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21st February 2013 11:03:00
Posted by Nick Bryan

Utopia: Series 1 - Review

Review of Utopia, from Channel 4 and Kudos Productions.
Not that long ago, production house Kudos were one of the powerhouses of UK TV. They produced a few iconic shows in a short space of time, such as Spooks, Hustle and the Life On Mars/Ashes To Ashes story. But things have dried up of late: Spooks came to a merely okayish end after ten years, whereas new shows Outcasts and Hunted didn't really take off at all.

Now they're back with Utopia, an ultraviolent conspiracy thriller, and on Channel 4 for a change. Will this be their much-needed next big hit? Well, the first seriesfinished up on Tuesday, so let's have a think. There are a lot of twists in Utopia and I might well spoil them, you can still watch the whole thing on 4OD to avoid that.

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How Excited Can YOU Get About The Sky?

The plot of Utopia feels complicated, but is surprisingly simple in the end: there's a comic with the secret code for an evil virus hidden in it - the baddies want it, the goodies have it. A lengthy chase ensues, with torture, slaughter and shooting a-plenty, along with constantly shifting allegiances.

Utopia was a frustrating experience - it did some things really well, but compensated for that with glaring weaknesses. But in the name of positivity over sadness, here are some of the good things, before I get to the complaining. First and foremost, it looks really cool. The director clearly wanted a distinctive look, so no matter what the scene, it usually has a nice spin put on it. For the most part, that's achieved without making the storytelling unclear, too.

Does it sometimes feel superfluous and try-hard? Well, yes, but at least it's trying. Although by the end, you will notice how much this show likes over-saturated colours and wide shots. Particularly of the sky - they fucking love the sky.

The acting is also good, for the most part, everyone is very earnest and convincing, and the start and finish are really involving at times. Make no mistake, this is a very clever and interesting story, with a range of effective twists, even if I didn't always enjoy the execution. In particular, the final episode has a lot of plot and emotional pay-off, it ended the series so successfully, I really wanted to watch the second year.

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And Now, The Torture Begins

But, on the other hand... christ, this thing dragged in the middle. Much like over-stretched lifefest Torchwood: Miracle Day, the good things about the show were spread over far too many episodes, leading to a long period where everyone jogged on the spot. Obviously, as is the way of this show, it was really violent jogging, with no shortage of maiming and shooting, but oddly, all that sound and fury just made it more exasperating that nothing was really happening.

Oh, yeah, if you're easily offended by violence, there are scenes which might not do much for you - primarily, an explicit torture scene in episode one and a school shooting in episode three. I can't say I was upset by these things (I'm thoroughly desensitised to on-screen violence), but the constant death of minor characters does get so ridiculous that one starts to feel very blasé about it all. They're all going to die anyway, so why get attached? (In the end, very few of the main cast actually die.)

And yeah, that's the general problem with much of Utopia. It's well-made enough, but floats by beneath this trendy sheen of violence and flashy direction, leaving you struggling to connect with the characters, which isn't helped when the dull middle stretch hits and they start endlessly repeating themselves.

As I said, the final episode did a lot to rectify this - it was probably the best of the whole run and contained a lot of hinting towards a possible second series, so clearly Kudos want one. I did a quick google before writing this post and can't see any news of a renewal - good luck to them, though. There's potential in this cast and concept, I'd probably at least check out a follow-up to see if it had improved.

Utopia has finished. The enigmatic official website is still up, and you can watch the entire first series on 4OD for another month. Still disappointed "Mister Rabbit" wasn't an actual rabbit.