Though not quite as perfect as the name would suggest, Utopia is an imaginative and exciting action drama that keeps you theorizing episode after episode. Unfortunately, the show falls flat because of its drawn out nature and it fails to consistently introduce characters and situations that keep us engaged throughout. A spinoff of the original British dark comedy, Utopia feels like it needed more time in the lab to “…earn [its] place in this crowded world…”
Cards on the table Gillian Flynn wrote my favorite novel, Gone Girl, so when I heard she had an original show coming out for Amazon Studios I was all in. Never mind how I felt about Widows, she has proven that she’s capable of writing engaging content that challenges your preconceptions.
She’s back in the visual storytelling realm! Aside from Gone Girl Flynn is the acclaimed writer of the novels-turned-film/series Dark Places & Sharp Objects. She also wrote Steve McQueen’s aforementioned crime-drama Widows. She now takes a crack at showrunning, demonstrating what a multi-faceted and hungry creative she is.
Utopia puts a group of online-friends who are obsessed with a cult comic in the center of a world ending conspiracy and in the crosshairs of the shadowy organization behind it all. Can they save us before our undoing?
This show hooked me almost immediately. Right off the bat it introduced a level of conspiracy and puzzle solving I have a strong affinity towards. Besides that, it showed that it would rely heavily on humor, which I also dig. What caught me by surprise is that the show takes a violent right turn into thriller territory that felt odd. I don’t have issues with violence most of the time but when it isn’t introduced early on it can be a bit jarring. I almost wish we had seen some indicator early on but then again, Flynn does seem to love keeping her audience a bit disoriented, never quite knowing what’s coming next. Again, I played ball and found myself fully immersed and engaged. More than meets the eye, if you will.
Where the show begins to truly go downhill is in the characters. We have some that are just unnecessary or that, at the very least, did not need to be introduced as early as they were. It reminds me of Bad Robot’s Revolution. Remember what an excellent premise that was and how quickly it deteriorated into a heaping pile of Ughs and eye rolls? They introduced characters too soon. Characters that knew the answers to the worlds problems but refused to share them with the rest of the class. Why? Because… if they shared them the show would have no mystery left. Why introduce them in the first place?! We have a similar problem here. Sasha Lane’s character comes in and makes your head spin. Domineering, she overpowers scenes for the worst, making choices that force you to question how you should feel about her. The writers then create situations in which they seem to be telling us she’s our protagonist. Alex, I’ll take “She’s not my hero” for 2000! Now you might be thinking “Can a character be so bad they ruin a series almost entirely?” Yes, yes they can be.
The rest of the cast actually surprises me, especially Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton. Actually, both of our younger actors, Javon & Farrah Mackenzie, gave great performances. Another standout for me was Rainn Wilson, who I love seeing in just about anything. That being said, I found his characters storyline unnecessary and I’m hoping we get something soon that makes his entire journey make more sense and seem more important.
On the plus side of the show, I want to give credit to the art designers. A major element of this show is the titular comic, Utopia, and the comic that originated the series, Dystopia. The illustrations in both of these are effective on many levels. The show recognized the importance of the comic and prioritized it accordingly. One of the best parts of each episode is the credits. Really not trying to make that a dig at the show. The credits incorporate the comic into them, changing per episode and encapsulating the essence of what we just saw into its credits.
Lastly, I want to address the idea that I have heard a number of times that this show has to somehow comment on the COVID-19 epidemic or else its hogwash. For those unaware, this show was written and filmed before the outbreak. By the time the outbreak reached LA, which is where the postproduction house is, the editing process was well underway. It was in no way inspired by the current predicament the world finds itself in. It’s actually less a commentary on pandemics and more a commentary on corporate influence on the government as well as on government ineffectiveness.
Listen, this show is nowhere near perfect but I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t looking forward to a second season, assuming we get one. I really feel the creators have an opportunity here to make something great. They just need to adjust and rely on their strengths. Focus on the mystery and the twisted nature of the premise and stop having characters we’re supposed to accept make unforgivable decisions, unless you are going to find a way to convince us they made the right choice by revealing something we were unaware of.
All in all, I say watch the show. In truth, the second half of the season is much stronger than the first but you can’t have one without the other. I look forward to seeing how they wrap it up on the last episode. Fingers crossed we get a crazy reveal that sends the internet into a frenzy and gets the second season greenlit!
Born in Puerto Rico but raised in a combination of the island, Boston and upstate New York. This guy’s accent shifts depending on his mood, as does his sense of style. If you don’t understand him sometimes, don’t feel bad, neither do we.
Having studied film in Florida, with a focus on writing and directing, and having worked on many projects of all sizes and scope, Raul has a well rounded understanding of cinema. He is also a huge fan of American Football and believes Tom Brady to be the indisputable G.O.A.T.