Amazon Prime's Utopia featured image.


Dept. of Comic Book Cabals


On the face of it, Utopia feels like the kind of thing that is laser targeted towards someone like me. A group of comic book nerds, who are obsessed with a mysterious graphic novel, and convinced that its pages hold clues to ending an actual, honest-to-God pandemic, become entangled in a dark and violent real world conspiracy involving bioweapons, synthetic meat, corporate death squads, and John Cusack.

What’s not to love right?

Utopia is very much a premium product. One that is stuffed to the gills with great actors, a stylish production, and a timely narrative. And given the behind the scenes talent involved, it would be hard for this to be a complete disappointment. And it isn’t. Not completely. But for something that looks this accomplished, Utopia doesn’t quite feel sly enough or unsettling enough to mean something.


This adaptation of Utopia has been a long time in the making. It’s passed through many hands and different networks (including David Fincher’s and HBO’s), before landing with Gillian Flynn and on Amazon Prime Video. This remake of a cult British series seems to want to take its cues from movies like The Parallax View and Enemy of the State, and from books like Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

Flynn, who wrote all eight episodes, is aiming for creepy and quirky, but unfortunately comes off as trying a little too hard. Plot developments are revealed by way of dialogue that is often deliberately euphemistic or cryptic for the sake of it. Characters are saddled with and defined by their eccentricities. And for a show that constantly references a villain called Mr. Rabbit, there just isn’t nearly enough kook.

I went into Utopia trying to judge it on its own merits. Having not seen the original Channel 4 production, I figured that I wouldn’t bring with me any of the baggage that comes with watching the inevitable American retread of a popular “foreign” product. I went into this blind, with no preconceived notions, and no sense of resentment that my favourite show was cancelled after just two seasons despite winning an international Emmy for best drama.


After sitting through the first four episodes, however, I couldn’t help but seek out the original. And while Dennis Kelly’s version and Gillian Flynn’s variant have a lot in common, the former felt purposeful while the latter seems to be stuck painting-by-numbers.

Take, for example, the opening moments of both shows. The U.K. original kicks things off in the Doomsday Comics shop where a pair of assassins, on the hunt for the “Utopia” manuscript, ruthlessly murder three men, and a child. It is an unapologetically violent and gloriously unnerving moment of television. It grabs your attention. It puts you on guard. The violence has a purpose. Not just for shock and awe, but to create within you a sense of anxiety and unease.

This remake, on the other hand, opens with a young couple moving into a newly inherited home where they stumble upon the manuscript of an unpublished comic that they think will make them rich. They decide to sell it at a convention in Chicago and set up a blind auction that expectedly drives the comic book community into conniptions. The couple are a digression that take up most of the first episode’s run time, and serve no narrative purpose other than as a convenient story contrivance that brings our five-person squad of heroes together.

It’s a waste of time and character. And is just one example of the bloat and poor narrative decisions that are littered throughout Utopia. Add to that the inconsistent switching between multiple narratives, and you’re never quite given the chance to connect with or care about any of these characters.

Utopia on Amazon Prime Video.

I kept coming back to shows like Stranger Things, or even The Boys. Shows that are rooted so deeply in science fiction and fantasy that they require a significant suspension of disbelief on our part. Unlike Utopia, which speaks to this precise moment, both Stranger Things and The Boys are shows that deal with the fantastical. Also unlike Utopia, both of those shows have a real weight to them.

As I was making my way through these eight episodes, I kept asking myself why I cared more about Eleven and Demogorgons than I did about the disparate and desperate characters in Utopia.


A part of it has to do with the villain of the piece. Or rather, the lack of one. The problem with not having a big bad is that the audience doesn’t have anything to fear. The problem with having political posturing and corporate manipulations in the face of a pandemic be your primary source of horror is that the real world has given us far more to be afraid of than anything that’s contained within Gillian Flynn’s wildest imaginations.

In many ways, Utopia’s timeliness has been its greatest weakness. Every episode of Utopia begins with the following trigger warning:

This program is a work of fiction, and not based on an actual pandemic or related events. It contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.

Though I’m not sure if anything in it is quite as frightening as what we see every day on the news.

Utopia on Amazon Prime Video.

Is it unfair to expect originality from a remake? Maybe it’s asking too much from something which is, by its very nature, derivative. But then I think of Snowpiercer, and House of Cards, and The Office, and I am reminded of just how good they can be.

As for Utopia, let’s just say that it’s more Gracepoint than it is Shameless. In fact, the best thing to come from this version is the hordes of people that may now be compelled to check out Dennis Kelly’s original.

Amazon Prime Video, Season 1, 8 episodes
Showrunner: Gillian Flynn
Directors: Toby Haynes, Susanna Fogel, Courtney Hunt, and J. D. Dillard
Writer: Gillian Flynn
Cast: John Cusack, Ashleigh LaThrop, Dan Byrd, Desmin Borges, Jessica Rothe, Christopher Denham, Javon Walton, Farrah Mackenzie, Cory Michael Smith, Jeanine Serralles, Rainn Wilson, and Sasha Lane

All eight episodes of Utopia are now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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