large chunks, audiences retreat to familiar premises and reliable storytelling. At times, the current era of Peak TV adds up to well over 20 new and returning shows each month. Most of those arrive and end quietly, unable to make much of an impact in a too-crowded landscape.
The Peripheral might be somewhere in the middle, but it’s telling that the sci-fi drama’s success is not enough for some insiders. It could be the case that Prime Video and its competitors will have to rethink their streaming strategy, decreasing their output significantly and making sure that the shows they do support have the time and the space to break through to a wide audience.