Type of Show: In the 21st Century, there are two kinds of shows: dark (think Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies) and bright (think Guardians of the Galaxy). Some straddle the middle, or vacillate between the two. Utopia is unlike all of them: its plot and characters are pitch-black, darker than anything I’ve seen recently. But its tone — everything from its color palate to its music to its dialogue — is brighter than anything since Pushing Daisies. It’s a drama, but often feels like something else.
What It’s About: A powerful conspiracy is determined to get its hands on a manuscript: the second volume of Utopia, a cult-classic comic book. They’ll kill anyone even tangentially connected to it. This is bad news for a small group of online Utopia fans, who have managed to get their hands on the manuscript… and they now have to flee for their lives.
Where People Watch: BBC4, DVD, The Pirate Bay (illegally)
What James Watched: The entire first season — six episodes. There was a second season, also six episode, which aired in 2014. This short run, though unthinkable in mainstream American television, is perfectly normal for a British show.
Best Part: Watching four completely innocent people from completely different walks of life fall deeper and deeper into a rabbit hole of conspiracies (and conspiracies-within-conspiracies) is fun in any universe, but Utopia‘s bright approach upends the entire conspiracy genre. I know that’s like saying “the best part of the show is the show,” but that’s kinda true here.
Worst Part: Utopia is incredibly violent, and shockingly graphic about nearly all of it. It gets one or two points back for refusing to show children being graphically murdered… but promptly loses them anyway because it’s perfectly willing to kill children just off-screen, and does so more than twice. If you simply aren’t up for a lot of violence (and a bit of sex), nobody will judge you for skipping Utopia.
DUGDALE: How did you… get involved in all this?
DONALDSON: Remember SARS? I worked for the Martarla Foundation who discovered it. One of their top scientists, rising star, six figure salary, used their private jet. Ever been on a private jet? It’s nice. I was in Hong Kong when SARS hit. They kept it locked down, but I thought, ‘Fuck that, I’m special’. So I went in, had a look, found out it didn’t exist.
DUGDALE: What? SARS didn’t exist?
DONALDSON: No. Whole thing was just a series of unconnected respiratory problems. Took me under an hour to discover there was no cause or link. So, I filed my report and within a week, I was discredited, research destroyed… fired. I tried speaking out, but everyone thought I’d just gone a bit David Icke.
DUGDALE: But people died. SARS was–
DONALDSON: Started in November 2002, it lasted precisely seven months, by summer 2003 it no longer existed; the ‘pandemic’ affected just eight thousand, four hundred and twenty-two people and killed nine hundred and sixteen. Do you know how many people die each year from random respiratory problems? SARS did not exist. Next question. Why did they do it? Answer? I don’t fucking know. All I know is that in the next few weeks I was embroiled in a sex scandal. Professor Pervert, addicted to coke and prostitutes.
DUGDALE: So, d-did they just set you up?
DONALDSON: Yeah! Well… No, I do like cocaine and prostitutes, but they didn’t have to tell everyone.
(You learn a lot about any show from its theme music.)
Should I Watch?:
Another review put it like this: “Utopia is like Lost without all the irritating parts of Lost.” That’s barely even kind of true, but it’s still the most accurate one-sentence summary of Utopia I’ve found, so I’m reprinting it anyway. I enjoyed Utopia a great deal, and it told a story that has only occasionally been told before in an entirely fresh way. And, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say Utopia has clear heroes, it does definitely have people you can cheer for — and who are still worth cheering for by the time the first season ends.