As COVID-19 unfold throughout the globe, viewership of Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 outbreak movie Contagion spiked. While the virulent illness in that movie is way deadlier than COVID-19, the characters’ unified response to discovering and distributing a vaccine looks as if wishful considering in a world the place the President of the United States is echoing the form of conspiracy theories and miracle cures that Jude Law’s huckster blogger touts within the movie, relatively than supporting medical doctors and scientists. Contagion conjures a mixture of hope and despair by displaying a pandemic situation that’s concurrently higher and worse than the one we’re all residing by.
Gillian Flynn’s replace of the BBC collection Utopia additionally facilities round a pandemic, but it surely doesn’t supply any of the consolation, solely paranoia. In totally different occasions, the Gone Girl and Sharp Objects writer’s eight-episode present, which releases on Amazon on Sept. 25, would simply be a mediocre conspiracy thriller with a cartoonishly evil villain, passive and inconsistent heroes, and a plot that drags on too lengthy. But in an period the place some individuals genuinely imagine COVID-19 is a hoax perpetrated by Bill Gates and the liberal deep state, airing a present a few plague engineered by a billionaire tech philanthropist and a world cabal feels irresponsible.
Utopia follows a gaggle of nerds who imagine that the plot of the indie graphic novel Dystopia, the place an excellent scientist is pressured to make killer viruses to guard his daughter, Jessica Hyde, is definitely true. When a never-before-seen comply with as much as the comedian, Utopia, goes up for public sale at a comic book conference, the group, which had beforehand solely communicated on-line, meets as much as attempt to purchase it. Of course they’re proper concerning the comedian telling an actual story, and the dangerous guys, often called The Harvest, will do something to get Utopia and forestall individuals from studying about their nefarious targets.
At greatest, this could possibly be a comic-themed model of The Last Starfighter, however mockingly, Flynn appears fairly dismissive of comics as a medium. In the primary episode, Samantha (Jessica Rothe), a passionate activist who believes Utopia holds the important thing to saving lives, attends a fan meetup on the con. When she tries to steer the dialog away from the comedian’s mythology to the way it predicted Ebola and MERS, the cosplaying guys there give her leery appears to be like and name her a conspiracy nut.
“You want a conspiracy?” she rants. “A few decades ago, a group of you fucking boy assholes managed to trick the world into believing that comic books were serious fucking literature, and now you get to sit around and Joseph Campbell the day away.”
This is fairly insulting to any comedian ebook followers watching Utopia, but it surely’s music to the ears of Samantha’s fellows, notably Wilson Wilson (Desmin Borges of You’re the Worst), a prepper with a bunker crammed with canned meals who has taught himself how you can dislocate his wrists to keep away from being interrogated, however someway doesn’t personal a single gun. Their group is rounded out by Becky (Ashleigh LaThrop of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Kominsky Method), a generic good lady who believes the comedian would possibly maintain the secrets and techniques to her curing her seizure dysfunction; Ian (Dan Byrd of Cougar Town), who isn’t a real believer, however is into Becky; and Grant (Javon Walton of Euphoria), a scrappy child who’s been masquerading on-line as a younger grownup.
All their obsessing is vindicated when brokers of The Harvest and the true Jessica Hyde (Sasha Lane of American Honey and the 2019 Hellboy reboot) present up on the con, and the followers get caught within the crosshairs. While the BBC model of Utopia was a darkish comedy, there are few laughs in Flynn’s model, which as an alternative depends closely on gratuitous scenes of mass homicide and dismemberment, and a George R.R. Martin-style grimdark sensibility the place likable characters are sometimes abruptly killed.
Jessica is a feral psychopath who treats the protagonists as instruments. Yet the Utopia fanatics are fast to forgive her heinous actions, and repeatedly go away Grant in her care. They additionally appear to immediately neglect concerning the horrific issues they undergo. At one level, Wilson and Becky speak about how cool it’s to be residing within the Utopia conspiracy, as they’re sitting in the identical room as a pal’s corpse, only a day after Wilson had his eye gouged out.
The conspiracy in query facilities on a mysterious flu outbreak killing youngsters within the Midwest. Scientific genius and philanthropist Dr. Kevin Christie (John Cusack) is the architect of the plague, however when the FDA means that his artificial meat could be accountable, he says that’s a “right-wing conspiracy.” Much of the plot looks like a QAnon guidelines, with Christie engaged within the trafficking and indoctrination of youngsters to supply a number of false-flag operations. He helps paint the FDA as bumbling bureaucrats holding again a life-saving vaccine, in an effort to persuade individuals to get pictures which are all a part of his nefarious targets to make sure everybody earns their “place in this crowded world.” At least Cusack appears to be having enjoyable as he channels a fusion of hoaky paternalism and pure evil that was performed higher by Harry Groener as Mayor Richard Wilkins in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Cusack’s scheme could possibly be an announcement on how simply individuals will be duped, however the plot can be fairly firmly on the aspect of anti-vaxxers and pandemic skeptics. While the present was filmed in Chicago, Flynn additionally buys into propaganda concerning the metropolis’s lawlessness. When the conspiracy theorists are debating about what to do with the physique of a lady Jessica executed, Becky suggests they only go away her within the open, since nobody will query discovering one other taking pictures sufferer within the metropolis.
The solely actual darkish comedy on this model of Utopia is unintentional. When schlubby community-college virologist Dr. Michael Stearns (Rainn Wilson of The Office) reveals up on the website of one of many outbreaks — which has been swiftly contained by the U.S. army — he tries to bluff his means in by asking a soldier if she desires to cease him from combating “the most fatal flu epidemic in American history.” At that time, 92 individuals are lifeless. It’s comical to see how critically this comparatively minor outbreak is taken, in gentle of the continued real-world debate concerning the dangers of COVID-19. Maybe issues could be totally different if it was like Utopia’s flu, which is ludicrously 100% deadly and has a cute white lady as a poster-child case. Maybe COVID-19 could be perceived in another way if it didn’t primarily kill seniors and people of color.
Flynn channeled a higher-quality model of paranoia in her novel and subsequent movie Gone Girl, which examined how simply the reality will be manipulated to fabricate a criminal offense, or a media narrative. Utopia largely boils right down to a MacGuffin hunt, with many of the characters simply ready round or working from place to put with out a lot company. They’re hunted by generic sociopath Arby (Christopher Denham), who Flynn tries however fails to make sympathetic. The solely issues which are genuinely evocative about Utopia are the discordant, ominous rating by Emmy-winning composer Jeff Russo (Fargo), and the graphic-novel artwork created by Joao Ruas, which looks like a horror-themed spin on the work Mark Buckingham did on Fables.
Utopia closely telegraphs its plot twists, leaving viewers ready for its thinly written characters to catch up. With crises in the true world transferring sooner, Utopia received’t supply any hope, solutions, or perhaps a benign distraction. Hopefully, its aimless mediocrity may also preserve it from doing any actual injury by inspiring individuals who suppose that sharing conspiracy theories on-line could make them heroes.
All eight episodes of Utopia at the moment are streaming on Amazon Prime.