Utopia – Series 1 (2013)

TV series review: Utopia, series 1 (Channel 4, 2013)

utopia-s1One of the best new TV series, if not the best, to come out this year, is Channel 4’s Utopia. It doesn’t pull any punches.

The Utopia Experiments is a cult graphic novel, around which there is a conspiracy theory, which says it’s not just a graphic novel, it’s actually something that tells a much darker story – about corporate greed, unethical experiments and so on.

On a fansite, a group of chatroom users arrange to meet up. One of them has got his hands on something that is sure to interest the others: the manuscript to a sequel.

University student Becky (Alexandra Roach), IT consultant Ian (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) and conspiracy nut Wilson Wilson (Adeel Akhtar) meet up in the pub as arranged, but the guy who asked them to come there doesn’t show up. He has, in fact, been murdered. Witness to this murder is young Grant (Oliver Woollford), who lied about his age in the chatroom, and who had decided to check out the home of the guy who asked for the meeting, because annoying child. He runs off with the manuscript, meets up the others, and as they’re suddenly wanted for crimes they didn’t commit, and that some shadowy organisation are willing to kill to get their hands on the manuscript, they have to run for their lives.

Meanwhile, representatives of a big company are trying their utmost to blackmail government official Michael Dugdale (Paul Higgins) into getting approval for something which really shouldn’t be approved …

Becky, Ian and Wilson
A university student, an IT consultant and a conspiracy nut walk into a bar …

Also starring Fiona O’Shaughnessy as Jessica Hyde, Neil Maskell as creepy killer Arby, Geraldine James as Milner, Simon McBurney as Donaldson, Stephen Rea as Letts, Ruth Gemmell as Jen Dugdale, Emilia Jones as Alice Ward, James Fox as Letts’s Assistant, and Alistair Petrie as Michael’s boss Geoff.

Good news! Utopia has been renewed for a second series. Huzzah!

I’m not sure where to start on this one, to be honest. The colour saturation and contrast have been turned up to give the show a feel of a graphic novel. The camera angles and how it’s shot is also reminiscent of a graphic novel. It’s absolutely stunning to watch! (This is, incidentally, what I liked about Sin City, which is a film that generally didn’t appeal to me.)

Man pointing a gun
“Where’s Jessica Hyde?”

The cast is great, the characters interesting, and the story is breathtaking – and pitch black, to boot. There are some horrifying scenes (the eye thing, yikes!), there are plenty of cold-blooded murders, and the conspiracy … well … the outcome of what they’re wanting to do I actually think is a good idea, but not the way they go about it, which is deeply unethical and morally repugnant. If you’re wondering if there are any levels the conspirators wouldn’t stoop to, no, there really aren’t. It’s a deeply unsettling show to watch.

To put it politely, if you’re squeamish or easily upset or prone to paranoia, Utopia isn’t the right show for you. It’s also not the right show if you hate feeling mindfucked. It is, on the other hand, perfect if you want a compelling new thriller/drama where the bad guy is a big pharmaceutical company and the good guys are a bunch of chatroom users who have been dragged into something way above what they bargained for.

When everyone can be bought at a price, who can you trust?

Man with a spoon
Hint: NOT the guy with the spoon. (This scene is probably the most uncomfortable one to watch in the entire six episodes. And that’s saying something!)

I’m a bit lost for words when it comes to writing about this show, because it was such a breath of fresh air and exceeded all our expectations. The only words to describe it fairly would be “breathtaking” (in so many different ways) and “amazing“. This isn’t just brainless entertainment, this show makes you think – and you might not like those thoughts. Is it too complex to follow? No, I thought it was fairly straightforward, but not in ways that I knew what was going to happen. There are a number of curveballs in here.

Utopia is available on 4oD if you’re in Britain.

5 out of 5 mysterious diseases.

Leave a reply - comment is free (sort of)

%d bloggers like this: