Adapted by Gillian Flynn for American audiences from a 2013 British series, UTOPIA (Amazon Prime) is a compelling and surprisingly dark story about a group of comic book nerds who get up in a conspiracy to change the world. I liked it, though I found it uneven.
The story begins with comic book nerds finding out that UTOPIA, the sequel to their favorite graphic novel, DYSTOPIA, has been discovered and is for sale. They aren’t just fans of the comic but conspiracy theorists who believe hidden messages in it predicted every major disease outbreak, raising the question as to whether these diseases were natural or bio-engineered. Unfortunately, mysterious forces are in play that want to prevent anybody from seeing the comic and will do anything to stop it while finding its real-life star, Jessica Hyde.
It’s just my kind of thing, and I went into it expecting it to be the next STRANGER THINGS, but the story quickly takes a very dark righthand turn into torture and frequent murder and stays there. In the American version, for example, a character is created only to be killed for shock value and to show how ruthless another character is, a creative decision by Flynn that comes across ham-handed and disrupts the chemistry. (A cute meta reference to herself comes across the same way.) People are regularly tortured in this show for revenge or information, and even while they’re giving it, the torture keeps coming. That aspect just didn’t quite work for me and makes the resulting story uneven, plus it makes a key character who often does it (and constantly casually threatens it) unlikeable when we’re supposed to be rooting for her.
When you find out what the conspiracy is, it’s actually nothing we haven’t seen before, but it’s done extremely well. When the villain reveals the entire plan, many viewers will be like, oh, um, that’s not exactly a bad idea. The bad guys are like a cult designed to produce a certain change in the world, but by the end they’re not necessarily the bad guys, they’re simply the antagonist with an opposing goal, the mark of a good story.
The ending sets up a season 2, though I’m not sure the story needs it. I’m curious how the British version ended and will try to find it. On a final note, John Cusak and Rainn Wilson are in the show, and they’re fantastic in their roles.