I’ve resisted writing about Channel 4’s Utopia for the past four weeks. I’ve watched the show, as broadcast so far, and read the reviews. I’ve seen all of these rave critiques of a spiralling plot with cleverly woven webs of deceit, characters that are relatable and honest and stunning visuals. It saddens me to say I don’t agree.
Now I don’t want to pass judgement until I’ve seen all of it, obviously as a show of this nature could all beautifully come together at the last minute. But to me, this is all just a little bit too X-Files and has been done before. For the record I liked the X-Files although when I recently watched them all, it became utterly repetitive and reliant on its conspiracy arc episodes.
*SPOILER ALERT * If you haven’t seen the show and want to, STOP READING HERE and go watch it first. *SPOILER ALERT*
With the exception of Arby (explained later) and Wilson Wilson, who’s involvement has completely petered out now he’s out of his tin foil hat style environment, I find none of the characters engaging, alluring or find any kind of empathy with them. I find most of their dialogue rather clunky, obvious and uninspiring. The show itself goes through many silent periods before being overrun with far too technical plot exposition far too quickly for anyone to understand. In the first X-Files series Mulder constantly leaps to a massive, fairly uninformed, conclusion about twenty minutes in to an episode. Along with visceral dramatic diatribes directed towards Scully, who rightly looks at him like the arrogant psychopathic prick he persuades us he is. That’s exactly what this show does to the audience. They go all Mulder and we sit there like Scully going “Eh? Oh, fuck off.” The entire sudden realisation of The Network’s protein being in every food stuff – thanks to a villainous corporation noted in the comic manuscript we’ve barely had any exposition of (both parts 1 & 2) – is just too much too quickly and really quite unimaginative. In fact, I had no idea this big background villainous entity was even called ‘The Network’ until I read the reviews. Granted, I may have missed that in an earlier episode, but still it shows how little the script is willing to let on.
I choose the word ‘script’ on purpose here. Visually, the series is brilliant. Great locations and a stunning colourful and varied nod to the comic books and movies that has inspired it. The acting has been pretty awesome in places too. Emilia Jones as Alice in Ep. 4 was a fantastic performance, Fiona O’ Shaughnassey playing Jessica Hyde as the ultra violent, slightly child like, rouge (River Tam from Firefly anyone?). But none more so than Neil Maskell as Arby. Arby is the only character who appears genuinely interesting and so borderline psychopathic that you can’t help but want him to completely lose it. In fact, I will admire his plot and how his character is affected by the eponymous comic book that we’ve seen so little of. A genuine connection of discovery that nails it. But that is because Maskell has played it so expertly. A similar child like quality to Hyde, suggesting their shared past, but with a more true feeling of hurt, confusion and a slight innocence despite his actions. We don’t give a toss about the implausible global pharmaceutical conspiracy, we want a person to care about! Other than that, I don’t feel the series is actually going anywhere. Jessica Hyde was introduced far too early, leading to very clunky drawn out travelling/hiding scenes to wreak potential havoc on a love relationship we don’t care about. Jessica’s secret motives are so secret, we don’t care about them. Becky’s seemingly double agent ploy is so unexplained, we don’t care about it… You see where I’m heading with this.
I’m not intentionally being nasty towards the show or another writer’s writing (I’m not a critic per se, more of a practicing observer) but I honestly don’t care about anything except Arby. People who I’ve spoken to who’ve seen the show (not reviewers, genuine audience like me, you, anyone NOT reviewing), honestly don’t care about anything except Arby. Which makes me wonder why the rest of the show is so damned frustrating with its clunky style? It can get it right somewhere, so why not the rest? Don’t even get me started on the seemingly pointless and utterly infuriating storyline involving the civil servant Michael Dugdale which seems to be purely there as exposition for background evil. Or the sudden appearance of Milner, the stiff upper lip lady spy, who reels off government department acronyms like a child describing their Pokemon cards. These distract from the general plot and annoy me. A plot which now seems to be a weekly edition of “Who is?” Who is Jessica Hyde in Ep. 1, Who is Mr Rabbit now in Ep’s 3&4; with long, confusing and utterly boring expositions of how they effect the plot of our characters and seemingly lead them no where but to another “Who is?” moment.
I will watch the rest to see how it pans out because it will frustrate me if I don’t. And if you are enjoying it, fair enough. Do not let my diatribe put you off watching, inspiring or giving television producers the desire (excuse) to have a get out there and create some intriguing telly. But for me it’s not working. When I first heard the idea (after it felt like pulling teeth from the writer in the C4 interview to get anything sensical about it), I thought that it would have made a great kids TV show. Reminiscent of the Russell T Davies shows like Dark Season, imports like Round The Twist, and the like. It doesn’t need the violence and it would appeal to a young adult, maybe even younger, audience with the parents getting intrigued also. I think it makes a good adult show too but sadly, that isn’t being realised in my eyes.