Utopia on Amazon Prime Video: When is it released? Who are in the cast? Is it a remake of the Channel 4 series? All you need to know

Gillian Flynn remakes the chilling cult Channel 4 series Utopia for Amazon Prime Video with a cast including John Cusack and Rainn Wilson.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 24 September 2020 - 6.26pm
Elizabeth Morris/Amazon Prime Video

Utopia is the long-awaited Amazon Prime Video adaptation of Channel 4’s cult classic drama.

The Channel 4 series aired in the UK in 2013 and although it only had a modest TV audience, it built a small but passionate fanbase for its dark, disturbing and unusual drama.

Despite critical acclaim, the show was cut short by Channel 4 after only two series. Fans left with unanswered questions might not get them from Amazon’s remake – this is a distinct and different version of the Utopia story – but if you loved the paranoia, originality and shocks of the British version, you won’t be disappointed.

The central storyline about a group of comic book fans who end up in a high-stakes adventure with the comic’s central character Jessica Hyde remains at the heart of the show.

But it's John Cusack and Rainn Wilson’s characters who bring extra layers and textures to Amazon’s reworking of the Utopia storyline.

Cusack’s unnerving Dr Christie, who meddles in modified food, pandemics and viruses, has the sinister mantra "What have you done today to earn your place in this crowded world?".

Wilson, meanwhile, plays a scientist outsider who believes he has the knowledge to save the day, but nobody is listening.

With a storyline about a flu pandemic and some shocking moments of violence, it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea during the darkest days of 2020.

However, if you’re ready for some wild escapism, pitch-black humour and conspiracy thrills that push the boundaries of how TV shows normally work, Utopia will be right up your street.

What is Utopia?

Amazon Prime Video's Utopia

Utopia is an eight-episode conspiracy thriller about saving the world while trying to find your place in it.

Inspired by the British series of the same name, the new Amazon Original series follows a group of comic fans who meet online and bond over their obsession of a seemingly fictional comic called Utopia.

They unearth hidden meanings cloaked within the pages of Utopia which predict threats to humanity. These aren't just part of a conspiracy: they are very real dangers coming alive right now in their world.

The group embarks on a high-stakes adventure which brings them face-to-face with the comic’s famed central character Jessica Hyde. She then joins them on their mission to save the world while harbouring secrets of her own. 

Amazon Prime Video's Utopia Amazon Prime Video

Writer Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Sharp Objects), started writing Utopia seven years ago as a fan of Dennis Kelly’s “sleek and propulsive” UK series

“As I approached the series, I took my inspiration from 1970s paranoia thrillers like Parallax View and All the President’s Men,” said Flynn.

“Gnarly, nasty, raw and unnerving —and yet I wanted to be sure it was peopled with the kinds of characters you really become fond of. As I was pitching my vision to studios, I described it as Marathon Man meets The Goonies.

“I wanted bursts of fear, epiphany and the kind of laughs that blast out of you unexpectedly.”

Commenting on the show’s resonance with current events, she said: “The story touches on a world-changing pandemic: we filmed last year in Chicago and finished editing in quarantine.

“Yet despite the surreal resonance, Utopia is not a medical procedure or even a story about a pandemic. This version of Utopia is ultimately a story about truth, spin, conspiracy, friendship, courage and bunnies.”
 

When is Utopia released?

Sasha Lane in Amazon Prime Video's Utopia Amazon Prime Video

Watch Utopia season 1 on Amazon Prime Video from Friday, September 25th.

Who are the Utopia cast?

The Utopia comic book fans are Becky (Ashleigh LaThrop), Ian (Dan Byrd), Samantha (Jessica Rothe), Wilson Wilson (Desmin Borges) and Grant (Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton).

The mysterious Jessica Hyde, the central character in the Utopia comic, is played by American Honey actress Sasha Lane.

Did You Know

  • The writer of the British Utopia series, Dennis Kelly, also wrote Matilda the Musical and new Sky Atlantic/HBO drama The Third Day
  • Utopia is John Cusack’s first ever TV series regular role
  • Sasha Lane used “feral cats” as an inspiration for performance as Jessica Hyde

New characters for the Amazon Prime Video series are Dr Kevin Christie, played by John Cusack (High Fidelity, Grosse Pointe Blank).

His son Thomas Christie is played by Cory Michael Smith (Gotham).

Christopher Denham takes on the role of Arby, who was memorably played in the Channel 4 series by Neil Maskell.

The Office star Rainn Wilson plays Dr Michael Stearns, a scientist who believes he has a vaccine to save lives after a deadly flu outbreak.

Is there a trailer?

Is this a remake of Channel 4’s Utopia?

Channel 4's Utopia Channel 4
Neil Maskell in Channel 4's Utopia

So is the Amazon Prime Video series a remake of Channel 4’s Utopia?

Yes, it is. Although the Channel 4 series wasn’t watched by millions of viewers, it was a highly influential series which gained a passionate cult following.

Utopia was axed by Channel 4 after two series, but even when they announced its demise in 2015, the broadcaster saluted the show’s incredible creativity.

“Utopia is truly channel-defining: strikingly original, powered by Dennis Kelly's extraordinary voice and brought to life in all its technicolor glory through Marc Munden's undeniable creative flair and vision,” said Channel 4.

“The team at Kudos delivered a series which has achieved fervent cult status over two brilliantly warped and nail-biting series. It also has the honour of ensuring audiences will never look at a spoon in the same way again."

The British series starred Fiona O’Shaughnessy, Rose Leslie, Adeel Akhtar, Paul Higgins, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Alexandra Roach, Oliver Woollford, Alistair Petrie and Neil Maskell.

Utopia had plenty of unanswered questions after season 2, so the US series may finally allow the show to deliver a more complete story.

If the US version is a success, writer Dennis Kelly hasn’t totally ruled out bringing back the British show.

“We’ve spoken about it before. There is always the possibility,” he told Den of Geek.

“I think it would be difficult to go back now because everyone’s a lot older [laughs]. There’s always a danger that if you go back you’re a different bunch of people with different criteria and often, going back, you end up with something that’s a bit of a shadow of what it was…

“You’ve always got to think about what your reasons are for going back. It was difficult at that time not to finish the story because I think it was going to go to some interesting places.

“There’s always a possibility of going back. I haven’t quite closed the door on it, I haven’t quite gone ‘that’s something I’ll never do’.”

Watch Utopia season 1 on Amazon Prime Video from Friday, September 25.

Season 1 and 2 of the British series Utopia are also on Amazon Prime Video.