Utopia: What Amazon Prime Changes From The Original Series
Utopia is based on the British cult favorite, but showrunner Gillian Flynn makes it her own in several ways – here’s a breakdown of the main changes.
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Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Utopia season 1.
Amazon Prime’s Utopia differentiates itself from the cult British original in many ways – here’s a breakdown of the most prominent changes. Created by The Third Day’s Dennis Kelly, Utopia premiered on U.K. television back in 2013. Emerging as a sleeper hit, it was soon renewed for a sophomore outing, with Utopia season 2 debuting in 2014. Though the series set up future storylines and left some lingering questions, Utopia was disappointingly canceled, solidifying its cult status among fans.
Amid hope that it might still be resurrected, it was announced that a remake was in production via HBO. With David Fincher signed on at the helm, the series went into early development in 2015. Rooney Mara, with whom Fincher had worked with on The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, was set to lead. Unfortunately, that remake never came to fruition due to a financial dispute. In 2018, though, Amazon stepped in to pick up the project, with Gillian Flynn confirmed as the showrunner. It was also announced that she would write each of the eight episodes and a whole new cast would be assembled, featuring John Cusack, Sasha Lane, and Desmin Borges.
Finally released on September 25, 2020, the series followed a group of friends obsessed with a seemingly prescient comic book called Dystopia. Upon learning of a new issue titled Utopia, they arranged to meet up with a plan to buy it. Unfortunately, they soon found themselves hunted by sinister forces just as eager for the comic. Forced to band together with the book’s not-so-fictional central character, Jessica Hyde (Lane), they attempted to prevent the global catastrophe it predicted. Not entirely for the better, Amazon Prime’s Utopia adopts a style and tone entirely its own and far removed from the original. It also isn’t afraid to deviate substantially in terms of story, location, and characterizations, putting its own stamp on things. Here’s a breakdown of the show’s most notable differences.
Ian and Becky Race-Swapped
In the original series, Ian was played by Misfits star Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, who will next feature prominently in Jordan Peele and Nia DaCosta’s highly-anticipated horror continuation, Candyman. Becky, meanwhile, was played by Welsh actress Alexandra Roach. She has enjoyed subsequent roles in such popular and acclaimed series as Black Mirror and Killing Eve. Together they had prominent roles in both seasons and served as Utopia’s central romance. In Amazon Prime’s version, the characters are utilized in a similar fashion. However, Becky and Ian are now played by Ashleigh LaThrop and Dan Byrd, respectively. As such, Ian has been switched from Black to white and Becky from white to Black. The move is just one of the ways the shrewdly marked itself as an almost parallel world version. Jessica Hyde is similarly switched, with Lane being of African-American and Māori descent, as opposed to the original actress’s Irish roots.
The Group As A Whole
The entire group has several differences — both on a surface level and in terms of story. For starters, several of the surnames were not carried over. While Jessica and Wilson retain their full original names, Ian is now Ackerman rather than Johnson, Becky is given the last name Todd, and Grant’s is changed from Leetham to Bishop. Ian also has a different job in the new version, working as an insurance salesman rather than an IT consultant. Most of the characters, however, have generally similar personality traits as their original counterparts.
Grant is afforded the biggest changes. In the original series, Grant was more of a loudmouth and a troublemaker, albeit with a secret heart of gold. In Amazon Prime’s Utopia season 1, Grant is largely more soft-spoken and, while he has his criminally resourceful moments, his inherent goodness is more readily apparent. His closeness with his mother, and general protectiveness after going on the run, is not part of the remake. Grant also first meets Alice in an entirely different way from the original, trespassing in her back garden rather than at her school.
The American version of the show also expands the group in the form of Jessica Rothe’s Samantha. The character had no presence in the British series. As such, everything about her life and personality is entirely original to the Amazon Prime version — right down to her shocking death in Utopia season 1, episode 2, “Just A Fanboy”. Jessica Hyde committed no such murder in the original series. Instead, her more survivalist tendencies shocked and grated on the other characters in different ways. The only exception to Samantha being entirely original is that her choice of disguise is to adopt a more gothic look. In the British series, it’s Grant that changed his appearance in that way.
