I’m going to be trying something. I’m going to watch an entire TV series, one episode a night. Then tell you about each episode.
The series I’ve chosen in this case is Utopia. Partially because the entire series is free due to Channel 4 uploading it to YouTube, partially because its quite recent and mostly because its a british TV series therefore I won’t have to spend 2 weeks of my life waiting for something significant to happen (he snipes knowingly at American shows) and it will all be over in 6 nights.
Ok, for those who haven’t heard of the show, a quick non spoilery synopsis: its about fans of a comic book, The Utopia Experiment that only ever published one issue. The all come together to meet after someone claims they have the second issue. All the while two anonymous men working for a shadowy organisation called the Network attempt to kill off anyone that has any knowledge of the book, asking the question ”Where is Jessica Hyde?”.
If that sort of thing sounds interesting, feel free to watch the first episode here so you are caught up with tonights review.
One thing that really drew me to the show in first place (apart from the very comic book like plot and the strong adverting campaign) was that I was a fan of the writer David Kelly, who had previously written for shows like Pulling and Spooks, which have can have a very dark, mischievous senses of humor to them at times.
In fact, this quote below sums up the show best. Its from an earlier interview in conducted by the Guardian about his show Pulling:
“I guess there isn’t a moral centre because Dennis and I don’t have one.” Kelly then said “That’s scary. Fuck. We need to get a moral centre. Shit. It’s really true. But we do try to make sure we don’t get nasty for the sake of it. We make sure there’s a bit of heart. “
Its very telling because the first episode of Utopia is very harrowing and very grim, but still retains a small bit of humanity, humor and self awareness that a lot of modern fiction is missing.
Spoilers in 3…2…1….
First thoughts: this show isn’t afraid of violence. In the course of this episode I count 4 deaths by suffocation, 1 by blunt force from a pipe, 1 by falling from a great height, 1 from gun shot and a very, very gruesome torture scene that had me wincing and wanting to look away.
Not because of violence. For all the violence reported above, very little is shown, or else presented in a way the borders on comical whilst being absolutely terrifying at the same time (sort of like old Dr Who baddies). Its the way its presented, via shots that cut just at the last minuet, or scenes where the screen goes black and instead of ending, continues with all you hearing are those persons last moments. This combined with slightly odd music that chirrups away in the background and the very matter of fact ways the violence is carried out combines to create just a slightly off kilter viewing experience.
The heart of the show comes from fans who unknowingly find themselves caught up in this shadowy world that seems rather unbelievable at first. Becky, a post grad who has a very personal tie to the comic as she feels it may help explain the death of her father, Ian, an IT consultant who still lives with his mum and thinks the entire thing is a load of bunk, Wilson Wilson( “Thats your real name?”, “Well no-one would expect it would they?”) a survivalist and conspiracy nut and Grant, an 11 year old with artistic aspirations who pretends to be a 24 year old city trader online.
The scenes with these characters provide a nice bit of warmth in contrast to the very stylised violence the rest of the episode provides, as a plot that wouldn’t be out of place in the convoluted world of comics unfolds.
It turns out that the comic was written by an institutionalised madman who worked on experiments in the 80s designed to create man made pathogens that could be introduced to the population, infecting people with diseases that didn’t exist before the mid 80s. One of these manufactured diseases killed Beckys’ father.
Running parallel to this is a the story of Michael Dugdale (played by The Thick of Its Paul Higgins), a senior civil servant being blackmailed into buying a drug from a company owned by the Network. Whilst this story seemed a little superfluous to the main storyline (other than being an excuse for the wonderful Higgins to shine in his role), I expect it will dovetail into the main plot soon and provides a good contrast to the smaller central storyline, allowing the actions of the Network to be seen on the bigger scale.
The end of episode reveal is just wonderful as well, the gang coming face to face with the eponymous Jessica Hyde.
Having been conditioned by shows from the past few years to expect information doled out piecemeal and then praised as some sort of divine truth, its refreshing that by the end of the first episode I know what the focus of the show will be, I know a great deal about the Network and there is a clear push to move the plot forward.
Overall, count me in for another episode. The cinematography, plot and just sheer unabashed weirdness has me hooked. Won’t you join me in watching the show? If you already have, let me know what you thought in the comments below.
Otherwise, see you tommorrow.