Utopia review: Initial promise goes astray
There is an evident demand now for content about pandemics, conspiracy theories, and everything apocalyptic. Utopia checks all of these boxes. Writer Gillian Flynn’s adaptation of the eponymous 2013 British series has been in the making since 2018, but it couldn't have asked for a better time for release. Such is the relevance that each episode starts with the disclaimer that Utopia is a work of fiction and ‘not based on an actual pandemic or related events’. The first few episodes of Utopia live up to the promotions but then the redundancies and cliches seep in.
Creator: Gillian Flynn
Cast: Sasha Lane, Rainn Wilson, John Cusack, Dan Byrd, Christopher Dunham, Desmin Borges
Rating: 2.5 / 5
A bunch of die-hard fans of Dystopia, a gruesome comic series about a little girl called Jessica Hyde, decide to finally meet when they learn about the existence of its sequel, Utopia. The four fans believe that the author of the series is predicting world pandemics even before they happen and leaves clues in his series. The gang decides to use it to predict what the future holds for mankind. The catch? There are two highly efficient killers who hunt down whoever lays eyes on Utopia. Meanwhile, our lead heroes and heroines get taken captive by a young woman, who says she is ‘Jessica Hyde’ and that Utopia is the story of her life.
Utopia undoubtedly has an engaging premise and just from the first episode, you see that it is a series that will be teeming with twists and turns. The motivations and backgrounds of the lead characters are set effortlessly, with the series owing its appeal to a refusal to be safe with the lives of its characters (at least for a while). The deaths and violence take you by surprise but it is not a series that lingers on them. The attempts at black humour also chip away at feelings you have for the plight of fallen characters.
Gillian Flynn claimed that this American version is low on the violence quotient in comparison with the British original. However, Utopia is still violent enough to cause unease. The violence here is, like the Tarantino brand, with an emphasis on style. You find a ten-year cute little girl shooting down a trained assassin, and then jumping on the bed with her friend to loud music, so she can forget about her first kill. The series constantly tries to shock audience with such bloodshed but after a point, you become numb to its effects.
What I liked about Utopia is the way it treats some stereotypes and breaks them. We have Dr. Kevin Christie (first major TV role of John Cusack), the owner of a big pharma company for a villain. It might seem like he is the archetype of those bad guys who lead the twin lives of an altruistic family man and a merciless crony capitalist. In Utopia, the villain in Dr. Kevin Christie hides in plain sight, and so do his hitmen and accomplices. The brilliant performance from John Cusack also makes it all look convincing. Similar treatment is meted out to the assassin Arby (Christopher Denham) and the nerd Wilson Wilson (Desmin Borges), who are more than the shallow stereotypical labels we associate them with.
Ironically, the reverse seems to have happened with Utopia. It tries to be a deep, thought-provoking series packaged as a mainstream thriller. However, in all, it turns out to have nothing at the centre underneath all the layers. That it takes the easy and convenient way out towards the end does not help at all.