Is Channel 4s Utopia any good? Right now, it’s too early to tell



Everyone’s favourite nonchalant hitman — the aptly named Neil Maskill, who looks like he’s never ever been hugged

Utopia, Utopia, Utopia, where to begin with Utopia (the new six-part series that recently arrived on our screens and finally put about a million teenagers and mid-life-crisis sufferers out of their tight-jeaned misery, if you weren’t aware)? How about those by turns annoying, interesting, captivating ads. About as Channel 4 as Channel 4 drama gets – or as Channel 5 as Channel 5 gets, depending on the impression they gave you – the ads made an instant statement about what was coming, that’s for sure, even if they gave frustratingly little away and made those same teenagers I talked about above cry into their ridiculous garments and long for Cheryl Cole to pop round for a cup of tea. Mysterious and striking, the show’s characters fell, ran or stumbled in slow-motion across flat yellow backgrounds as an unsettling air-raid style sound rose, adding to the feeling of menace. Or confusion. Or For God’s sake, can’t Channel 4 do anything without being a bit weirder and more edgy than everyone else? One episode in and scores of people are already calling this the most stylish new drama in years.

Well, if you haven’t seen it yet then I hate to break it to you, but it’s a bit bloody early to be proclaiming Dennis Kelly’s production – he co-wrote Matilda the Musical – as the next best thing on British TV. Stylish, yes, but the best thriller drama in years? No. Not yet. Definitely nowhere close at this point in time. Forget it. Let’s watch the entire series first, or at least get half-way into it and learn what the hell it’s all about. You wouldn’t read one chapter of a book and then write a giant review of it. As such, reviewing this first episode in any depth should be done with a degree of caution. Or at least awareness. It could be shit, it could be amazing, but right now, we just can’t know.

What the hell is it all about, then? That’s a very good question. We’re not supposed to know that yet, of course. That’d sort of fuck things completely up.

But you can’t help yourself but ask the questions…what is it about…what is it about — and repeat those words about one hundred more times. It’s true that the premise of Utopia is strangely captivating in an alien sort of a way. From the start to the beginning, mystery and conspiracy is the aim of the game as six strangers do their Channel 4 thing, looking all young and youthful and calm and angry but justifiably angry, because the world is out to get them. That cool but not cool, hard but not hard, weird but not…actually, yes, it is bit weird, let’s be honest. I won’t bore you too much with the storyline, as it’s like televisual scabies all over the internet already — scabies is an apt description, too. The show may be tame so far on many levels, compared to movies of a similar ilk, but this opening episode still left you feeling dirty and grotty and weird; a case of all-over body thrush, if someone forced me to get really specific (lucky for you they didn’t, or it could have been a lot worse than that). Which is bizarre, come to think of it, seeing as everything about Utopia is clean and simple. The look and feel of it, I mean. The storyline is anything but simple and straightforward. Fragmented would be the best description. No, discombobulated – that’s better. No wonder the show makes you feel strange. It is a mass of contradictions. It looks simple and clean, the language is normal, verging on the mundane at times, yet around every scene exists an unending void filled with questions, and not all of them are about how cutting edge and clever Channel 4 can be, or what it must feel like to have all-over body thrush. Like being drunk and stuck on the train listening to someone sober trying to talk some sense into you when all you want to do is punch them hard and you cannot, the questions get annoying after a while, but hopefully it won’t all end in tears.

If you’re too lazy or drunk to perform a basic Google search, Utopia is this: six strangers come across the original manuscript of The Utopia Experiments — a famed for its incredible out-of-this-world intensely imaginative vision type thing of a legendary graphic novel which no-one can stop harping on about — and…well, shit hits the fan bigtime because some bad people want that same manuscript. Obviously, I probably don’t need to say that this is no normal manuscript. There are darker forces at work here, and they do not look like the kind of people who have ever seen a comic, or a graphic novel.

One thing’s for sure – all this business about the violence being too much is more than a bit bizarre. Read The Guardian‘s comments on their review and you’ll see a lot of I couldn’t watch the show I’ve never seen anything so horrific and This kind of thing should be banned from TV. Trust me, if you’ve ever witnessed an episode of Tom Daley’s craptastic Splash! or The Apprentice then you’ll have seen something equally as horrific, and if you think this should be banned from TV, then you should probably stay indoors for a very long time because much worse things are going on in the world. For exampke, once, when I was 12, I had a horrific haircut that was more disturbing than this. Yes the opening scene is one of mass murder and yes the end of the show contains a scene that is vicious and calculated and nasty, but…banned? I don’t think so. You don’t see much, and what you do see has been filmed cleverly, leaving much to the imagination…which must be the point. Utopia is all about tone and style and implication. It remains to be seen if it can all come together to form something truly remarkable.

Then again, there are no shortage of positive points, and that immediately elevates Utopia above plenty of other crap out there. Neil Maskill of Kill List is one of them. Playing the world’s most unfit assasin – a man who almost anyone’s granddad could surely stumble away from without too much of a hassle – he guns down people with the cool unhinged charm of one of those Countdown nerds who can solve a complex number puzzle in less than 30 seconds. Yes, he’s eerily down-to-earth, vacant and all together freaky.

So, we’ll see, won’t we? My money is on Utopia turning out to be a sound, decent thriller series. I just don’t want to get too excited yet. Call me a cynic, but it’s going to take more than just a few clever shots — I want to see this series earn it.

4 comments on “Is Channel 4s Utopia any good? Right now, it’s too early to tell

  1. Wilbro says:

    Just a cheap Doctor Who effort for adults! If anyone found Utopia compulsive viewing, you really need to get out more. Might make readable book, but for television viewing, Tom & Jerry had more realistic violent scenes!


    • chrispink says:

      Interesting perspective Wilbro, and definitely all the more interesting when you look around and see pretty much everyone going crazy for this show! I agree with you on the book thing, that could be really insightful. I liked the way they handled the violence in some ways, but to me it felt a bit too down-played and like C4 were trying too hard to be edgy and cool. Thanks for the comment 🙂


  2. coopuk says:

    Just watched the 2nd episode, totally underwhelmed by it. Poorly written characters – I don’t care if any of them live or die – and frankly ludicrous plot lines. Not artificial/plastic enough to feel like a comic/graphic novel adaption, not realistic enough to attract and keep the interest as a thriller, not glamorous enough to watch as eye candy. I predict just the one series only. I won’t be bothering with the remaining 4 episodes.


    • chrispink says:

      Some good points — I can definitely see where you’re coming from with it being a strange kind of hybrid. I did think that the show’s storylines came together much better in this latest episode, but at the same time, I also struggled with caring about the characters. It just seems like they’re trying to play it a bit too cool. I’m on the fence right now. I’ll watch the next episode, but if it doesn’t at least tie a few things together then I may not bother with the rest.

      I do think some of the scenes were beautifully shot and choreographed though. Thanks for your comment.


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