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The Cast and Creator of Utopia Reflect on How The State of the World Recontextualized Their Series 5 The Cast and Creator of Utopia Reflect on How The State of the World Recontextualized Their Series 5

Gillian Flynn and the cast of ‘Utopia’ Discuss Adapting the UK Cult Favourite

It’s always a risk diving into remaking a cult favourite. The team behind Amazon’s Utopia (2020) had big shoes to fill when adapting the UK cult favourite from 2013. American remakes can take many forms, and when adapting this series for the US, creator and showrunner, Gillian Flynn, was sure to make sure she paid the right mind to Dennis Kelly’s series while making sure to create something all her own. The cast and Flynn all had different relationships with the original series and sat down to share their thoughts.

“When you take on something that’s such a cult favourite as Utopia (2013), you just have to accept that some people aren’t going to like it because it’s not the thing that they like.” Flynn knows she had her work cut out for her, but never wanted to make a carbon copy of the UK series. “Why would you want to watch something that’s exactly like the other thing? They should be complimentary bookends. They should be, one informs the other and one plays with certain different themes and takes them in a different direction.” Dennis Kelly was seemingly on the same page, “Dennis would say at every turn, ‘hey, why remake something if you’re not going to remake it?’ which gave me so much breathing room and freedom that I appreciated.”

The Cast and Creator of Utopia Reflect on How The State of the World Recontextualized Their Series 4
Utopia

Though she wanted to create something new, Flynn always respected her source material. “I would never have gone in and gutted Dennis’ world and turned it into something unrecognizable,” she told us. “There’s such a richness there. Dennis, I think, is a world class world builder and obviously there’s no kind of world he can’t create.”

Respecting the source material but ensuring they brought something new was a common throughout discussions with the cast. Dan Byrd, who plays Ian in the show said, “We all wanted to have an acute awareness of the origin of this story and why we were making this show, what it was actually based on. We all had tremendous respect and admiration for what they did but knew at the same time that this show had to stand on its own two feet and was also fundamentally different from the British show in a lot of ways. So having the awareness was important but also forgetting everything we knew the second we stepped on set was equally important.”

Ashleigh LaThrop, who, along with Byrd, played a character plucked from the original, Becky, echoed his sentiments. “We are creating characters with the same names and some of the same characteristics, but they are unique to us and unique to our version.”

Utopia Review 3
Utopia

Desmin Borges, whose character has some of the more direct connections to his UK counterpart, wanted to know just enough about the original while ensuring he brought something new and saved the UK surprises for himself. “I dove into the first three episodes and then pulled back really quickly because what Dennis Kelly created was a masterpiece and what Adeel (Akhtar) did with Wilson Wilson was nothing short of spectacular. While my main focus was to honour the brilliance that they originally set forth for us, it was also my intention, if I was given the opportunity to take the baton and move it forward in our version, to honour them and take it in a direction that Gillian best saw fit and vibed for the experience we wanted for Wilson Wilson.” He went on to share, “I haven’t watched the rest of the first season or the second season yet and I probably will avoid it until we are done telling this story, and if we are lucky enough to continue telling it, it might be some time. But I very much am looking forward to finishing it when we’re finished Utopia.”

Like Desmin, Flynn didn’t want to spend too much time with the original series so as to not cloud her vision for her take. “I did Widows which was another adaptation of a TV series and I did the same thing for both of those which was ‘I am going to watch it first to see if I want to do it, watch it one more time, take notes, take the plot twists and write down the moments in my notebook that were really striking, then I would never look at it again.’ Because to me, I personally couldn’t do it, it feels a little lazy, it feels a little too easy for me to fall into doing one of those remakes that is literally a remake. I wanted to do something new and take that great DNA that Dennis had provided and the relationships but push on the parts that I found the most interesting.”

