The least we can say is that Amazon Prime Video has a sense of timeliness. With the whole world turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic, SVOD offers a strange remake of Utopia, a British series that talks about international conspiracies in times of the pandemic.
Where’s Jessica Hyde?
Before Utopia was an American Amazon Prime Video series, it was a British two-season series that appeared on Channel 4 between 2013 and 2014. Less known than other British series with more publicity, such as the excellent Peaky Blinders, Doctor Who or Sherlock, the Utopia series was still a true masterpiece that knew how to win the hearts of a solid fan base.
The Utopia series was created by Dennis Kelly, who recently illustrated himself on HBO’s The Third Day, a claustrophobic, terrifying journey that both The Wicker Man and Midsommar evoke with an inhabited Jude Law. She narrated the adventures of a group of nerds Utopia, the author of which committed suicide in a mental hospital after writing the second comic strip, was never published. If one of the members of the group gets their hands on the famous manuscript and is murdered in the process, the group is forced to go into hiding: a very powerful organization, the network, seems determined to get their hands on the manuscript and sends it in Duo of hired killers on their tail. Meanwhile, the world is preparing for a terrible pandemic: the Russian flu.
A masterpiece of the British canvas
A real model of efficiency, the Utopia series shines with its unique aesthetic, its completely crazy universe magnified by the crazy electronic music of Cristobal Tapia de Veer. His characters are as lovable as they are imperfect. Showrunner Dennis Kelly in particular has shown that he is a former master in the art of the cliffhanger and that he has managed to cast its spell over the viewer for the entire two seasons of the series. Very often violent, cruel and sometimes sadistic, Utopia also enjoyed the perfect mastery of its directors, primarily with Marc Mundun (also at work on the third day). The staging is, without being necessarily revolutionary, just as playful as Dennis Kelly’s scenario, in which he takes care of his frames and takes full advantage of his photography in rich colors.
One of the great strengths of the English series was its tone, which mixed English humor with a lot of pleasure and a darker, more sardonic humor. The series is deeply cheeky and deals with serious subjects with a delicious second degree. But Dennis Kelly knew how to mix humor perfectly. Although the protagonists are a bunch of nerds, don’t expect the humor of the Big Bang theory, on the contrary. The humor is not based on a list of references to pop culture, but on their synthesis. For example, the Hitman duo could well emerge from a Coen Brothers (Fargo, Miller’s Crossing) film, as evidenced by this hilarious bloody kill scene on the premises of a computer company during the season. 2. However, the series never explicitly refers to the cinema of the Coen brothers. Be careful, however, if the series is very funny, it never sacrifices emotions in favor of humor, and some scenes will move you to tears.
Ah, a word about the casting is also appropriate: The casting is terrific, both the main roles and the supporting roles. The big revelations are Neill Maskell (Arby), Paul Ready (Lee) and Fiona O’Shaughnessy (Jessica Hyde).
A remake promised success
Despite the immense quality of the series, it ended after its second season due to the lack of a solid enough audience. A decision that caused deep incomprehension among both viewers and journalists, who despite Channel 4’s decision to stop the series, a third season. Obviously, given such a television monument, it is no surprise that Americans were tempted to produce a US-made remake of this British masterpiece. I have to say that the big American networks (like, like) are used to adapting great British works: House of Cards, Shameless, The Office, Broadchurch, Skins … We could create almost an entire file on these British series that the American chains have adapted, for a sometimes questionable result …
There was the first conversation about a remake of the HBO station under the direction of the legendary David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac). Obviously too busy at Netflix, for which he produced and directed the series House of Cards (adaptation of an English series), Mindhunter (recently canceled …) and Love, Death & Robots, Fincher pursued the non-project that was on Amazon Prime Video table landed.
The series is directed by American novelist Gillian Flynn, well known to moviegoers for having written the scripts for adaptations of her own novels Gone Girl (directed by David Fincher) and Sharp Objects (which have become an excellent mini on HBO- Series). This is the second time Gillian Flynn has been working on material she is not the creator, as the screenwriter previously worked with director Steve McQueen on Widows, an adaptation of the UK series Widows.
In Utopia, the episodes of which were all recently released, Gillian Flynn takes a step back from the original series. When she picks up the main lines (world on the verge of crisis due to a pandemic, international conspiracies, unsuitable heroes forced to live dangerously underground), she adds certain elements (the comics Dystopia, which do not exist) The original series, the character of Samantha), changed others (the character of Michael, completely redesigned).
The American remake was supposed to be a success. As mentioned in the introduction, Amazon Prime Video enjoys an amazing sense of timeliness. It is certain that many viewers in this series will find a playful exit to their fears, misunderstandings, frustrations that are inherent in the worrying pandemic context we are currently experiencing. However, fans of the British series should wince. If the American remake does not lack any qualities (convincing performers, careful staging), it suffers from comparison with its famous elder.
While the British version of Utopia has managed, with a great deal of intelligence and ingenuity, to combine a completely locked-in and crazy atmosphere with a staging that perfects its frames and aesthetics with almost manic care, the US version seems a lot more wise, much more classic in its realization. And therefore less effective and less fun.
This is what the US version of Utopia suffers most from: its classicism. Not as a series, but as a remake. Its classicism can even be felt in the format of the series: where the British series, like many British seasons with six episodes, offers a first season with eight episodes, which is more in line with the codes of the series US television. This simple choice, which may seem trivial at first glance, nevertheless deserves an analysis: The format of the first version of Utopia with six episodes per season enabled Dennis Kelly to condense his plot. And to make Utopia a real uppercut. Longer, the American series obliges its scriptwriter to stretch certain narrative arcs to add others, even if it means that some viewers get lost along the way.
Even when we are aware of the fact that we always have to judge a work by what it is, and not by what it is not, we can’t resist playing the game of comparisons between the two series, and it seemed to us that the Utopia USA version lost everything. How can one fully appreciate the acting of Christopher Denham, who plays the murderer Arby, compared to that of his British counterpart Neill Maskell? Alternately terrifying and moving, the actor had conquered the fans of the series by his extraordinary charisma, his anger that seemed to explode at any moment, and his deep melancholy, which long before revealed a traumatic past it is not revealed to the viewer.
As you understand, we strongly encourage you to check out the UK version of Utopia which is available on MyCanal. However, if you’d rather start the American remake, we remind you that it’s available on Prime Video. In order to ? Where’s Jessica Hyde?