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It's about a scientist who makes a deal with the devil.
February 6, 2013 2:49 PM   Subscribe

Utopia is a new British TV show about members of an online comic book forum who are in search of a cult graphic novel that can predict the future. It draws from 90s underground culture and the conspiracy theories around Grant Morrison's Invisibles. Den Of Geek spoiler-free review and links to the rest of their reviews. Spoileriffic Guardian review. Guardian reviews blog.

Since this show has not aired everywhere, please warn before posting spoilers.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants (73 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite

 
That sounds either great or awful.
posted by Artw at 2:54 PM on February 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Damn, now I've read the DoG article and gotten optimistic - this is going to end up in crushed hopes and dreams once it turns out to be Bug Bang Theory Super Suck Edition, isn't it?
posted by Artw at 2:57 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I watched the first four episodes last night. It's quite good, with occasional moments of bad plotting (although maybe they'll turn out to not be bad plotting) and frequent outbursts of horrible violence.

It's shot in a similar way to Kill List, and contains the main actor from Kill List playing a man who is almost the same as his character from Kill List, so I'm going to pointlessly pretend it's a sequel to Kill List, if only for the fact that I really loved Kill List.
posted by dng at 2:58 PM on February 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


To be perfectly honest, I haven't seen it. But a friend who's obsessed with Grant Morrison and Robert Anton Wilson has seen it and keeps raving about it, comparing it to Black Mirror. The premise also reminds me of the Warren Ellis Global Frequency show that was never aired.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:00 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I caught the first episode of this show, and I was not impressed. It felt like the sort of post-Lost show that, in the US, was represented by Flashforward - promises of a conspiracy, mild action, an ensemble cast - but by the first 45 minutes the 'heroes' had barely got out of the pub.

No, really. They met up, went down the pub, and got some drinks in. In about the same time that I could have gone down the pub and actually got some drinks in.

Now, I have some friends that really like this. I think they're fools. This is the sort of shovelled-out TV stuff that you get when committees have a say in stuff. Apparently, some of the writing team are connected to long-running UK spy-CSI Spooks, which I also found a pile of televisual dross. I suspect the reason that Utopia is on in early January through to Feb is that people will watch *anything* in the early part of a new year.

If you want to watch a six-part TV show that lives up to Utopia's hype, I recommend the fantastic Edge of Darkness. It literally leagues better, and available on DVD. Avoid the terrible Mel Gibson remake, and go for the six-part TV show from the 80s.
posted by The River Ivel at 3:00 PM on February 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Artw:That sounds either great or awful.

It's fucking brilliant. Looks absolutely gorgeous – every shot is like a carefully composed panel from a comic – and good christ, it's dark. It's also the closest TV is likely to get to adapting The Invisibles, in terms of the plot and the weirdness. Also, the young kid actor who plays one of the main characters – a council estate schoolkid who pretends, online, that he's a Porsche-driving city wanker – is astonishingly good.
posted by Len at 3:02 PM on February 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


Selected cuts from the soundtrack can be found here.
posted by kaisemic at 3:03 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Right now on the Barbelith FB page, we're making bets as to which one of us wrote it because apparently, someone had to.
posted by Kitteh at 3:03 PM on February 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


"90s underground culture" should be a link to my rave shirts.
posted by roger ackroyd at 3:04 PM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


In no particular order:

--Len is spot-on about the visual style. It's a fantastic-looking show. It's one of the very best shot series on television right now, with its own distinct, hypersaturated, but still weirdly bleak look.
--Echoing dng about Kill List... it also features the second male lead from that film, in a bit role as a cop.
--The casting is terrific. Not just the guys from Kill List, but there's Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, who played Curtis on Misfits, there's Stephen Rea, there's the amazing kid who plays Grant, there's the fascinatingly bug-eyed woman who plays Jessica, and Adeel Akhtar (last seen as the nuclear physicist in The Dictator)... just great all around.

All of this said, I have one fairly substantial beef with the show. Without going into spoilers, I will simply say that one of the central conspiracies in the show draws on a real-life anti-science conspiracy theory, the mere mention of which rightly enrages many MeFites. I'm a little uneasy with this part of the story, but I like enough of the rest of it to see where it goes.