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Utopia

Many of the cast was new to the series, but Jessica Rothe, whose character, Sam, was a new addition that didn’t exist in the UK version, had been aware of the show since it went into development in 2013. “I similarly was introduced to the show when I first auditioned but I actually saw it for the first time back when this was an HBO David Fincher iteration.” On being added to the cast via Sam, she said, “I am such a huge fan of the British show and it is really daunting taking on kind of a new iteration of anything because the whole thing is, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ but I feel so grateful that Sam was brought to life by Gillian. She is such an incredibly passionate fierce character and I love her addition to the show and I also think that Gillian has a lot of tricks up her sleeve.”

Rothe and Flynn think the show, by respecting where it came from and bringing something new, will appeal both to new audiences and fans of the cult favourite. Rothe said, “This show, I really think will capture the hearts of people who have never seen it before, and for those who are huge fans of the original, I think we pay homage in a really wonderful way to the beautiful, wild, messy, dangerous version that it was but we also take it in a different direction so it is not just a copycat, it really has a life of its own. I think that one of the big things that Gillian and our incredibly creative cast and crew poured in is so much heart and so much humanity which is something that our world needs right now.”

Flynn also wanted to bring a new appearance to her version, not only trying to avoid mirroring the story beats but the visual tone as well. “I knew there could be a tonal difference whereas [Kelly’s] is beautiful to look at and very sleek and, I think, kind of  takes it’s tone a little bit from the sort of world of graphic novels and that poppy-ness. I wanted mine to really feel like we’re in it, to really feel based in reality to really feel ‘this is where we’re at now,’ whereas his talks about food shortages and different issues landing in the UK, I wanted mine to really feel like we’re even closer to that. We’re close to disaster.”

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Utopia

Flynn has experience adapting both her own books for screen like with Gone Girl and a series for the American market like she did with Widows, so she was ready to bring her take to an existing piece. “Even with Gone Girl, I had read the book so many times obviously by then because I had so many passes at it. I listened to it on audio book once, took my notes, then wouldn’t let myself go back to it for that same reason, it has to become it’s new thing.” For Flynn and her cast, they seem to have the exact handle on it you want for adaptations of your favourite works, “It respects the original world and progresses and adds to it.”

Utopia is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

The Cast and Creator of Utopia Reflect on How The State of the World Recontextualized Their Series 1

The Cast and Creator of Utopia Reflect on How The State of the World Recontextualized Their Series

It seemed somewhere between collar pulling uncomfortable and kismet levels of coincidence when Amazon Prime Video’s American remake pf Utopia landed in the midst of a global pandemic. The world is managing months of lockdown, struggling with disinformation, and scraping the internet to find the solution to these woes. A show about the world struggling with a global pandemic and lack of trust in disputed from large corporations hits differently in 2020. Gillian Flynn’s take on the UK original has been in development since 2013, long before we sealed up for COVID-19, so it was interesting to hear what her and the cast had to say about how the show lands with our current climate.

“Obviously it’s been recontextualized quite a bit just in the past six months or so. It certainly took it, tonally from what was just on the edge of a dash of science fiction, something that seemed very unlikely, that a pandemic was a plotline to pull us through a larger story and then suddenly became a reality in the real world.” Gillian Flynn, creator, writer and showrunner, told me, when reflecting on her show’s 2020 release. “I think certain moments land harder and differently than one would expect them to. Certain things that were played to be a little bit surreal, now, unfortunately, don’t feel surreal anymore.”

Rainn Wilson and Ashleigh LaThrop in Utopia (2020)

“We had no idea, obviously, that it would end up being as relevant as it is.” Ashleigh LaThrop, who plays Becky, said when reflecting on the times. “In watching it now, it’s really interesting because back then, it was all ‘we’re making a TV show and it’s super fun and crazy’ and watching it now, there is definitely a little bit more weight behind it.”

