Several days ago in one of my Facebook posts about entertainment news I mentioned that I was watching Amazon’s new series “Utopia” based on a British series of the same name. I had only watched about two episodes and made some positive comments about it but said I would wait to review it until I had seen more. I’m glad I waited because this series which was already dark humor turned extremely dark and cynical and got worse as the series progressed to a depressing finale. Minor spoilers ahead but I’m careful not to spoil major plot twists or the conclusions.
One could ask do we really want to watch a TV series about a pandemic in these times? I initially didn’t let that stop me from giving it a fair shake. And as mentioned, after a couple of episodes I was really intrigued. I thought it was a very funny yet dark comedy. The initial premise is that there is a group of fans of an underground comic book called “Dystopia”. Someone cleaning out there late grandfather’s home finds the manuscript for a sequel comic called “Utopia”. They announce that it will be for sale to the highest bidder at an upcoming comic convention. The five fans who had never met each other in person make plans to meet up, pool their resources, and purchase the manuscript.
The reason there is such fascination about this hidden treasure is that the original “Dystopia” comic contained all sorts of hidden clues about various diseases and viruses such as Ebola, swine flu, SARS and others. While some just enjoyed it as a quirky bizarre underground graphic novel, others based huge conspiracy theories around the story. At the comic convention, bidders were each allowed to see one page of the manuscript and then place a bid and leave contact information. At the convention, 2 mysterious people show up and start tracking down everyone who has seen the comic.
They end up murdering the people who discovered the comic, finding the list of bidders, murdering all them and framing one of them for the murders. Our main characters managed to escape this fate including a young boy named Grant who manages to steal the comic from the high bidder as the bad guys are murdering the new owner.
In what appears initially to be a side plot, a rich tech mogul Dr. Kevin Christie played by John Cusack has introduced a new food product he calls SimPro which stands for “Simple Protein”. It is a laboratory created meat substitute. He has sold it to school districts around the country for school lunches but mysteriously a fatal flu outbreak starts killing children in the schools where his product is used. The conspiracy theorists believe that “Utopia” has more clues to this and other future pandemics which makes it an even bigger hot commodity.
Suddenly a kick ass young woman appears and is also chasing down the new comic and teams up with our young heroes. She claims to be Jessica Hyde which is the name of one of the characters in the comics. Her claim is that everything in the comic is true especially the part about her life story.
While this started out as a dark, funny satire on comic fandom, cosplay, conspiracy theorists, and nerd culture, the story goes darker and darker by the minute. The hitmen who are killing off everyone who has seen the comic are especially brutal. Jessica herself is also a brutal killer having no qualms about torturing or murdering anyone who gets in her way. She is in search of her father who was somehow involved in the entire conspiracy.
While Cusack’s company is cleared by the FDA of having any wrongdoing in the pandemic deaths of the children, we slowly begin to discover that he is involved in a much more nefarious plot. Again I’m trying not to give way too much of the plot but let’s just say he is one of the most ruthless, evil, and heartless characters you’ve probably seen in some time. Especially troublesome about the entire story is the way that children are manipulated and used as pawns in this game. Children are brutally murdered, they are driven to murder, and their parents are killed in front of them. The casual disregard for human life in general but especially are treated is quite disturbing.
Throughout the show we still have these same funny, quirky nerd characters that you sort of fell in love with in the first couple of episodes. But the brutally dark nature of everything else detracts from any feel-good aspects of the show. I managed to watch all eight episodes mostly just because I was sucked in and wanted to see where it was all going.
As I said in the title to this blog, the fact that it deals with a fatal pandemic is not the most disturbing thing about this series. I know people (my sister for example) who seriously disliked “The Hunger Games” because it was about kids killing kids for sport. But at least in that series of books and films you felt like they were fighting the good fight against the repressive government. Although these characters try to be heroes to stand up against the evil corporation, these are not really very heroic people.
While the series attempts to be social commentary about things like nerd culture, politics, greedy corporations, conspiracy theorists and a number of other topics, ultimately it’s just a disturbing mess. By the way the violence isn’t particularly bloody or gory. Most people are killed execution style with a silenced gunshot to the head. However the lack of blood and gore only furthers to underplay the fact that we are really murdering people in cold blood.
As I mentioned I watched all eight episodes and it was good enough to hold my interest throughout. However I’m not really sure if I can recommend it or not. I think what fascinated me to stick with it was just to see how dark and sadistic it could become. Unfortunately the ending was not particularly satisfying and leaves itself open to another season if they managed to dare to attempt one. I guess for the lack of a better term I’m going to give it a rating of “could be watchable” but just keep in mind it’s not going to be a fun ride. The parts that make you stop and think are not exactly worth the effort to get there. I hesitate to say “skip it” because it does have its moments and it is thought-provoking. It just depends on what kind of thoughts you want provoked. Travel at your own risk.