My other concern is that I desperately hope it finds some kind of resolution in its initial six episode run, because I just can't take another letdown like when The Fades got canceled and left me hanging.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:25 PM on February 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


I really like it. It is the first time since Twin Peaks that we have to be at home on time to watch television. (Disclosure: The director's wife is an old friend of mine).
posted by incster at 3:26 PM on February 6, 2013


/me makes sekrit BARBELiTH sign at Kitteh
posted by lekvar at 3:30 PM on February 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


How does it compare to, say, Misfits?
posted by boo_radley at 3:31 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nearly every shot in Utopia is hypersaturated, but it's different from how that is typically used... the effect is less one of cheerful Technicolor and more like the garish colors of a shuttered corner shop, still plastered with sales signs, both glistening and grimy on a rainy day.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:33 PM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


boo_radley How does it compare to, say, Misfits?

It aims for a broader scope, and as such, isn't as intimate from a character standpoint. It has a fraction of the humor. It's spookier and makes you a bit uneasy (in a good way). And there are numerous instances of ultraviolence that can be grim.

Overall, it's not as inviting and immediately gratifying as Misfits. But it's trying for bigger things. If it pulls those things off, it might end up being as good.

Honestly, it's like Marathon Man with graphic novels.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:36 PM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've seen the first two eps and I love it. I'm really excited to see where it goes. I love the look of the show (as stated above, the colors and the framing does make it look like a comic book), the actors are great, and so far I'm really liking the twists and turns. Seriously, I watched fifteen minutes of the first episode and paused it to email my writing partner "have you heard of UTOPIA? WATCH IT NOW."

I'm really not getting that "LOST" vibe of "we have no idea where this is going..." It seems to be pretty well thought-out and to have an actual engine. I hope I'm not wrong about this.
posted by OolooKitty at 3:59 PM on February 6, 2013


nthing the fact that it's a bit hit and miss. And it's visually fantastic.

I loved the first episode, but it all feels a bit samey for me now. The Arby character is interesting, and I suppose out of everyone - he's the only one showing any character progression.

It could have been fantastic if it'd been a couple of hours shorter. It's still better than 90% of the TV that's on at the moment and I'm going to watch it through though.
posted by zoo at 4:01 PM on February 6, 2013


Having read the spoilery Guardian review, Eye don't think this is for me.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:02 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've watched the show so far. I'm really enjoying it. It seems like it might be the next Lost or Fringe (not that I'm saying that's a good or bad thing!).

The cinematography is stunning, the characters are well acted (though admittedly not the most compelling), and I like shows set outside of the US so there's that.
posted by Strass at 4:23 PM on February 6, 2013


God damn it TV people, Could you please stop making new shows until I catch up with the old ones. Thanks.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:31 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Although I do find this show incredibly annoying (see above) I will say that it looks good. Credit where credit's due, and all that.
posted by The River Ivel at 4:37 PM on February 6, 2013


A comic foretelling the future? Oh hai "Heroes"!

(also: <3 Invisibles)
posted by symbioid at 4:38 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't want to spoil it, but the comic isn't at all foretelling the future. It's more clues to something that already happened. It's way less silly than Heroes.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:40 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


A comic foretelling the future? Oh hai "Heroes"!

And that comic was "Days Of Future Past".
posted by Artw at 4:56 PM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


...it turns out to be Bug Bang Theory Super Suck Edition...

They're gonna have to face the wrath of Isabella Rossellini if it does.
posted by griphus at 5:08 PM on February 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


Well, looks like it's only 6 episodes, so it will certainly be worth a shot. Thanks for the heads up.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 5:53 PM on February 6, 2013


The quasi-similar show "Cult" premieres on 2/19 on the CW, here in the States: http://www.cwtv.com/shows/cult
posted by gsh at 6:23 PM on February 6, 2013


I'm curious about it, but it'll be years before I can see if this is any good or not, right?
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:07 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just watched the first two episodes late last night. It's got a very different sense of visual style that seems to borrow so heavily from graphic novels that it's almost like you aren't actually watching TV but a series of images that speed in fits and starts between "panels". The composition of the shots and choice of emphasis are the kind of thing that would appeal much more to people who think more in imagery than words.

