Mar 28, 2013

[TV] Utopia: Series 1

Every now and then Tobie and I stumble across a new show and are just blown away by how good it is. This was precisely the case with Utopia, which initially didn't seem like much based on the initial synopsis posted around the web. But man once it got started, it was pretty awesome.

It comes as little surprise to me that this was yet another show to originate from the United Kingdom. For one reason or another we're seeing more and more ground-breaking, thought-provoking shows coming from there as opposed to the rather redundant tripe that gets aired on US network television.

And no, we won't even touch the discussion about Philippine network television.

It's hard to capture Utopia in a few sentences really quickly, but what I can say is that you can consider it to be sort of a companion show to programs like Black Mirror in terms of just how intense things can get.

Synopsis: Utopia is a British conspiracy drama series created by Dennis Kelly. The first series was presented in six one-hour episodes on Channel 4 and has already been confirmed for a second series (season).

An independent comic known as The Utopia Experiments has developed a sort of cult following online as various readers believe that the stories in the comics are related to major disasters in recent years. And when one member of the online forum claims to have a copy of the rumored second issue / sequel comic, they decide to finally meet in person to examine the comic for themselves.

But before they know it, their lives are being systematically destroyed by a group later designated as The Network. Beyond basic character assassination and getting them in trouble with the law, their very lives are also threatened by the hired goons of the Network who are out to find the manuscript. Anyone who gets in their way or potentially has the ability to reveal its secrets are practically fated for elimination.

And it's not like our little Utopia crew are well-equipped with the skills and experience to deal with anything like the Network. We have somewhat student Becky (Alexandra Roach), young IT consultant Ian (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett from Misfits), paranoid conspiracy theory nut Wilson Wilson (Adeel Akhtar) and 11 year old Grant (Oliver Woolford). So that's a pretty unlikely team indeed - and they're up against some pretty sadistic hired guns and a great organization with far more resources than just 4 strangers thrown together by chance.

The series has a lot of great production elements involved that help keep it rather distinct from a lot of other shows out there. And by this I mean the little details such as a rather edgy soundtrack to score the various scenes, interest color palette choices that present rather brilliant imagery that echoes the comic book theme at the heart of things and of course quite a number of interesting camera angles and wide shots to frame the action. Admittedly I'm no expect in terms of the technical details of these sorts of things but like with art, I can say that I know what I like and this show hit a lot of my hot buttons.

The acting was pretty involved as well, especially for child actors like Oliver Woolford and eventually Emilia Jones. The subject matter isn't exactly easy by any stretch of the imagination and given the amount of violence and abject terror involved at times, I can imagine it was quite the directorial challenge to get through things. When I just think about that scene with Wilson Wilson...yikes! But no spoilers for now, even for something that was depicted in so early in the show, well, all I can say is darn. And wow.

Admittedly the plotting, while sufficiently complex, can be more or less "read" in due time and some of the final reveals may not be as surprising as I would have liked. But then again that doesn't take away from the show as a whole since there are plenty of secrets left in the story to keep anyone second-guessing just about everything.

Utopia is the kind of fresh storytelling that we need to see more of these days. And while I'm not sure how a second series can continue what was wrapped up in these first six episodes, I'm definitely going to want to see what comes out next. Thus the show gets a brilliant 5 moments of being chased by the "white rabbit" out of a possible 5.

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