Scott D. Pierce: Do we really want to watch a show about a deadly pandemic conspiracy NOW?

(Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime) Dan Byrd as Ian, Desmin Borges as Wilson, Jessica Rothe as Samantha, and Ashleigh LaThrop as Becky in “Utopia.”

I don’t have to tell you that these are tough times. We’re dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, about which the news seems unendingly bad. If that’s not enough, there are a variety of bogus conspiracy theories about the virus that make the world we live in even murkier and more aggravating.

A lot of the things we used to do to distract ourselves aren’t safe anymore, so we hunker down at home and turn on the TV. And Amazon Prime is thinking we’ll want to start streaming the eight-episode series “Utopia” on Friday, because what we really need is a show about a pandemic that might kill off most of the world’s population — and the conspiracy behind the creation and spread of the virus.


It’s an unfortunate coincidence. Production was completed on “Utopia” before the pandemic began. And it’s based on a 2013-14 British series, also titled “Utopia,” adapted and updated by writer/executive producer Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl,” “Sharp Objects”).

“It did feel like right now was exactly the time for it,” Flynn said. And it might have been, back when filming ended in October 2019.

To be clear, “Utopia” doesn’t much resemble reality. It’s about four strangers obsessed with an underground graphic novel (aka comic book) called “Dystopia.” Its story centers on Jessica Hyde (Sasha Lane), a girl whose scientist father has been captured by the evil Mr. Rabbit. And to keep Mr. Rabbit’s minions from harming Jessica, her scientist dad creates deadly viruses for Mr. Rabbit to use as bioweapons.

When an unpublished sequel is discovered, the geeks are in an uproar. Activist Sam (Jessica Rothe); insurance salesman Ian (Dan Byrd); doomsday prepper Wilson (Desmin Borges); and Becky (Ashleigh LaThrop), who’s suffering from a weird disease — who know each other only online — decide to pool their money to buy the sequel, “Utopia,” at a comic convention.

They don’t just love “Utopia,” they think it’s real. They think it’s related to everything from Ebola to global warming to nuclear disasters to a flu epidemic that’s killing children and forcing schools to shut down. They and scientist Michael Stearns (Rainn Wilson) believe there’s a vast conspiracy tied to another scientist, Kevin Christie (John Cusack). And we’re off and running.

This is not something you can just sit back and enjoy, however. The level of violence is staggering and deeply disturbing. If you’re even slightly squeamish, you’ll struggle to get through a single episode.

And Cusack acknowledged that after filming was completed and he went home, “Utopia” resonated in ways he didn’t expect.

“It was kind of disturbing and surreal to see it come so close to life,” he said.

No kidding.