The stylistic choices sometimes force the actors to adopt an inscrutable affect or behave unbelievably. I can't really describe it except to say you'll either suspend disbelief right away or the series probably won't work for you at all; personally I like it.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:44 PM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wow. I've been meaning to watch this, and if the friend who recommended it had dropped Grant Morrison's name I probably would have watched it sooner. This is not a criticism at all, but it might be a bit too real for me. Not that the situations themselves are realistic but as a representation of paranoia itself, it felt familiar enough to have a genuinely visceral effect. I think I'll wait to watch the second episode in the light of day!
posted by Lorin at 9:05 PM on February 6, 2013


Does the comic really "predict the future"? I had thought that it "predicted" the future only in so far as the author knew what the shadowy conspiracy is up to.

I have mixed feelings about the show. It's visually very enjoyable, but the plot requires an awful lot of suspension-of-disbelief.
posted by cmonkey at 9:13 PM on February 6, 2013


I have mixed feelings about the show. It's visually very enjoyable, but the plot requires an awful lot of suspension-of-disbelief.

I never really understand this argument. 'Reality' and 'daily life' are already pretty incoherent and weird. Why should you need to 'suspend your disbelief' for fiction?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:16 PM on February 6, 2013


I was glad for the Invisibles connection going in, because that put me in the frame of mind of knowing there would be things I'd roll my eyes at, and it would be forgiveable because time travelling origami.
posted by Lorin at 9:18 PM on February 6, 2013


I never really understand this argument. 'Reality' and 'daily life' are already pretty incoherent and weird. Why should you need to 'suspend your disbelief' for fiction?

I guess it's mostly the way they depict science and technology. I can handle fiction that involves an implausibly powerful conspiracy, and implausibly omniscient and powerful spies (like that MI5 woman), and I have no problem with fantasy and science fiction. But when the creator requires a large dose of technobabble like Wilson Wilson's to keep the plot moving, I find that I have to work harder to be immersed if the fictional world is presented as something happening in this world at the present.

It's a minor complaint - I've enjoyed the series so far, and I'm pleasantly surprised that 4oD runs them without commercial interruptions.
posted by cmonkey at 9:47 PM on February 6, 2013


I just can't take another letdown like when The Fades got canceled and left me hanging.

You are so not kidding. I adored that show, and while i generally like how the seasons are shorter over there, because it keeps filler episodes out, it also can lead to situations where things aren't wrapped up nicely or gotten to if only one season happens. That show should have gotten more episodes, it was awesome.

I find that I have to work harder to be immersed if the fictional world is presented as something happening in this world at the present.

I know someone who goes off on rants about how Star Wars can't happen because of various physics, therefore it's stupid and shouldn't be watched (oddly he loves Doctor Who though). I also heard a woman talk about how she won't watch anything not based on a true story as it is "all fake, and what's the point of that?". She was talking about Romeo and Juliet for the record. I just want to drill the MST3K theme in people like this.
"If you're wondering how he eats and breathes
And other science facts,
Just repeat to yourself "It's just a show,
I should really just relax"

the Invisibles connection

Now if people had told me it was like The Filth, that would be something. ;)
I haven't seen it yet, but i'm getting it's a superficial link to the Invisibles, not quite so insane, more Lost than completely batshit insane roller coaster?
posted by usagizero at 10:23 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


a real-life anti-science conspiracy theory

Keep feeling vaccination?
posted by MartinWisse at 10:41 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've seen the first two eps and am intrigued, but I'm kind of hoping it veers off in another direction soon. I also wouldn't attach the adjective Morrisonesque to it, as I think he travels in much weirder directions than this - but, as I mentioned, I'm not up to date yet.

One thing I have wondered though - (POSSIBLE SPOILERS) - what was Grant doing in Barfan's flat in the first episode? Was that just a wildly improbable co-incidence or did I miss something?
posted by Sparx at 11:10 PM on February 6, 2013


SPOILERS FOR FIRST EPISODE

Sparx - I think Grant's suspicious nature led him to want to check out Bejan before actually meeting him (or else he wanted to steal the manuscript), so he broke into his flat when he knew Bejan would be out (at the pub, meeting everyone else).
posted by aedison at 11:29 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hey Artw you should probably check it out, first scene of episode 1 in the comic shop, there's three copies of FutureQuake front-and-centre. You could just pause it there if you liked.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 3:31 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also yeah it's basically a Grant Morrison comic, except on the screen. So not really my thing, but I'll see how episode 2 holds up.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 3:46 AM on February 7, 2013


The comparison to Kill List is an interesting one but one that shows up how weak Utopia is. It is basically just a standard conspiracy thriller that nicks some of the iconography of famous comics, is shot in quite an interesting way and has some good comedy moments. Kill List, on the other hand, just blows apart various genres: kitchen sink drama, thriller, horror, etc. It really is a remarkable film.
posted by ninebelow at 3:50 AM on February 7, 2013


