Naming your show Utopia puts you on the back foot from the start. As parents, school teachers and commiserating friends the world over will tell you, 'nobody is perfect'. The idea of the perfect TV show, then, is clearly a myth (as is the concept of perfection itself). Some shows have come close to perfection, most notably The Wire and, so I'm told, The Sopranos. Boardwalk Empire started out with the best intentions, but suffered sans Michael Pitt. Game of Thrones continues to improve. Mad Men and Breaking Bad are often touted as the best TV shows, but alliteration does not automatically make a good show. Both MM and BB have, however, gotten better with time, like a fine wine or that last bit of blue crystal meth you've been saving for your birthday.
Some shows seem to do well without actually being good. Glee appears to continue to be popular with everyone but Dave Grohl and Caleb Followhill. Good for them. Friends managed to run for ten seasons, spanning as many years, without actually being about anything other than the possibility of David Schwimmer getting with Jennifer Aniston, then repeating this plot every few seasons. Perhaps I'm wrong and Glee and Friends are cutting edge. Maybe I just don't 'get' them. I suppose they do cater to a certain audience. Horses for courses, and all that.
It's upsetting then, that a show touted as the new next-best-thing turns out to be a disappointment. In this 'Golden Age of Television' it's unavoidable that a few of these sparkly shows will turn out to be fools gold. Utopia, it seems is one of them.
When I watched the first episode, I thought it was exciting stuff. It was about comic books, and made use of a bright, saturated palette of yellows, blues and greens. There's a torture scene where a suited and booted hitman rubs sand in someone's eyes. There's a kid who breaks in to people's houses and escapes using parkour. Seeing Kill List wonder-boys Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley reunited was fantastic. Look, Smiley's been stabbed in the neck! (I should have seen that coming; Michael Smiley is a serious contender for Sean Bean's 'serial bucket-kicker' award).
However, even the associated cool of comics, crazy colour schemes, parkour and Ben Wheatley films does not equate to style. This, I'm afraid is something that Utopia is sorely lacking. There's even a scene early on in the first episode where Becky's tutors mention "Bukowski". It's truly cringe-worthy and you can't help but feel like the screenwriters have gone, 'Hmmm, who's cool and a bit edgy? Oh, Bukowski! The kids will love that'. Yes, Bukowski was edgy, but he's been dead almost twenty years and been ripped off time and again over the last fifty years. Saying Bukowski is your favourite writer is like claiming your favourite band is Nirvana or Sonic Youth. They're all classics, but it's not the most original opinion.
As the series progressed, nothing much seemed to happen. It wasn't until the penultimate episode that we got an idea of what the plot was all about when the bad guy, under no threat of duress, reveals that they're planning on making 80% of the human race infertile in an attempt to curb the dizzying rate at which we humans are swarming across the planet. It's a great idea, but I wish there'd been more focus on this plot from the beginning.
Instead, what we've had is a sort of Location, Location, Location of vacant properties as the five main (read: young) characters travel from empty home to empty home. It's sort of like The Walking Dead, but with no zombies or drama. The main characters consist of the whiny Welsh Girl, The cynical blind guy, the really-trying-his-best-to-be-good kid and the boring as cardboard Ian, played by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (who really should have stayed in Misfits, where he was at least getting the occasional good line).
Rounding out this motley crew is Fiona O'Shaughnessy's mysterious Jessica Hyde. The level of mystery contained within this character is the same level of mystery contained in a cereal-box toy: it's exciting before you've seen it, but afterwards you realise it's just a bit crap. No level of swearing or pointing guns at people can change this.
The best part of the whole thing is Paul Higgin's civil servant Michael Dugdale, who has unwittingly got himself tied up in the whole situation, like a cock-up in a bow. It's a terrific performance from Higgins, and by far the best of the bunch. Even Neil Maskell has been wasted as a drooling, moronical hitman.
Dugdale on the other hand, is a worm in the old-fashioned tradition, a true slippery bugger, the sort of guy I like to imagine is running all of these corporations. It might be because he isn't meant to be a young and 'hip' character (kids still say 'hip', right?) that Dugdale appeals. This lack of street credibility removes all the try-hard qualities the younger characters are tied up in, allowing Dugdale's story to take centre stage. If the whole series had been about his run-ins with The Network (which is not the understated and ambiguous moniker it tries to be), then Utopia might have been the show it aspired to. As it happens, all we've had is scene after scene of people arguing, whilst Jessica Hyde threatens them and pouts.
Utopia was undoubtedly a show created with the best intentions, and despite the critiques I've just listed, it still rests high above the majority of the trash on TV in the quality stakes. When the plot was finally revealed, the show took a sharp turn for the better, it's just a shame this was only in the last two episodes. Fingers crossed that the inevitable season two gets it right because ultimately, no amount of yellow objects, abandoned mansions or double-crossing MI5 agents could save this over-written wobble of a show. Then again, what do I know?