It’s been a good long while since I have reviewed any TV on the blog so I thought I would make up for this by reviewing three shows in posts over the next few days. The lucky or unlucky or in reality luck neutral shows that I’m going to review are Channel 4’s Utopia, Amazon’s extant and BBC’s The Honourable Woman. I will kick things off with Utopia (at this point the reader should hum some catchy dubstep to themselves)
If there is going to be a recurring theme to this posting it is a lack of originality and my ensuing disappointment.
For those of you who missed it last time Utopia is a British science fiction drama. After a somewhat original season one Utopia is getting its inevitable US reboot and of course the original UK version is currently airing its entirely unnecessary second season. In order to cash in on the success of the first.
For those of you who missed the first season a brief synopsis is needed for orientation. Originally, I had a nice two paragraph synopsis here but it didn’t flow very well either because, I’m a poor writer or because the plot of Utopia is too crazy to easily explain. So instead here is channel four’s official Utopia Season One in Three Minutes.
Now onto the review!
This new season has exposed for me “Utopia’s” crippling lack of depth. The striking aspect of series one was how the funky music and the alarming bright colours mixed with the OTT violence to give things a cartoon feel. It was a fresh interesting aesthetic that I really enjoyed. Also when combined with the “what the hell is going on?” narrative hook it made for an enjoyable first season.
With the “what the hell is going on?”/mystery factor settled though (we know what the Network wants to do) the lack of depth to any characters becomes very apparent and very grating. Utopia comes across as something written by a precocious teenage boy who has a thing for manic pixie dream girls.
The corollary to this teenageryness is insufferable manner in which the writers are trying to justify the things the bad guys are doing. Murder on a massive scale is seen as the stuff that noble moral characters do because it is necessary and don’t you just know the necessary acts weigh heavily on their soul. Murder/ genocide is thus alright. We shouldn’t hate the characters or at least the writers don’t seem to.
In Utopia the ends justify the means in the most crass way. In the world of Utopia overpopulation is going to lead to huge wars and mass death even perhaps the extinction of the human race. In the face of this threat no action is too extreme, no action is off limits.
What makes this particularly annoying though is that the authors obviously intend this as a stark warning to the real world. And there is nothing I detest more than whiny politic statement convinced of its righteous.
Personally, though I suspect they are over-egging the pudding. Malthusian predictions of apocalypse have long been the scientific equivalent of “endtime” speak. Even if we accept Utopia’s scenario though the logic of the series doesn’t hold.
You see The Network has been spending billions of pounds/ dollars and rubles and billion of man hours developing the Janus virus. Janus will reduce the worldwide human population to about 500 million. Now there are much cheaper, easier and more effect ways to achieve this. For example, education and the mass distribution of contraceptives coupled with investment in clean energy tech and new farming techniques (i.e. grow meat in petri dishes). Given their resources, political control and the fact that they only want to kill because it is necessary these acts shouldn’t be a problem for The Network. They should embrace them wholesale.
None of this is sexy however, it isn’t an edgy TV show. This is the crux of the matter of course. Sometimes cool ideas like Terminator or Jurassic Park are made just because they are cool ideas. The plausibility of the story doesn’t matter. Give me Robot Arnie riding a T-Rex and I’m there.
The difference is that Jurassic Park, Terminator and my upcoming Jurassic Park/Terminator fanfiction got away with their silly ideas because, they were executed really well. Utopia doesn’t do this. The two dimensionality of its characters don’t allow it to.
The second season of Utopia is a real let down that has tainted my enjoyment of the first. It is not on the same level but the following point is analogous. Tarantino said of the Matrix sequels that they ruined the mythology of the first film for him. Well, this second season of Utopia had the same effect.