One day, I’ll finally get around to watching that original, U.K. version of “Utopia.” When it made its debut in 2013, it was met with rave reviews and soon amassed a diehard fanbase. Unfortunately for them, what they had in passion, they lacked in size — the show was canceled before it could make it to Season 3. But now, after six years, “Gone Girl” author Gillian Flynn is resurrecting the series with an uncomfortably topical remix. Thanks to Flynn’s knack for mind-bending twists and spine-chilling psychopaths, my first experience with the world of “Utopia” was an absolute thrillride.
After years of waiting, a group of fans are ecstatic to hear that a follow up to their favorite comic book, “Dystopia,” has been made available for auction. The team meets for the first time in person to discuss bidding strategies, make friends and go over their crazy theory: that the events of the comic book are real. This, of course, means that someone, somewhere, has been purposely manufacturing contagious viruses, and the new book could help them stop the next one before it happens. As it turns out, not only are they right, but their attempts to secure the new copy (called “Utopia”) get them tangled in a wickedly violent web of a world-altering conspiracy.
Fans of the original show often rave about its expertly crafted shots, memorable music and dark humor. The 2020 remake, admittedly, doesn’t capture all that. While Flynn is responsible for writing all eight episodes of the season, she hands off the bulk of the directing work to Toby Haynes (“Doctor Who”) and Susanna Fogel (“The Spy Who Dumped Me”), who approach the series with a more playful tone. They don’t seem to take the absurd violence too seriously and for the most part, it’s pretty fun. On certain occasions though, not so much. It can be disappointing to see such densely disturbing subject matter undermined with a safe, almost teenage drama-looking, color palette. Luckily, the writing is exciting enough on its own.
If it wasn’t obvious enough before, Gillian Flynn is a master of twists. It’s this exact quality that shot her to fame with books like “Gone Girl,” and it’s also this exact quality that makes her perfectly cut out for TV writing. The ability to take an audience’s breath away and leave them craving that next episode has proven invaluable, and Flynn most definitely has it. There’s a moment at the end of the second episode that makes it immediately clear how willing she is to break the rules. As a result, the rest of the series feels wonderfully unpredictable. There’s a reason why so many people call TV a writer’s medium, and Flynn is a writer through and through.
The most interesting character in the friend group at the core of the show is Wilson Wilson (Desmin Borges, “You’re the Worst”). He’s a socially awkward doom-monger with a homemade bunker under his house. And despite his lack of money or importance in the world, he has trained himself to endure 180 seconds of waterboarding torture … just in case. In any other universe, Wilson Wilson would be the town nutcase. But within the twisted world of “Utopia,” he may be the only character who’s responding appropriately. Things are that bad.
To many, 2020 has been the worst year in a long time. However, to those that have been paying more attention, it’s been a long time coming, and it’s probably only the beginning. In a country that grants billionaires access to virtually unchecked power, is it really crazy to think that they might be up to something we don’t know? The heroic positioning Flynn gives him is timely, and the conclusion it offers is frightening: We should have been listening to our Wilson Wilsons.
I look forward to diving into the original series and seeing for myself what all the hype is about. I don’t doubt that the diehards would insist how much better it is. Nevertheless, for new fans like me, the 2020 remake is a more than satisfactory introduction. With a great cast that includes John Cusack (“Being John Malkovich”), Rainn Wilson (“The Office”), Dan Byrd (“Easy A”) and Ashleigh LaThrop (“The Kominsky Method”), there’s a whole lot to love here.
Gillian Flynn’s “Utopia” is the most exciting way to confront your repressed fears of impending doom. What’s more timely than that?
Contributor Ben Servetah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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