Another visual difference that doubles as a mirror of the original series is that Wilson lost his right eye in the British version. In the U.S adaptation, he is instead robbed of his left. Alice’s big moment from the original version also still occurs, albeit in a similarly amended way. In the British series, she shoots dead a man she believes to be Mr. Rabbit after he orchestrated the murder of her mother. In the remake, Alice kills an altogether different villain in order to save Jessica Hyde’s life in the penultimate episode.
Jessica Hyde’s Backstory
The two versions of Jessica Hyde share extremely similar histories – both the children of genius scientists who were made to work towards nefarious ends. However, there are a few notable differences. Fiona O’Shaughnessy’s version was rescued from captivity when she was 4 years old. Lane’s, meanwhile, was rescued much closer to 10 years old. Though both were raised and trained by them in combat (and more), the British Jessica’s savior was a man named Christos. The American Jessica’s rescuer was a woman named Artemis (played by Camryn Manheim). Christos was revealed to have been tortured and killed by Arby before the events of the original series. In the new adaptation, however, Jessica personally killed Artemis during the show’s timeline, when it became clear that she was a liability to Jessica and the group’s safety.
Michael Stearns Is A Combination of Characters
Amazon Prime’s Utopia at first seemed to be omitting two prominent characters from the original. One was named Michael Dugdale, a civil servant who found himself blackmailed after seemingly impregnating a prostitute. The second was a scientist named Christian Donaldson, who had a connection to both Becky and the mysterious forces targeting her. As the episodes of the remake rolled on, however, it became clear that Dr. Michael Stearns was a combination of the two.
Played by The Office star Rainn Wilson, there is no pregnant sex worker element to Michael’s storyline. Regardless, like Dugdale, he found himself used as an unwitting pawn in the nefarious schemes of Mr. Rabbit and the other villains. The two shared several moments in common, including a similar betrayal very close to home. They both even tried to infiltrate a quarantine zone using the same tactic — namely, playing a soldier’s potential fear of having to contact their superiors. In a humorous subversion, the gambit didn’t work as well for Stearns as it did for Dugdale, once again playing into the two versions sharing similarities while also being distinct.
Equally, like the Donaldson character, Stearns first appeared as a scientist that had been shuffled into frustrating obscurity. The circumstances, however, were markedly different. In the original British series, Donaldson had stumbled upon SARS as being staged by the show’s central villains. To cover their tracks, they framed and discredited him, leaving him penniless and working for a cat food company. Stearns, meanwhile, was consigned to the basement laboratory of a college after discovering a strain of flu that amounted to nothing — until Cusack’s Dr. Kevin Christie sought to exploit it. Given the extended episode count and additional storylines, it was likely a shrewd move to condense the two characters into one. It also made sense to give a named actor like Wilson more to do, making the character equal parts a scientist desperate for recognition and a good man striving to do the right thing.
Both versions of Becky are revealed to be suffering from a man-made disease. Named Deels in the original, its name was slightly altered to Diels in the Amazon Prime remake. Hereditary and said to have no cure, both Beckys looked to the central comic books for answers — since it predicted the emergence of the disease in the world. The main difference is that the illness didn’t fully manifest for Becky in the British version until the end of the first season. For LaThrop’s iteration of Becky, the disease is already further along and its symptoms prominently glimpsed in the opening episode, when she is struck down by a seizure. As a result, the new Utopia made Becky’s illness more of a defining trait from the outset. Though it meant the character wasn’t as immediately multifaceted as the original, the disease’s advanced progression added more of a ticking clock to proceedings. It also produced some memorable scenes as the group had to resort to some drastic measures to keep her alive.
The Harvest’s Name, Members, And Methods
In the original series, the sinister organization hunting the protagonists are known as The Network. They are mostly comprised of politicians and agents of various intelligence agencies. Amazon Prime’s Utopia adopts a different approach. Named The Harvest, they are more akin to a cult. With a compound built away from general society, it is comprised of indoctrinated adults who all believe completely in the organization’s plans for the world. It also breeds and raises children to serve specific purposes, including martyrdom. While the original series focused on the suited villains scheming in fancy offices, Utopia season 1 introduces a wider range of The Harvest agents. Equally, while the British version touched on child experimentation, the remake delves deeper into it — showing The Harvest’s secret school system. It also offered more graphic novel-style depictions of what was done to Arby and Jessica Hyde.
