But Flynn’s version is far from the copy-and-paste calamity it could’ve been. The original bold colours are mostly faded and the innate British grit is re-tailored, but this vision of Utopia is still absorbing, frightening, and pretty damn bleak.
With growing beliefs in conspiracy theories, the conceit of the series is more relevant now than in 2013. And the ominous presence of a flu pandemic mirrors real-life events to an uncomfortable degree, hazmat suits and quarantine tents being currently very close to home.
The nerd fellowship (left to right): Ian (Dan Byrd), Wilson (Desmin Borges), Samantha (Jessica Rothe), and Becky (Ashleigh LaThrop). Photo: Amazon
A young and almost-married couple discover a graphic novel, Utopia, and they try flogging it at a comic-book convention. But they don’t realise that, inside, hidden messages are waiting to be unlocked; messages that reveal an end-of-the-world conspiracy. Only a gaggle of nerdy fans can read between the drawings, finding ridiculous but correct correlations to pinpoint the eventual Armageddon and the people responsible.
This nerd fellowship is among the most enjoyable to watch on TV. They’re all so wonderfully awkward at first, the dialogue cutely clashing with the forthcoming violence. They can actually be themselves around each other.
Ian (Dan Byrd) and Becky (Ashleigh LaThrop) fall in love online and finally meet in person, forming a relationship almost immediately. Wilson (Desmin Borges) is the one most charged by conspiracy theories, and even has a nuclear bunker. Samantha (Jessica Rothe) is the most intelligent member. She rips into comic-book mythologisers in a ferocious speech, which speaks to the current cultural obsession with interconnected superhero movies. And Grant (Javon Walton)… well, Grant is actually a 10-year-old kid – but the others don’t know that.
'Where is Jessica Hyde?' Here she is! Photo: Amazon
The gang are joined by a character from the graphic novel, Jessica Hyde (Sasha Lane), who pulls them into this wide and confusing conspiracy. They’re hunted by a meticulous and child-like assassin, Arby (Christopher Denham), who looks like a psychopathic Sheldon Cooper – eating raisins and murdering people. He’s also partial to torture, using grotesque methods that even desensitised viewers would have trouble watching with both eyes open.
Flynn tackles these scenes with a funny nihilism, death treated like a shocking mundanity. That’s a key conflict in all the characters: the struggle to be moral and caring in the face of inhuman danger.
John Cusack plays a corporate leader with something shady on the side. His personality resembles that of a prophet or cult leader, repeating an aphoristic question to unite his business congregation (‘What have you done today to earn your place in this crowded world?’). The bureaucratic evil that occurs behind his closed doors unnerves in its normality, soon affecting a neglected scientist played by Rainn Wilson (i.e. Dwight from The Office).
Rainn Wilson (The Office) stars as scientist Michael Sterns. Photo: Amazon
On the face of it, indulging in the ‘truth’ of outlandish conspiracy theories – in this Twitter-y world of QAnon, Covid-causing 5G, and the Flat Earth Society – would run the risk of legitimising them. But Flynn approaches with caution, and formulates an almost illogical nightmare that can’t (or shouldn’t) be taken too seriously.
Flynn could never re-create the genius of the original, and even struggles with its weird black humour, but her vision is still a fun, thrilling and addictive series in its own right. It’s the closest to a series renewal that Utopia fans are going to get. Thankfully, it’s brilliant.
Utopia is available on Amazon Prime Video from Friday 25 September
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25 Sep 20 – 25 Sep 21, ON AMAZON PRIME VIDEO