Genre: Thriller, Mystery Drama
Network: Channel 4
“Art and life are subjective. Not everybody's gonna dig what I dig, but I reserve the right to dig it.”
- Whoopi Goldberg
Storytelling is an age-old form of art. If believing the previously stated axiom is true, then judging a TV show based on its artistic merit is pretty much redundant. The show about which we are going to discuss is one of the rarest pieces of artwork, which I consider is a sole exception to the previously stated argument. I am making an arbitrary claim here that I find Utopia to be one of the best shows I have ever seen. That is my personal opinion and not a statement of fact. So,do not get vexed if you do not find it as appealing as I did.
*Viewer discretion - The show contains scenes of graphic and implied violence and use of strong language. (It's a British TV Show, duh) Do not go around having a panic attack if it isn't digestible to you. You have been warned.
**Note - The scenes of violence are justified and play an important role in the thematic setting of the world we are exposed to, they are seldom used. It isn't used as a shock factor or a cheap tactic for adrenaline junkies or something. The show is ambitious, not profane.
Whenever there is a mention of a TV Show, it is usually accompanied by the phrase, "It's X seasons are worth watching", or "It doesn't get good until Y hours/seasons/episodes". It does not imply that these shows are bad, but in my opinion, having a threshold waiting time for a show is a kind of bad merit for judging it. Just like a good novel, the show should grip you from its beginning and set a tone gradually as it progresses. Now here's the exception to Utopia, it does that in the first scene of the show itself.
If you ever want to study a flawless opening scene, watch this.
The opening scene - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01VGtX9xfh0
The scene is flawless, it doesn't just throw exposition at you but kicks you right in the middle and lets you ask the questions. "Show, don't tell" is a writing technique. In this technique, the story and characters are related through sensory details and actions rather than exposition. That is sufficient to rank it way above mediocrity.
The soundtrack used in Utopia is extraordinary, which justifies another segment in the review. Cristobal Tapia de Veer has produced a mindboggling soundtrack. I have never been exposed to this kind of music ever on television. It isn't just a generic track for generic themes. The sounds used in the main OST consists of nature sounds, birds chirping, even the sound of human labored breathing. It is like something organic, but it also depicts a sense of distortion of reality. It is creative on a uniquely distinct level.
The first thing that comes to our attention is the color palette used here. Utopia makes use of a cyan/magenta color palette as opposed to Blue or brown as used in most movies or shows. That invokes a feeling of Vibrancy and a sensation of a Utopian World. But the vibrant colors also represent a false sense of Euphoria that everything is Happy-go-lucky. This style fabricates a distorted and dark reality to which we are exposed to episode after episode. It sets the tone of the series and oozes out creativity.
Aside from the color pallet, there is the use of minimalistic art style, unconventional framing, and gorgeous use of sceneries which delivers it visually stunning.
Oh, and then there's the actual plot
The show begins with two people barging their way into a comic store and requests for a comic book manuscript. On the surface, the plot revolves around a Graphic Novel called Utopia. The Graphic Novel is of extreme importance, which drops it on the radar of numerous people, including the protagonist. It was later revealed to be written by a geneticist, who is linked to the occurrence of an unusual man-made disease. Not going into more detail and spoiling it for you.
Every character in this show plays an important role and everyone feels real. The main characters don't emit a heroic vibe, which is usually expected. None of the characters belong to a 'side' so to speak. On the surface, the tone of the show might seem something of a Dark-comedy-conspiracy thriller, but as it progresses, a lot is revealed to us. Throughout its episodes, the show maintains the charm and wit. The plot isn't needlessly convoluted, all things are explained and all questions are answered. The show doesn't pretend to be smart, because it simply is. There isn't a need for exposition, as I mentioned earlier, it just puts you in the setting and lets you figure out for yourself.
Trivia - The show is 2 seasons long; each season has 6 episodes each of around an hour-long.
Charles Dan said back in 2014 -
"when he's looking at our laurels a bit with television in this country I don't think enough risks are being taken in drama television in the UK and I think a lot of program makers are underestimating the intelligence of the viewing public basing at all on ratings just because 12 million people watch a Polock reality TV shit if it's something or other it doesn't mean that's the only type of program you make and there are great swathes of people who now don't watch any British television because there's nothing there worth watching it has to stop playing to the lowest common denominator and patronizing people".
Dennis Kelly's interview - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmYAqwqCTT0
Charles Dan interview - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSat6whCa-Y
Utopia Emmy Win: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0kO317WUNQ
MICHAEL HANEKE On violence -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOx3rpkMtY8
The show is ambitious, artistic, and defies the norms of the prevailing Television industry, which consists of lengthy sitcoms or biennial stuff that appeals to a wider audience. It is a disgrace that got canceled. It will be a while before we might get to see something like this again.
>Raisins are bae x'D