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The Real Reason Amazon Canceled Utopia

Amazon Prime's Utopia wasn't made to last. After just one season, the streamer decided to pull the plug on the conspiracy-tinged thriller created and written by Gone Girl and Sharp Objects author Gillian Flynn. The series introduced viewers to a gaggle of nerds who are obsessed with a comic book called Dystopia, a cult-favorite that is thought to have predicted multiple major world events and hints at a vast global conspiracy. When a manuscript titled Utopia, which appears to be a sequel to Dystopia, is unearthed, the group manages to get their hands on it. However, comic collectors aren't the only ones interested in Utopia. With the book in hand, our hapless heroes find themselves hounded by government officials and the agents of shadowy organizations who will stop at nothing to take possession of the mythical manuscript. 

For some, the cancelation might come as a surprise. The series was full of bold storytelling, ended on an intense cliffhanger, was inspired by a beloved British TV series of the same name, and had Flynn's reputation for mind-boggling twists attached to it. However, for all the show had going for it, it's not hard to determine the real reason that Amazon decided to cancel Utopia.

Most critics were unimpressed with Utopia

American remakes of cult classics from overseas are usually met with a healthy dose of skepticism. Utopia, which has a middling 51% on Rotten Tomatoes, is no different. When critics got ahold of the show, many didn't think the adaptation held a candle to the original. And even beyond those comparisons, some just didn't think the show was very successful as a piece of entertainment.

Writing for Time, Judy Berman called the series unbearable, writing, "It exploits some of contemporary civilization's greatest anxieties without saying anything worth hearing about them." Meanwhile, Caroline Framke of Variety enjoyed the show's quick pace, but clarified, "For every genuine surprise, there are five more 'twists' that were telegraphed from five miles away." She also said that the show's jumble of different elements ended up "flattening" the series, rather than making it more dynamic.

The series' use of mass shootings, deadly pandemics, and scenes of extreme violence and torture was heavily criticized by those who felt that the shocking elements were neither in good taste nor handled particularly well. Roxana Hadidi of AV Guide wrote, "Utopia relies on at least one scene of staggering violence per episode to move the plot forward, but all that does is underscore how the show fails at building the apocalyptic stakes."

There was one criticism in particular that may hold a clue as to why the show ended up getting canceled after just one season.

The series doesn't appear to have a big fanbase

One issue many critics had with the show was that its "ripped from the headlines" horrors were simply too similar to the real headlines and too horrible to be enjoyed in the year 2020.

In his review for NPR, Glen Weldon admitted, "There's certainly been a healthy appetite for shows like The Boys and Utopia out there, which offer ugly, mean-spirited visions of humanity as a miserable collection of gullible fools who are only too eager to allow themselves to get manipulated by institutions." However, he questioned whether now was the time for the show's grim brand of realism. He pointed out that while the 2013 U.K. version was imagining a future that might be just on the horizon, the 2020 U.S. version is simply our current reality. He wrote, "With its cascade of images of death tolls and triage tents and quarantine zones and health workers in PPE and street protests and harried CDC officials? That's just the beleaguered world around us."

Of course, that's just one theory. And besides, plenty of critical flops have gone on to have great success with audiences who see something that the professionals don't. You could even make the case that the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is as important as the critic's score. However, it's hard to make that case with Utopia because there are zero (as in 0) audience reviews currently on the site. While that's not definitive proof of anything, it does imply that the show had trouble finding viewers, especially ones who felt moved enough either way to give it a rating.

It's possible that the critics were right, and that the show's unsettlingly familiar dystopian setting was simply not appealing to American audiences in the year 2020.

You can always watch season 2 of the British version of Utopia

There is a silver lining for fans who were looking forward to seeing where the story of Utopia was going to go next. Unlike its American counterpart, the original British series did get a second season, which expands the worldbuilding and furthe's the central narrative thread. Both seasons of the British version are available to stream on Amazon Prime at the time of writing.

Something to keep in mind, though, is that Flynn already had a second season for her version of the story planned, and it deviated significantly from the original's season 2 narrative. She told RadioTimes, "I didn't even watch much of [creator Dennis Kelly's] second season because mine goes to a different place and takes us to a different ending."

So, even though a second season of the U.K. version of Utopia does exist, it's cold comfort to those who were fans of Flynn's particular take on the story.