Utopia (2020): Utopia for Experts
September 25, 2020 8:56 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 watched the original. There is a separate post to discuss the new show for people who have not seen the original.
posted by guiseroom (14 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We watched the pilot, then I made Comrade Doll watch the first scene of the original.

"They just opened a mystery in three minutes that the remake needed an hour to start. And this version, I want to see more of."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:24 PM on September 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

It's fine, but I don't know that I want to watch more than the first episode, particularly. The original was nasty, but there was something hypnotic about it - in particular Cristobal Tapia de Veer's woozy electronic score, perhaps, along with the cinematography and art direction, the real star of the original show). I remembered after watching this episode that by half-way through, I'd felt emotionally brutalised by the casual killing (I had a similar reaction to the first couple of seasons of Breaking Bad), and could see this going the same way. The difference is that with the original it felt worth it somehow, and with this... less so.

The phrase that my inner voice offered up was "Like Sheryl Crow covering Trout Mask Replica".
posted by Grangousier at 1:57 AM on September 26, 2020 [6 favorites]

Though one thing that did strike me this time round, which didn't really before, is that the Utopia manuscript is, in itself, a virus - that people who come into contact with it, however glancingly, are liable to die. Which makes Arby and Lee contact tracers, I suppose.
posted by Grangousier at 2:11 AM on September 26, 2020 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure if this is worth the time to watch. The original is great, but both bleak and visually vibrant in turns. I'll have to give the first episode a go and see.
posted by Catblack at 7:42 AM on September 26, 2020

Making this pandemic conspiracy story less vicious and more satirical probably seemed like a great idea during preproduction.

Maybe less so in the world we ended up in this year.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:21 AM on September 26, 2020 [4 favorites]

One last thought before I shut up and make sure I leave space for others... but this remake, for me, fails on mood.

There is a moment in many horror movies where a character has a sudden realization that they have descended into something awful. They wake up in a basement, tied to a chair, they realize their neighbor is a killer and they are trapped with them. The original Utopia series was that feeling writ large, the sudden exposure of a conspiracy so vast, so awful, so ruthless that it felt like the terror in those first few seconds waking up in the killer neighbor's basement exploded into an entire world and every day for the rest of the characters' lives. The world is secretly awful and intent on their death. There's no bottom and it can only get worse.

I've only seen two eps of this so far. But I'm baffled at anyone who thought the crushing pessimism of the original needed to be discarded. That was the show.

I will keep watching for a bit. And maybe they will build something else in its place. But to this point, it feels defanged. The show is really missing the nasty portentousness that was the original's driving force.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:13 PM on September 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

Only watched the first episode, but it's kind of sad how it went. I was hoping they would go somewhere different, but it's a remake, not a continuation of the story. Quite a shame. They even dressed that one bad guy the same and everything. There's a different Wilson Wilson, a different Grant, etc... ug. It didn't need to be like this.
posted by Catblack at 5:22 PM on September 29, 2020

I have a question for the experts here: How many of the QAnon elements in the 2020 version were also present in the 2013 version?

I assume the "billionaire philanthropist sterilizes the planet using a fake vaccine" part must have been there, since it's so central to the plot -- but I'm thinking in particular of the finer details like the "children shipped in boxes" thing, which was really the moment where I stopped being able to enjoy the show as fiction and started seeing it as actively promoting conspiracy theories.

Was that added in 2020? Or did 2013 Utopia predict the future? (or is Q a fan?)
posted by ook at 9:14 AM on September 30, 2020

In the original, the sterilization was achieved via a combination of elements secreted by a cabal of governmental/business elites into a million different things, harmless separately but once you combine several of them... they've got you. It was in processed food, pesticides, deodorant, medicine, etc. The rollout was calculated so that a) it would never be traced to any one thing and b) it wouldn't reach everyone, just... enough people.

It was a more clever plan and a more insidious one.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:51 PM on September 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

>harmless separately but once you combine several of them

Probably influenced by the news around BPA in plastics at that time. But yes, the re-make is very simplistic - and it's visuals and storytelling are all over the place. On one hand, it seems to cater to the young-adult crowd, on the other - the ultraviolence is jarring and feels forced.

But - that may be an "Amazon studios" thing - because the ultraviolence in "The Boys" also felt a bit... forced - but it worked there. (And... "Hunters")
posted by rozcakj at 7:39 AM on October 1, 2020

Oooh that’s much more interesting than a vaccine, DirtyOldTown. How disappointing.
posted by ook at 6:42 PM on October 1, 2020

So I'm _mostly_ through the UK version now and I'm torn - taken on just what was revealed in the first season of both the UK and US Utopias, I think the US did a mildly better job of linking the gang together and knowing who Jessica Hyde was and sort of explaining the background motivations of Christie Corp and how all the deceptions and sleights of hand happened. The UK version had a comic and a brief scene with Becky trying to get funding to research it, but none of them seemed to know anything about what was going on despite Utopia being a well known enough an artifact for people to have discussed it and apparently a version had floated through the comic book shop, but after that it's like our gang were just overcome by events and Utopia didn't apply to the series except when they needed to move something along. I think the minor tweak of having Dystopia be an as-yet unknown release from the same artist who did a popular underground comic helped make the US story make a bit more internal sense?

All that said, I think the second UK season helped tie some of it together, but the first season taken on its own was much more of a "terrible things keep happening to our gang who are just BBS friends and here's a psychotic pixie dream girl annnd some hints at a conspiracy of some sort?"

To be fair, that might just be confusion about the points where the UK and US versions diverged. The second UK season has been a lot more satisfying from a storytelling perspective, although I think it's dancing a little close to farce, while the first season had a certain groundedness.

On the other hand, the US version had too many episodes to fill up and ended up lingering on some unimportant bits for waaaaay too long. And the UK version's soundtrack is definitely superior. And the whole conspiracy angle is probably better executed in the UK version _despite_ how much I preferred having Christiecorp's CEO just kinda going "mua-ha-ha-ha" and twirling his mustache in the US version. The US version gives you a peek behind the curtains a bit earlier than the UK version did, which on the one hand sort of deflates some of the conspiracy, on the other hand brings up more impetus for Our Gang to continue doing things?

And while I remember something about the crisps and Janus in the UK version (ah, Episode 4, they were planning on delivering the flu via foods produced by Pergus), they've sort of blown past that in the second season and it's 100% a planted disease followed by a sterilizing vaccine so even the conspiracy sort of ends up being the same.
posted by Kyol at 9:30 AM on October 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've just launched into episode 4, and dear god is this show bad. I mean, it's well made, but the central gang is so very miscast. Considering it's an american remake, I'd just urge anyone to watch the first series and skip this one. I'll probably try to finish it but it's that central gang of protagonists that makes the original one so great.
posted by Catblack at 10:12 PM on November 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

I just described this in another thread as my biggest regret of anything I've watched the past two years. I sincerely hope they aren't still streaming this and have pulled it. It's bad in every way compared to the original and the increased anti-vax messaging in this version has probably killed real actual people at this point.
posted by Catblack at 9:23 AM on January 19, 2022

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