Though the show was in production long before, postproduction was happening while the world had locked its doors, something Flynn found surreal. “As I was editing after the world shut down and editing remotely and I would have the TV on, like we all did in March and April, just trying to get a handle of what’s happening,” she reflected, “I would be in my editing bay, looking at my screen and look up at the news, which I had on constantly, and it was ‘which is the real life part and which is the part I can edit?’ And it was a little… it was shocking. It was certainly nothing that had ever been foreseen.”

Though Utopia seems jarringly relevant, or like it predicted our future, the cast was apt to point out that the themes of the show were always relevant before the world was dealing with a global pandemic.

Utopia (2020)

Sasha Lane, who plays Jessica Hyde, had remarked while on set that the script was so similar to the news, long before the world changed as it did. “There are a lot of similarities, but also, at the same time, when I said that, the pandemic wasn’t happening. So there were still things happening in the world that happen in Utopia or that people think about naturally and that were in our script and similarities and differences and all of those things so I think it really is the biggest thing of life imitating art, that’s plainly what that is.”

“When I had first signed on, to me, the most interesting piece of it was the idea that we all feel like we’re kind of on the edge of something, the world changing, the environment, politics, unrest and the lack of truth and the idea of conspiracy,” Flynn remembered. “I really did it not as any sort of medical procedure or ‘this is what a pandemic would look like,’ and much more with the intention of ‘this is where we’re at now.’ We’re at a place where there’s no truth, there’s no right side up, wrong side down. We are ripe for misinformation and spin and conspiracy.”

The Cast and Creator of Utopia Reflect on How The State of the World Recontextualized Their Series
John Cusack, Fiona Dourif, and Cory Michael Smith in Utopia (2020)

Conspiracy was a common theme throughout the chats, continuing to drive home that the gang found more relevance in the misinformation and conspiracy theories than the pandemic story line. John Cusack, who plays Dr. Kevin Christie in the series, circled back to his distrust in 5G technology and his discomfort with how information and misinformation is disseminated. “All I said was that [5G] was an unproven technology, just like any other, which you should be skeptical of. I think a lot of the conspiracy theories are grounded in a mistrust of power. But then they’re also, I think, fostered these days by social media companies that are really data mining companies masquerading as social media companies that are using algorithms to play on people’s fears and prejudice and spread rampant disinformation.” He expanded on the threat of this, “There’s an assault on facts and I think that’s coming from the tech space and opportunistic people.”

For some of us, a dystopian thriller hits a bit too close to home to work for our Sunday night escapism, but the cast of Utopia thinks there’s reason to dive into their version of our world.

LaThrop said “The entertainment is still there. It’s still, at its core, an adventure story about a group of antihero nerds trying to save the world. Even though it is more relevant just because of the backdrop, the story itself is one that’s easily accessible.”

Utopia (2020)

Dan Byrd who starts as Ian expanded on her thoughts, “It’s all about context. This show exists on a completely different frequency than what we’ve been experiencing for the last six months. To me, it still feels very much like escapist entertainment and adventure of fun sort of conspiratorial thrill ride that happens to have this hyper relevant underpinning now of a pandemic.”

The most warmth in the position that the show is a worthy addition to the streaming platform came from Desmin Borges, who plays Wilson Wilson, who thinks a show like Utopia could be exactly what we need. “I think in the unfortunately terrifying unprecedented times we find ourselves in you need a little bit of delusion to find sensibility. Once you’re there you can hopefully take action in helping community band together to fight this thing together.” He went on to say, “I think we’re going to give the viewers an opportunity to follow these characters through this ride and have a moment to process what’s going on collectively. There’s a huge lack of leadership over here in the States as how to deal with the issue that we’re dealing with and ultimately were not only dealing with a pandemic, we’re dealing with a global mental health crisis and I think oddly, coincidentally and beautifully enough, this show is going to give us an opportunity to work through some of those things that we’re dealing with emotionally, physically and mentally. And what better way through a delusional one-eyed conspiracy theorist with a four pound beard?”

So if reconciling your global crisis panic via a one-eyed conspiracy theorist with a last name the same as his first is choice avenue for you, check out Utopia which drops on Amazon Prime Video September 25, 2020.

