Former magazine journalist and bestselling novelist Gillian Flynn (Sharp Objects, Gone Girl) is adding television showrunner to her resume with the upcoming Amazon Prime Video series, Utopia.
Actually a reimagined version of the 2013 U.K. series of the same name, Flynn and her cast, including John Cusack and Sasha Lane, collected virtually today for the CTAM Amazon Prime Video press day to reveal more about the thriller, which manages to mix comic books, a dark mystery, and a dystopian pandemic into one show.
Flynn told reporters that her eight-episode take on Utopia is a grittier telling of what becomes an unexpected quest to find a pair of famed but lost graphic novels (titled Dystopia and Utopia) that might save the world.
“At its core, it’s about a group of comic book nerds who are out to get Utopia because they think it has different answers to their problems, some of which are very personal, some of which are fighting this pandemic that they believe possibly is going to change the end of the world,” Flynn said of the premise. “I would say Dennis Kelly’s [series] is a very Brit pop, very colorful, very sleek version of this story. I really was inspired by the 1970s conspiracy thrillers and paranoia thrillers, stuff like Parallax View and Marathon Man. In fact, when I was pitching this, I called it it’s The Goonies meets Marathon Man.”
For her version of the concept, Flynn said she really wanted to integrate the graphic novels into the series so that audiences could also become as invested in them as the characters, instead of just throwaway McGuffins.
To help bridge that gap, Flynn sought Brazilian artist João Ruas to create the actual graphic novels of Dystopia and Utopia that are featured in the series.
“Ruas had done a lot of stuff for Bill Willingham’s Fables that’d I’d always really admired,” Flynn said of her connection to the artist. “He’s sort of like Arthur Rackham on acid, and does these amazing, disturbing kinds of fairytales… great images of children and animals that have come to life. I knew right from the beginning that he was the person I wanted, so we would send him panels describing the imagery and he would send back these originals that you could feel and touch. And we were able to hide Easter eggs within the panels, to have this extra layer of fun that you could look at it and enjoy.”
And what information could these graphic novels provide? Different factions think different things, but staving off a global pandemic is a major theme. Asked if that will cut a little too close for audiences living in a pandemic right now, Cusack said the series finds a balance.
“There’s an element of a mystery that this unlikely group is getting together to solve, and you really fall in love with this crew that’s trying to solve it,” he said. “And then, how the worlds of science, and the authorities and the Feds and the government all come into it is a mystery to be revealed. But I think that there’s a lot of fun in it and it doesn’t feel like a docu-drama in any way.”