“There’s a very different dynamic from being on your own for a couple of years at a time in your little basement lair, where you control everything in this world, you don’t have to think about casting, locations, budgets, anyone else’s notes, just yours,” she said. “There’s a purity to that that I still appreciate.” (She’s not done writing books; she has a contemporary retelling of “Hamlet” coming out next year.)
Patrick Somerville, the novelist who also wrote the 2018 Netflix series “Maniac,” said that this purity was often what made authors such great screenwriters. They’re “not corrupted,” he said, “or, if corrupted is too strong a word, not changed in the way that the forces of the TV industry tend to change writers.”
By early March, “Utopia” was in final edits, with Flynn flying back and forth from Chicago to Los Angeles to sit in with the editors. On her most recent trip, “I left saying, ‘All right well I’ll see you guys in two weeks!’” she recalled. “And then everything shut down.”
It was an ironic twist for a story that Flynn was afraid might seem too unrealistic when she first started thinking about it, seven years ago. Back before she had to start distinguishing between “the pandemic in real life versus the pandemic in TV life,” she had put together a file of historical disease vectors and outbreaks “to make the case that this world that I was pitching wasn’t so crazy,” she said. (In “Utopia,” the pathogen primarily targets children in American public schools, so already beleaguered parents should consider themselves warned before watching.)
Ultimately, the question the show urges viewers to ask themselves is both of-the-moment and, in many ways, as old as time: Who’s to say what around us is true and what’s imagined? When everything we read and experience seems impossible, how do you tell the realistic from the patently insane?
“Even when you think you’ve found the truth, you may realize that you’re fooling yourself through your own biases,” Flynn said. “Everything could possibly be a conspiracy if you look hard enough.”