Utopia Review 1

Utopia Review

The trend of adapting British shows for American audiences is tried and true. We’ve had stellar recreations that hold up as their own successful shows, some that are decent enough, and some for which we should have left well enough alone. Utopia, Amazon’s adaptation of the 2013 British series probably should have been left to our pals across the pond.

Some obsessive comic book fans swear they’ve uncovered messages hidden in their favourite work. When a penultimate sequel is uncovered by some laypeople, the fans gather at a convention and meet for the first time with the hopes of getting their hands on it. Before they can acquire it, it’s scooped up by a mysterious buyer and soon comes to be chased and hunted down by a brigade of eccentrics who would kill for the comic. Launching the gang into a massive mess, they find themselves trying to find the key to the world’s pandemics, racing beside a pharmaceutical company owner, a comic book subject, and other people desperate to solve the mysteries of the book, or to ensure they go unsolved.

Utopia – Amazon Prime

Shining some light on big bad corporations and the lengths evil will go to do their evil deeds, Utopia flies way too close to the “topical” sun. Of course, the series went into production long before we were neck deep in a pandemic, but the pandemic storyline doesn’t make the show relevant, it makes it hazardous. The series posits the possibility that a comic was predicting or blowing the whistle on pandemics being staged and disseminated intentionally. Never commenting on these issues, it simply showcases it as a viable possibility. Further, it mentions China as an epicenter of manufactured pandemics as a biological weapon, questions the effectiveness and hazard of vaccines, and even goes so far as to suggest companies stage shootings of children. Also there are comic-y shots of children in cages, some of them even gassed. Kind of a yikes from me, boss.

It’s not in and of itself a negative to portray these themes and theories, something reviews tell me that the 2013 original series did. But it is difficult to posit them in fiction without commenting on them, which the show never does. Gillian Flynn, the author and writer known for Sharp Objects, Gone Girl and Widows, created and penned the series which would suggest a mysterious and well written show full of depth was what to expect, so it’s pretty surprising it lands so poorly. The show leans a bit more Young Adult than her other works so it’s possible this was new enough territory for her that it wasn’t her best, but I found myself often baffled that these words were written by the successful and excellent writer. The parts I found the most jarring knowing who was off screen penning the words were the clunky scenes of women at work as a weird way of jamming feminist ideas into the series. Again, perhaps a poorly executed attempt at commenting on faux feminism, but the corporate head honcho getting talked over at a meeting about a slaughtering doesn’t do it for me.

Utopia – Amazon Prime

Though it leans YA, it also never really finds its genre footing. Most of the time, it’s YA Sci-Fi, but it also dances a bit too close to drama and thriller while launching itself into some of the cringiest dark comedy. I spent time thinking “this is for a younger audience, it’s not for me, remember that,” while simultaneously thinking “yikes, this is too adult.”

The main cast is excellent and does great work with what they’re given. John Cusack works so well as the flawed CEO of a major company, I genuinely want to see more roles like this for him. The show lives and dies by Dan Byrd, Desmin Borges, Ashleigh LaThrop and Sasha Lane giving the most to us, since the show never dares to make us care about the rest of the world in danger. They’re the heart at the center of the series and any rooting we do for others is as a means of hoping they can assist the gang. Rainn Wilson plays a warmer character than we’re used to seeing from him and he melts into it flawlessly. The gaggle of eccentrics is lead by some stellar character actors who absolutely nail it in their roles. They all manage to be scary, creepy, unsettling, and warm enough that you don’t know what to do with them and it’s the characters that truly keep this show afloat.

The show is a fun enough premise that could make for a nice addition into some fluffier thrillers, but it fails to connect by being full of continuity issues, mysteries with no payoff and lazy tropes (of course, the cosplayers are drunk and vapid and get shot in the head). The mysteries fall flat because they’re never of any consequence, so the continuity and logic don’t matter much. Episode to episode, you’re concerned with life and death, but the secrets are never consequential enough to the plot that you’re itching to know the solution to the mystery.

