What would you do if you knew your favorite comic book series could predict global epidemics? What if you could stop them? Enter Utopia, a new Amazon Studios series created by Gillian Flynn—a remake of the original British show of the same name.
The show follows a group of nerds who all want one thing: Utopia. See, Utopia is basically a myth. The rumored sequel to the fictional comic book series Dystopia, something that is a big deal to some in the world of the show. It’s not just any story though—our group of nerds believe that it is one big conspiracy, and that it has predicted plagues and other major events before they ever took place. They believe that if they find Utopia, they can prevent whatever it may predict—potentially saving the world.
Let’s just start with one of the core problems with Utopia. The show seemingly expects you to know everything about this huge fictional comic book series titled Dystopia. It acts as if you should be on the same page as the main characters, and in turn seems to think that we as the viewers will be just as invested as the characters when they discover new details about the series. The thing is though, we don’t. In fact I found myself lost quite often. What makes matters worse, is that the show never puts any effort into trying to catch you up, or show you anything about the characters or plot involved in the fictional Dystopia series. Even seven episodes in, I barely have any idea what Dystopia was even about—only the direct conspiracy ties that are focused on in the real world.
Not knowing the source material that all of the characters have dedicated their lives to is a problem that runs deep through the show. When lead character Jessica Hyde (played by Sasha Lane) shows up, I wasn’t blown away or in awe like our resident group of nerds. I was hardly affected, and found myself wondering why I should care so much. On top of that, it doesn’t help that she is an incredibly unlikeable character. A character that the show consistently attempts to have the viewers care about—attempts that fall flat. Not only does Jessica start out unlikeable, but she continues to give many reasons to not care about her or her problems. In this regard, Jessica’s actions speak louder than any backstory that the show provides us.
To add on to all of that, her choices aren’t always consistent. At one point early on in the batch of episodes, she shows no mercy to a particular character—an action that in turn also felt like it was made solely for shock value, whilst adding nothing to the proceeding plot. Given near identical situations later on, Jessica reacts far differently, even though there is seemingly no reason for her to do so—going against how her character was established and making her motivations and actions confusing in all of the wrong ways.
I’ve mentioned our residential group of nerds a couple times now—so let’s address them: they aren’t all that interesting. I mean in all honesty, most of the characters in the show aren’t. Out of the bunch I’d say that Ian (Dan Byrd) and Becky (Ashleigh LaThrop) are the most compelling, with Jessica Rothe’s Samantha bringing up the rear (If only because she’s one of the stronger performances in the show). Again though, that isn’t saying much when out against all of the other characters. Even outside of the nerds, nearly everyone else is a cookie-cutter type and doesn’t really do much to set them apart from the usual stereotype characters portrayed in similar conspiracy thrillers.
Then there is the matter of timing. While I can’t quite hold it against the show, and it isn’t a comment towards the quality of Utopia, there’s no doubt that the release of this show was incredibly poorly timed. Yes, I’m fully aware that the show was both written and filmed before the COVID-19 pandemic. Even then, frankly I’m surprised that Amazon decided it was okay to release it in the state that the world is in right now. While I myself am perfectly capable of separating art from the real world, I still couldn’t help but gape in disbelief at the topics and plots being tackled that hit all too close to home. It has a lot of problematic storylines and messages that may only serve to add turmoil to the already crazy mindset the world is in.
As I mentioned though, I can’t hold the timing of the show’s release against its quality. Instead I can only hold the quality of the story and characters presented to us accountable—and when it comes to that, the show doesn’t stand on a strong foundation. Utopia proves to be a confusing and tedious journey, with frustrating and relatively bland characters throughout. The show really wants you to be invested in the larger than life conspiracy, yet I just found myself wrapped up trying to figure out if the tangled mess of Utopia was one I ever had any interest in unraveling.