Starring: Alexandra Roach, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Paul Higgins, Fiona O’Shaughnessy, Adeel Akhtar, Oliver Woollford, Neil Maskell, Paul Ready, Geraldine James, James Fox, Michael Smiley
Dark. Twisted. Smart. Funny. Intense. Mysterious. Those are just six words that perfectly describe Dennis Kelly’s six-part conspiracy show, Utopia.
Set in the not too distant future, where Earth’s population has continued to grow and resources are just starting to become stretched, the story follows six strangers who come together over their love of a graphic novel, “The Utopia Experiments”, which is rumoured to have predicted the worst disasters of recent times. They soon find out that the novel goes even deeper than that and become embroiled in a battle to stay alive, as a shadowy group known as “The Network” close in on them.
As episode one opens up, giving us our first glimpse of Maskell’s Arby and Ready’s Lee interrogating a comic book store owner and his customers, the show wastes no time in letting us know that it will refuse to pull any punches, as we see the implied murder of a small child. In fact, by the end of the episode, we will also get to see one of the worst and most creative torture scenes in recent entertainment.
The first episode sets the viewer up perfectly, immersing us into the story without any delay, introducing us to all the main players and enabling us to emotional connect with at least some of them. The following three episodes are filled to the brim with conceptual ideas, paranoia, and interweaving story lines that left me in a constant state of “WTF-ness”. The penultimate episode starts to unravel the convoluted tale, which is then concluded excellently in the finale.
As you can imagine, a show which contains six 45-minute episodes of diverse characters and sub plots does not end with all the questions answered and delivered to you with a ribbon on top.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that anyone who says they “get it” or tries to explain everything to you is either lying, wrong or has missed something. It is just the nature of this beast.
That being said, I felt that the show did enough to answer the main points, but left enough mystery and intrigue to keep me interested and wanting a second series to be commissioned. I would not be surprised if a sequel took the story in an entirely different direction, however, as if the first season guaranteed one thing, it was a shifting landscape of a story, never really letting you get settled until the very end.
Quirky is a word I used all too often, and once again it is an ideal adjective for this show. Whether it’s the constant use of the colour yellow (seriously, what’s with that yellow filter all the time!?) or the unique scoring which uses all the novelty sound effects found on a Yamaha keyboard from the mid nineties, Utopia has a novel approach unlike anything else on TV today.
The cast is a mixture of relatively unknown actors with a sprinkling of some more familiar faces. Everyone does an excellent job, really investing in their roles, with stand out performances from Roach (Becki), O’Shaughnessy (Jessica) and Maskell (Arby).
For those living in the UK, if you have the chance to catch up with this on 4OD or DVD, please do so. For those living overseas I also strongly recommend you seek this out, as dramas this well conceived, written and executed don’t come along too often. Only in a perfect world, perhaps.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Did you know? The series’ most controversial moment, giving rise to multiple complaints, involved a massacre in a high school, only weeks after the Sandy Hook shooting.