Utopia – Amazon Prime

The best parts of the show are repeated imagery that ties it somewhat to other Flynn works. Scissors are used often and in different ways, creating the same discomfort we got in Sharp Objects when seeing the banal blades, and braids are used in an interesting way to symbolize tethering and freedom.

I wanted to dump my disbelief and have a good time with a well shot, well acted series like this, but there were too many casual uses of “right wing conspiracy theory” and “government overreach” to allow me to enjoy myself. At a different time, maybe this would have landed a different way, but with the threads not mattering and the story feeling yucky in 2020, it was just too much to ask for me to enjoy the cool show tableaus.

The Boys Season 2 Episodes 4-8 Review

The Boys Season 2 Episodes 4-8 Review

By now, you’ve all blown through season one of Amazon’s cynical superhero series, The Boys, and you’re itching to know if you should plunge into season two. The first three episodes are live on Prime Video (you can catch my review here and if you’re wondering what’s next, it’s, if I may, fucking diabolical.

The Boys has never looked through it’s fingers at the horrors of real life, it stares directly at them and puts them on blast. Promising to tackle “up to the minute” matters and take on white nationalism and white supremacy, showrunner Eric Kripke did not pull any punches in the show’s sophomore season.

It’s easy to feel exhausted by the constant onslaught of cynical superhero media, but The Boys isn’t another installment of gritty, dimly lit dramatic stories drenched in rain and moonlight, it’s the antidote by way of bright colours and creepy smiles. Looking directly at our own universe, the show ruthlessly dumps all over internet culture and the spike of government corruption and obsession with weapons for protection. Supes are a stand in for the military, for law enforcement, and sometimes for guns, shown creating military propaganda, caught on camera using their power against minorities, and in ads promoting supes in schools to protect children from literal manufactured hazards. Phrases like “god fearing American values,” are thrown around with intention, not positing but mirroring a world where these sentiments have outlasted the world wars. Hunters took on hunting Nazis that rolled comfortably into the 1970’s, The Boys season 2 is taking them on when they roll into present day.

The Boys Season 2 – Amazon Prime

“You can’t win the whole country anymore,” is the sentiment woven through Stormfront’s attack on the status quo. Her internet savvy goes deeper, learning to meme herself and her colleagues as a means of seizing power and appealing to the masses. It’s just one part of the blistering commentary on how the internet has changed our approach to political activism as the show also dives into cell phone footage of supes ‘behaving badly’ and the PR scrubs that come of it.

Aside from the show shining its light much more brightly on our culture, they’ve done better work than the first season in filling in backstory and humanizing the main characters. Starlight, Butcher and Hughie took most of the season one backstory spotlight which was ultimately chucked into a word chipper and shredded like some goons in Fargo by the season finale. This season digs deeper into Butcher’s sensibilities and weaknesses when he’s challenged by his wife being attached to her son, a supe. It asks us to consider if he has a bias, and if his hatred towards supes is an allegory for the racism the show puts on display, or more an allegory for sentiments towards law enforcement since supes aren’t born, they’re made.

More time is spent with Mother’s Milk, morphing him from the cookie cutter girlfriend obsessed suave guy into a fully formed character and Black man. That is to say, he fills in blanks about how he came to join the Boys and his father’s experience as a lawyer who took on Vought and the company’s unwillingness to let a “Black man step on their necks.” He faces head on stories of fatal traffic stops. He dons a black fist logo on his t-shirt in a final standoff. Though I can’t speak to this from a knowing perspective, I found value in the character’s race coming into play in a show that takes on white supremacy without the show forcing him to be an avatar or a lightning rod for all anti-Blackness as a result of his race.