Arby still serves as the villainous group’s primary weapon. However, where the British version was partnered with a man named Lee, Christopher Denham’s version is teamed up with a man named Rod. Both Lee and Rod are similarly killed not long after torturing Wilson, though in the American version it’s Arby that does the brutal deed. In the original series, though, Wilson kills Lee personally. In the remake, Jessica kills Rod and saves Wilson. The US version also briefly introduces several other pairs of assassins that are part of The Harvest, as well as other pivotal members like Charlotte, Lily, and Dale Warwick. Each is unique to the remake. Arby also receives a slightly different history. In the original, he discovers that he was initially named Pietre as a child. Instead, the remake offers no such revelation but has him choose the name John for himself after he starts to switch sides.
The methods of the group also differ slightly. Rather than bother trying to have the heroes arrested by framing them for crimes, they go right to trying to eliminate them. On that front, while Arby and Rod do use the trademark poisonous gas from the original series, they start the series utilizing lethal injections. In one of the British series most horrific moments, Arby carries out a school shooting to frame and flush out Grant. Given the climate, Amazon Prime’s Utopia wisely eschews such a specifically harrowing scene. Instead, he implicates Grant in a home invasion against a member of The Harvest that had begun to have doubts. The results remain the same, however, with the action turning Arby against his creators. The overall nature of their plan is also slightly altered, with Kevin Christie front and center in more public ploys and manipulations, rather than the organization just working from the shadows.
Mr. Rabbit’s Backstory
Though the reveal that Agent Milner was, in fact, Mr. Rabbit all along remained intact, details of the mythology surrounding the figure were changed. In the U.K. version, Mr. Rabbit was said to be an undercover agent during the Cold War. After it was exposed that they had been playing the CIA, the Russians, and Chinese gangs against each other, they were captured and tortured. To really teach them a lesson, the Chinese symbol for the rabbit was carved into their torso. In the Amazon Prime remake, the same disfigurement was offered as part of the character’s history. However, it was said to have occurred in 2002. Also, it came about after Mr. Rabbit had been set to sell a virus, only for the client to renege. In retaliation, Mr. Rabbit had used the virus to kill over 800 people. The brutal carving had been the punishment for that action and designed to expose them to others hunting them.
In both cases, Mr. Rabbit instead systematically killed everyone who may know their identity and went underground. Of course, both versions of the tale were imparted by Milner herself. Therefore, it remains a mystery just how much of the story is true. Though the British version was cut prematurely short, the remake could expand upon or further the mythology in new ways. Cusack’s character seemed to indicate this might be the case, implying that there was more to the symbol than the protagonists (and therefore viewers) seemed to be aware of. As such, Utopia season 2 could reveal whether he was merely a decoy like from the original or if there is a new, deeper significance to those who carry the scars.
The conclusion of Utopia season 1 offered several different cliffhangers from the original series. Jessica Hyde ended up in a similar place, trapped in the hands of the enemy with it revealed that her blood carries the viruses desired by Mr. Rabbit. However, the revelation that her father was indeed still alive was also brought forward in the timeline. And Milner revealed a deeper plan to control humanity rather than sterilize them. Wilson once again switched sides to aid the Big Bads. In a change to the story, though, Becky ended up tricked into captivity by him rather than vanishing to parts unknown to spare Ian enduring her illness. Grant ended up in police custody rather than traveling out of town with Ian. With Michael Dugdale not a part of the show, Alice wasn’t adopted by him as the season ended. Instead, she and Ian were the only members of the gang left free and on the run, with no idea how to save their friends.
In a further move unique to the remake, Michael Stearns was last seen mysteriously leaving town with a sample of the omnivirus. Equally, Cusack’s character was left alive at the end where his British counterpart had already been killed by Grant. Arby’s fate was also left more unambiguous with him present at the site of Jessica Hyde’s imprisonment. Each of these fates lends to the implication that there is some kind of civil war brewing within the ranks of The Harvest. As such, the door wide has been left wide open for the adventure to continue following different paths in Utopia season 2 and beyond.