Skipping to the bottom to avoid spoilers and say 4OD is so utterly utterly shit. Really, when ITV's on demand service performs better than you it's time to knock it on the head.
posted by fullerine at 4:26 AM on February 7, 2013


Where is Jessica Hyde?
posted by fatfrank at 5:13 AM on February 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's vivid and engaging. It doesn't have the emotional power of the first two seasons of Misfits, but what does on modern British TV. It's pleasingly self-confident and tough minded. I find it refreshing. Last year was awful for SF on British TV, and this year has already exceeded it only a few weeks in. Black Mirror next Monday. I rub my hands.
posted by communicator at 5:27 AM on February 7, 2013


I lost interest when Jessica came in. She was so annoyingly wish-fulfillment-kickass-superhero-girl that I lost my faith in it. Mind you, I still have the episodes stacking up so maybe I'll give it another go.
posted by Summer at 7:33 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wait, someone made a TV series about Barbelith? Is that what Tom Coates has been doing at BBC all these years?
posted by byanyothername at 8:22 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


god dang it all you other secret 'lithians
posted by byanyothername at 8:22 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a good watch and I am enjoying its fun conspiracy thriller aspects, but Lord does Utopia like its underplayed-for-effect extreme violence and threat. At the lighter end you have the peculiar murder device and strangling scenes pinched from No Country For Old Men and at the darker end (spoiler and trigger warnings for the rest of the paragraph) you have the eye scene, the casual but deliberate rape threat, the murdered mother and the school shooting. All four rubbed me up the wrong way, but the shooting was the worst and I'm very glad it wasn't just done to show off how daringly over-the-line shocking and nicely filmed the programme is.

A lot of what's shown on screen is nothing new plot-wise, but the verisimilitude which simultaneously intensifies it just about justifies it to my eyes. Frankly though, it's not all needed and I physically couldn't watch a programme that crossed lines in a less honest, more self-serving, studiedly cool way. I certainly don't look forward to any potential imitators in the future. Also, how is there no high-profile "BAN THIS SICK FILTH" campaign yet?

fatfrank: Where is Jessica Hyde?
Irritating at first, but I really enjoyed how that was used in the latest episode (4).
posted by comealongpole at 9:55 AM on February 7, 2013


Missing person: Grant, age 11, spiked blonde hair, last seen wearing track suit. If you have any details please call 0800 345 7462.

That's a real number, by the way. If you're in the UK, you should call it.
posted by hot soup girl at 10:46 AM on February 7, 2013


The comparison to Kill List is an interesting one but one that shows up how weak Utopia is.

Maybe this show is for people like me-- no knowledge of graphic novels or conspiracy theories. I've never seen Kill List (although I do cop to Misfits) so I'm just enjoying this for the ride. It looks amazingly lush-- so much better than most things on TV-- and I can suspend my disbelief... for awhile.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 1:40 PM on February 7, 2013


I couldn't make it past the first 10 minutes of Kill List. (Seemed like another droll movie about murder.) I was going to give Utopia a go, but maybe I should pass on it.
posted by Catblack at 1:47 PM on February 7, 2013


when he knew barjan would be out
but how did he know where barjan lived, is, I guess, the real question that's bothering me. I watched at a friend's so don't have access to check up.
posted by Sparx at 2:25 PM on February 7, 2013


Barjan initially told them to come to his flat, but Grant refused to meet there "in case he was a rapist".
posted by dng at 2:40 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ah - thanks dng. That had been niggling at me.
posted by Sparx at 3:40 PM on February 7, 2013


Here's what you get if you call the onscreen appeal number... (YouTube Link)
posted by OolooKitty at 3:44 PM on February 7, 2013


but how did he know where barjan lived, is, I guess, the real question that's bothering me. I watched at a friend's so don't have access to check up.

They're in control of large swaths of the government and have a huge interest in what's going on with The Utopia Project. I just assumed they'd have the home address of every member on the forum discussing it, including Wilson Wilson who went to great lengths to mask his Internet access.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:39 PM on February 7, 2013


BrotherCaine: that explains how Thompson and Thomsom found it, but not how Grant the small child/supermodel shagger did.
posted by Sparx at 5:03 PM on February 7, 2013


Yeah, Barjan gave them his address. I assumed that Grant headed over there knowing it would be empty and figuring he could steal something.
posted by OolooKitty at 8:05 PM on February 7, 2013


catblack: I couldn't make it past the first 10 minutes of Kill List. (Seemed like another droll movie about murder.)