Mother’s Milk also finds some warmth in his relationship with Starlight and the interactions amongst the team and Starlight grow stronger. Hughie and Starlight’s relationship blossoms but it’s nothing beyond a plain old star-crossed lovers story that works well enough. Kumiko and Frenchie, after a season’s worth of uncomfortable sexual tension, blossoms into a bit more uncomfortable sexual tension but with more payoff when, again, her backstory is explored in greater detail.

Beyond the backstories or our anti-heroes (note the trope, but literally; they hate the superheroes) are explored in more depth from the inception of their little gang and how the work they did with the CIA created their bond, their duty and their guilt.

Further, the show finally provides some information on the creation of the all powerful Vought. It stands in for a Disney like corporation, with theme parks, restaurants, and films shot alongside the American military and holds nothing back in its ruthless portrait of the company’s founder. While the Boys get more backstory, The Seven get more facets for Vought to repackage and sell for a dollar reminding us every step of the way that their inclusivity is for a profit, a theme carried over from the “Citizen Starlight” storyline and the new members presented to Homelander.

The Boys Season 2 – Amazon Prime

Catching up with some characters who we thought might have faded away, The Deep’s arc is an exercise in delicately handling the irredeemable. Episodic television is often guilty of redeeming the worst of the worst when we just can’t let go of well-liked characters played by stellar actors, so it was worrying that Deep’s character had more in the tank. The show continues to explore him as a loser who hurts women as a way of circumventing rejection, but it doesn’t let him off the hook for that behaviour. Instead, he’s given a story that highlights what a vulnerable turd he is and, if anything, forces the audience to face the bullshit redemption arc given to sexual abusers in real life. I’d never expected a bloody superhero dark dramedy to tackle these themes this well, but here we are.

The boldest move this second set of season two episodes makes is dropping new characters in the back half. The pacing is truly a blessing, knowing the season would trickle out this way, allowing the first few episodes to lay enough groundwork while creating a space for the remaining episodes to stay surprising. It digs into the Stranger Things of it all when visiting characters who were but a whisper in season one and dropping them on the main cast with a few episodes left.

All the performances are stellar but Antony Starr as Homelander is otherworldly. His physicality and subtle facial expressions as a sad and lonely psychotic man child with more power than he can handle is so incredibly flawless that he is scary, funny, a champion and a loser in every closeup.

Though the first season is what made The Boys a staple property for Amazon’s original programming, the second season throws it into the realm of excellent f***ing television. It ups the ante and substantially all of my notes have the phrase “absolutely on point and f***ing ruthless” scratched into them with a dried out pen. If you enjoyed the first season, you’re gonna love this, and if you were unsure if you should get into the series, this season would absolutely make such an exercise worth your time. “Why have average when you can have extraordinary?”

Costume Quest TV Series Premieres on Amazon Prime on March 8th

Costume Quest TV Series Premieres on Amazon Prime on March 8th

The animated adaptation of Double Fine’s Costume Quest is set to launch on Amazon Prime on March 8th, roughly four years after it was originally announced.

Developed by Frederator Studios, Costume Quest is set in the town of Auburn Hollow, which has been assaulted by monsters for 100 years. Four kids team must use the power of their imagination along with some special costumes to fight back against the monsters on Halloween.

Costume Quest was originally created following Double Fine’s ‘Amnesia Fortnite’ competition, where small prototypes for potential games are developed. Originally released in 2010, Costume Quest was followed by a sequel in 2014. Frederator Studios originally announced its Costume Quest adaptation as an animated short in 2015, and revealed in 2017 that it would become a full-fledged series for Amazon.

This isn’t the first time that Frederator Studios has worked on a video-game adaptation, as the studio also produces Netflix’s Castlevania. In addition, Frederator Studios is responsible for TV shows such as The Fairly OddParents and Adventure Time, as well as webseries such as Bravest Warriors and Bee and Puppycat.

Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more by Preston Dosza like his review of Fallout 76, , Bringing Canada to the World of Civilization VI: Gathering Storm, and Preston’s Game of the Year 2018!

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