Utopia (2020): Utopia for Newbies   First Watch 
September 25, 2020 7:40 PM - Season 1 (Full Season) - Subscribe

A group of young adults get a hold of a cult underground graphic novel, which burdens them with the dangerous task of saving the world.

The new Amazon series Utopia is a remake of a 2013 British show of the same name. That show has a cult following. This post is for discussion of the new show for people who have not watched the original or for people who want to discuss the new show without comparing it to the original. There will be a second post to discuss the new show for people who have seen the original and/or who want to discuss/compare the new show to the original.
posted by guiseroom (13 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've watched the first two episodes. I really like Gillian Flynn's novels a lot, so this is hard to say, but this show has a lot of shit wrong with it. Its tone is all over the place, with violence an excuse for bad edgelord slapstick one minute and unpleasant torture porn the next. Joe Bob Briggs famously said a great horror film is one where anyone can die at any time, but in a long narrative like this one, random deaths just make me lose investment in the characters -- if the show doesn't give a shit about them, why should I? I'm curious to see how (if) it ends, but kinda like Ratched (which I abandoned after one episode), I'm not sure who this is for.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:58 PM on September 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

I had no idea about the source material. Now I'm very curious.
posted by miss-lapin at 8:08 PM on September 25, 2020

Wow, kittens for breakfast, you neatly summed-up my feelings about so many such shows today. I was kind of interested in this, but now I think I'm going to give this one a pass.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:40 AM on September 26, 2020

Well, I was gonna parcel this out, but I ended up staying up until 3:30 am binging the whole thing.

I admit I was watching for "oh please let this finally be something good for John Cusack again he's had shit luck picking projects for a while now", but did end up getting pulled into the story.

Still not perfect, though; there are definite warts. But it did have enough of an "I want to know what happens" thing that I did end up binging.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:04 PM on September 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

I never saw the original, but I made it through two episodes of this before giving up. I might come back later, but probably not. The fringecon segment took forever (or at least, there was fat that could be trimmed, how many shots of fan stereotypes did we need in the interviews etc.?), and I didn't like how it wasn't really clear whether the members of the group saw the comic as real or just as a puzzle to be solved (in particular, Wilson and Sam seemed to buy it while Ian didn't and I couldn't get a read on Becky except the neck tattoo strongly suggests "real" but maybe that's a red herring and she got the tattoo b/c she's a big fan). I found Jessica Hyde to be very annoying.

Basically, by episode two it seemed already to be getting worse, and it didn't start off great to begin with. Which is too bad, because I liked Desmond Borges since YtW and Rainn Wilson and John Cusack at least always have some promise.
posted by axiom at 9:35 PM on September 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm most of the way through it now. I do think it gets better, but on the whole I expected a better show.

One thing I really can't let go of is Dystopia/Utopia itself, which doesn't seem to fit into any known paradigm of popular comics. How did this book even enter into the popular consciousness, and how popular was it? It appears to have been a print comic, but who published it? Did (as is common) the publisher own the characters? If not, wouldn't just publishing the manuscript themselves have been a better idea for Olivia and her boyfriend than...whatever they were doing in the hotel room? And if there is a publisher who owns the characters, why didn't they just offer to sell the publisher the manuscript? Why was this book popular with the kind of lame Kevin Smith style fans we saw in the pilot? It seems like something only people who shopped at Hot Topic when they were in college would be into. And so on. I get the strong impression that the creators of the show are not very familiar with the world of comics fandom, for better or worse.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:27 PM on September 26, 2020

We just finished this and although I enjoyed it and found it compelling, I have to say I kind of agree with this Slate article: (Warning, article has massive spoilers.)

[Click for spoiler] You can probably see the problem here, and it’s an insurmountable one. We are in the middle of an actual pandemic, a staggering number of Americans sincerely believe that that pandemic is a politically motivated hoax, and an equally staggering number believed vaccines were harmful years before COVID-19 emerged. It’s not the filmmakers’ fault we’re in this mess; it’s not their fault so much of the public is superstitious and gullible; and it won’t be their fault if Utopia gives some dumbass the confidence they need to quit wearing a mask and infect and kill you or the people you care about. Make whatever art you like—the audience isn’t your problem! But if you’ve made something about a scrappy group of kids uncovering a giant conspiracy, and it turns out that in the time since you finished shooting, that exact conspiracy theory has suddenly revealed itself to be (A) believed by a significant portion of the population and (B) deadly, it might not be a bad idea to push the release date.

I went into it knowing nothing except that it was about a group of friends who find out the conspiracy in their favourite comic book is actually real. I liked the premise, so I was keen to try it. However, it was a lot more violent than I thought it would be—I really hate torture scenes and had I known there would be so many, I would not have started watching. But once we had seen the first episode, I felt like I had to know what happened next, so I just ended up closing my eyes a lot.

I did like the diversity in the cast and the Bechdel-test-passing nature of it; I thought all the actors did a great job. I know Jessica Hyde is an unlikeable character, but I thought Sasha Lane did well and made the character unexpectedly sympathetic. I was pretty shocked by the death of one character, but it still worked for me, because it threw me off and basically reinforced the idea that the audience should never assume we can know what will happen next.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:53 AM on September 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Just a reminder: a person does not need to hide discussion of a show's plot points with spoiler tags while in the post for the discussion of the show's plot points.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:59 AM on September 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

I finished it. I think leading up to a cliffhanger was a mistake; there's not really enough story here for eight hours, and the idea of eight more makes me tired all over.

Mostly, I can't let go of the conceit around this comic book that I can't understand how anyone ever saw, or why anyone was that interested in it. The art is really pretty (I'm not sure who drew it in real life, but it looks great), but the story seems simplistic and almost text-free. I've picked up books like this at SPX and enjoyed them, but they're not things with big audiences. Going in, I expected the opposite -- that the comic would have a vast scope and a variety of subplots that the heroes (and the viewers) could delve into for clues and real world parallels. This kind of "what if Slave Labor Graphics had done an Alice in Wonderland book" isn't that, and I can't imagine it would captivate many readers.

I'm also left with like...what is this story about, and what is it saying? It seems like a shaggy dog story that, as Christie said, is there to keep people asking what's next. But you wouldn't ask what was next if what was there was more interesting. Ultimately, it seems kinda empty.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:10 AM on September 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

On investigation, the person who drew the Utopia comic is the cover artist of the DC/Vertigo series Fables, which I totally see now that I know that.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:37 AM on September 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Yeah, this is definitely falling into the "ugh, there isn't anything else available at the moment, the summer shows are all finishing up and the fall shows haven't quite started yet, it's better than nothing" category after 4 episodes. I'm sort of kind of interested in the general intrigue, but I gotta admit the tone isn't quite landing right.
posted by Kyol at 8:11 PM on October 3, 2020

So we finally got to the end of it and it was OK - the weird pacing sort of settled down, or maybe we just got used to it by the end of the season? Sneaking a peek over into the "for experts" thread makes it sound like the original version was maybe a little less obviously bludgeon-y, so we'll give that a shot next.
posted by Kyol at 3:21 PM on October 12, 2020

One slightly silly and petty thing I liked - in the episode where a kidnapped Christie has been turned over to them, cocooned in duct tape, and tries to talk his way out of it, because it forced poor John Cusack to try crossing a room with this ridiculous wriggling bunny hop which was inexplicably funny.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:57 PM on October 12, 2020

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