There is so much more to Kill List than is evident in the first ten minutes. You missed out on that one.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:08 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I lost interest when Jessica came in. She was so annoyingly wish-fulfillment-kickass-superhero-girl that I lost my faith in it.

I'm 3 episodes in, and i keep hoping she gets killed off. She's the worst kind of know it all detached character that is so popular now, it just grates on me. Nothing about her is interesting to me, and i start to lose interest whenever she is on screen. Worst part about the show really.

Also, have to say, not a single thing about this screams Invisibles to me at all. I get a slight Vertigo line vibe from the two baddies at the beginning (more Neverwhere really), and the manuscript pages look like art from them, but otherwise there really isn't any of Morrison's style here at all. So far generic conspiracy, albeit shot in a very graphic novel type of way.
posted by usagizero at 9:21 PM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Even though I'd love to see something that's actually like The Invisibles on tv, I will totally accept a half-decent conspiracy show. Fringe is done, so I need something else to scratch that X-Files itch!
posted by jason_steakums at 5:05 PM on February 8, 2013


I liked this as it progressed - visually it's beautiful and worth seeing on a screen that can hold deep, vivid colors. There's no fear with killing off characters (sort of), and the development of Arby (RB) has been interesting.

But last night's episode (5) was on a different something-or-other, making it for me the most involving episode of TV in a long while. The plot at the heart of it all was revealed, and it's ... dangerously persuasive. Can imagine philosophy classes in liberal arts colleges showing that episode as a discussion point. Judging from social media, I wasn't the only one thinking "That's, y'know, kinda a logical argument for solving massive problem that won't be named as it's a spoiler."

I've hoping that next weeks, as it's the last in the series, does not mess this up. And, perhaps oddly, hoping there is no series two and this is all self-contained. If next weeks is good, really good, this has the potential to be remembered by many as a classic TV series.

If.
posted by Wordshore at 11:22 AM on February 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


> the development of Arby (RB) has been interesting.

Agreed. Neil Maskell has been glorious, particularly in the most recent (fifth) episode. He's managed to evoke all the mystery and menace and pathos that the Jessica Hyde character should've, but somehow hasn't.

And yeah, last week's revelations had me a bit concerned that the central mystery of The Network's Sinister Motives was turning out a bit crap/underwhelming (The Shadow Line, anyone?), but this episode proved me, happily, quite wrong.
posted by hot soup girl at 4:59 PM on February 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is Hollywood About to Dumb Down the Dystopian British Series Black Mirror?
posted by homunculus at 6:10 PM on February 13, 2013


The plot at the heart of it all was revealed, and it's ... dangerously persuasive.

There's room for another twist, perhaps involving Carvel laying the groundwork for a plot within the plot to use the conspiracy for ends only he understands.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:47 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Black Mirror decodes our modern dread of technology
posted by homunculus at 3:59 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


The most terrifying thing about the latest Black Mirror is what they've done to Tyres.
posted by fullerine at 7:36 PM on February 18, 2013


And Utopia finished - or Series One (probably) did, as it says Series One on the DVD set - a few hours ago. No plot spoilers. Yes there were twists. Very satisfying.

My favorite TV show so far this decade.
posted by Wordshore at 6:46 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Boy am I glad I stuck it out. Any misgivings I might have had about the first two episodes were more than made up for in the last two. This is one of those rare shows that I'll probably start watching over again immediately after finishing.
posted by Lorin at 6:47 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure if I want the series to continue or not. It was very good, but feels complete at this point.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:26 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


13 Questions left unanswered by the Utopia finale. [Spoilers, obv.]
posted by hot soup girl at 12:53 PM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


13 Questions left unanswered by the Utopia finale.

Fucking hell, those questions are about as interesting and as well constructed as the series.
posted by ninebelow at 1:54 PM on February 22, 2013


Thanks to all who mentioned Black Mirror in this thread. Utopia was the top of my current list for all of 24 hours. Then I saw Fifteen Million Merits and it made me cry harder than an episode of Extreme Makeover, which is basically my top criterion for judging television dramas.
posted by Lorin at 6:47 PM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


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