Utopia, a darkly comic conspiracy thriller series from executive producer Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Sharp Objects), is coming to Amazon Prime Video on Sept. 25, and Flynn and the show's stars John Cusack, Sasha Lane, Ashleigh LaThrop, Desmin Borges, and Dan Byrd gathered for a digital panel to preview the unintentionally timely show, which deals with a devastating new virus spreading across America.
Utopia, which is an adaptation of a 2013 British series of the same name, centers on a group of comic book fans who bond online over their obsession with a comic called Utopia, which they believe isn't fictional, but is filled with prophetic hidden meanings about the end of the world. Their theories are proven true, and they find themselves at the center of a dangerous conspiracy and on the run alongside the comic's main character, Jessica Hyde (Lane), a very ruthless, scary person who confirms the cliché that you should never meet your heroes. They're just a bunch of nerds, but it's up to them to unravel the conspiracy and save the world. During the panel, Flynn described it as "The Goonies meets Marathon Man." Cusack takes on his first series regular role as Dr. Kevin Christie, the CEO of a biomedical company whose artificial meat is spreading a virus that may be part of bringing about the end times.
Filming was completed by the time the COVID-19 pandemic happened, but the show's themes of paranoia and lack of faith in institutions have only become more relevant in the pandemic era, Flynn said. The cast agreed that it was very strange to see the similarities in the world and their show. "It was kind of disturbing and surreal to see it come so closely to life with the pandemic," Cusack said. And the cast isn't worried about the series hitting too close to home for viewers who are looking for an escape from life in the pandemic.
"This is by no means, like, a docudrama reality we're living in," Byrd said. "This is very much a sort of comic book frequency that the pandemic is playing out in, so I don't really see people watching it and feeling like, 'this is like watching the news' or something that's hitting too close to home." He said he thinks the series is a perfect blend of escapism and relevance, as the themes are timely and have real-world resonance but their context is totally different, and the show is really about the adventure the characters go on.
The show is at times gruesomely violent, and Flynn was asked to justify the purpose of the violence in the storytelling. She said that she wants the audience to feel as uncomfortable and squeamish as the characters, who are sheltered people being exposed to violence for the first time. "These are people who are really cerebral [and] have lived a lot online," she said. They are juxtaposed with Jessica Hyde, who has lived her whole life in the "real world" and is very comfortable with violence. "There's the contrast between, the kind of geeks of the Comic-Con and the kind of cosplay characters who think of violence in a comic book way, versus the contrast when that story of the comic book comes to life, and then they have to meet the actual characters in the comic," Cusack added. The violence makes the show feel more authentic and realistic, they said. Viewers can decide for themselves when the show comes out whether or not that's true.
Utopia premieres on Amazon Prime Video Friday, Sept. 25.