by Scott Oakes
Three long years have trundled by since Utopia was last on our screens. Where some may say this work of mesmerising brilliance hasn’t matured to a retro classification just yet, to others, fans, it will feel like an eternity since the beloved characters graced our screens.
For those unaware of the story, Utopia followed a small group who meet up after speaking on a forum for a graphic novel titled ‘The Utopia Experiments’, known for correctly predicting global disasters. After youngest group member Grant (Oliver Woollford) retrieves the original manuscript, a dangerous organisation called The Network begin to hunt them like prey. Together they must discover the meaning behind the graphic novel and stop any more disasters ever becoming reality again. However with opposition in the form of The Network, hitmen Arby (Neil Maskell) and Lee (Paul Ready) and a questionably untrustworthy MI5 agent Milner (Geraldine James) – a happy ending becomes increasingly harder to grasp.
From the very first episode we were introduced to the grotesque violence and grit of Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones calibre at the time. Only, this was an entirely British production, it was television we could be proud of producing and distributing. While received several complaints for an untimely school massacre scene just one month after the events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, which saw twenty children killed. The series dared to take matters that step further; it had shock value, justified violence and dramatic tension you’d need a pick-axe to break through.
“Where is Jessica Hyde?” The Network’s hitman Arby would ask, as he searched for her and the manuscript. When any fan thinks of Utopia, this almost-catchphrase will play havoc in their minds. Jessica Hyde, being the daughter of Philip Carvel became a central character in the story and was later revealed (spoiler) to be the carrier of Janus – a serum with the purpose of sterilising 90-95% of the world’s population that was created and later hidden in Hyde’s blood as a child by her father. The Network are said to have used the manuscript as a method of getting to Jessica – they needed the serum so they could prevent the population rising and in turn avoid wars in humanity due to inevitable food shortages.
The most riveting aspect of the story was the inability to distinguish just what side each character was in favour of. On one hand The Network were fighting for the future stability of our planet, they had in mind the unavoidable food shortages our future would face if we sat back and watched the population continue to increase. In contrast was our group, who were fighting for the freedom of procreation, the right to have children and in highlighting The Network’s immoral methods of using a drug to sterilise the population. There were clear sides drawn, but characters would doubt themselves on occasion. Wilson Wilson, Arby and Dugdale to name the most interesting of cases.
Wilson Wilson (Adeel Akhtar) played advocate to the general consensus at the time – as the audience we second guessed ourselves, doubted every thought we had, every opinion expressed by these characters. Whether you believed in The Network or not, their methods weren’t exactly moral and Wilson knew that but sympathised with their cause. We all saw The Network were willing to kill if it benefitted their cause, if they could continue fighting their battle then it would all be worth it. A lot of what we saw of Wilson involved how he dealt with this. Seeing the good in both sides, his story made for one of the most compelling overall; an unforgettable character arc beginning with a nuclear fallout shelter, a spoon and his eyeball…
It’s style was uniquely unsettling, dazzling, heavily saturated with striking yellows. Distinct from all television of its kind, everything we saw was bolder, brighter and more defined than you would ever see with the human eye in a real life environment. “The skies that we shot weren’t always blue, they were mostly grey British skies” director Marc Munden told Wired. Every scene was so unnaturally beautiful, aesthetically this series was a piece of fine art never to be forgotten.
Television really does have a void in dire need of filling due to the cancellation of such a fantastic production, the irony is that there is no utopia for a striking, dystopian piece of beauty and brilliance. The expertly crafted, violently bloody masterpiece will continue to sink into the abyss of All4 as their library continues to grow and it is a real real shame. Was it before its time? Maybe. Was it against heavy competition? Definitely. Was it given time to flourish? Unfortunately not.
It’s easy to think and say that Utopia would have benefitted from the kind of marketing that its more recent series Humans received. It’s even easier to say that Channel 4 might not have been the ideal platform for a series like this, the audience may not have been ready for it. Let us all live in hope that Utopia will return some day in the future; Netflix in particular could be an option, especially after their recent continuation of Channel 4’s Black Mirror. Even hopes of an American adaption were smashed back in 2015 when HBO abandoned plans for their version due to budgeting disputes with director David Fincher.
For those who haven’t seen Utopia, you will not regret watching. It is a very real televisual experience of disconcerting panic, distress and anxiety but it’s also loveable, clever and full of wit. That characters are written so intricately, with everyone used to their full potential, the acting is superb across the board and the story is gripping start to finish. This is certainly better than your average Channel 4 viewing of Embarrassing Bodies, and likely more graphic too…
Dir: Marc Munden, Wayne Che Yip, Alex Garcia Lopez, Sam Donovan
Scr: Dennis Kelly, John Donnelly
Prd: Dennis Kelly
Cast: Alexandra Roach, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Paul Higgins, Fiona O’Shaughnessy, Adeel Akhtar, Steven Robertson, Oliver Woollford, Neil Maskell, Paul Ready, Geraldine James
Country: United Kingdom
Running Time: 45-61 Minutes