I was gutted to hear over the weekend that Channel 4 have decided not to re-commission Utopia, the mind-bendingly excellent sci-fi conspiracy thriller. From what I can tell the ratings just didn’t justify the expense, which is a damn shame.
If you missed it, Utopia was a blend of high art and low culture that merged comic books, international conspiracy, grimy horror and comedy along with an unbelievably vivid visual aesthetic that was utterly captivating. It was bold, scary, funny and bonkers, with great character, dialogue and plot. It was, in short, one of the best examples of genre TV to come out of this decade.
Which explains why the concept has been picked up by no less a director than David Fincher, who will apparently be remaking the series for American telly and helming the lot himself. That the cancellation announcement comes hot on the heels of that announcement is a double blow, though. I’m a huge Fincher fan and I’m sure he’ll do a good job, but the original is so quintessentially British and bonkers that I can’t imagine it’ll be as good as the original.
When the remake was announced with some fanfare, I had thought that it might be good news for the UK version; that the publicity and kudos that came with Fincher’s name (especially with Gone Girl riding so high in the charts) might be enough to overcome the poor figures for season two and get a third series commissioned, but that appears not to be the case
One of the things that was so good about Utopia was that alongside a very distinct look and feel, it took a pretty interesting stance on its cast, with an excellent gender balance and a good ethnic mix that made it much more believable, grounding it in a reality that really allowed the more surreal elements of the plot to go where they needed to without untethering it from reality.
I was watching the first series while I was writing the second draft of the book and it really hit home to me just how lazy it is to populate your story with a predominantly white male cast. Quite aside from the fact that representation matters, it really closes off some interesting areas your story can go. Utopia had some very traditionally male archetypes played by women and made much more interesting as a result, and vice versa. It had POC main characters whose race didn’t define their characters absolutely, but who were very real. Throughout its cast it played with convention, made layered and interesting characters and became so much more engrossing as a result.
By adhering to a more realistic view of the world Utopia became more than just another genre offering, and it’s this approach that has me completely reassessing the characters in my own story to see how much of this approach I can bring to my own work.
So goodbye Utopia, you mad bastard of a show. Cheers for the inspiration.