Channel Four, 15 January 2013, 10pm
Where is Jessica Hyde?
A perfectly reasonable question, you might think. One you might expect to ask if you are looking for Jessica Hyde or one you might even be able to answer, if you have seen her around lately. If you don’t know, who cares? It’s no big deal
In the context of Channel 4’s exciting new chiller thriller ‘Utopia’ though, this seemingly innocuous question carries a lot more weight and is a sign post for some serious unpleasantness.
Written by playwright Dennis Kelly (writer of the clever sitcom ‘Pulling’ and the stage version of Roald Dahl’s Mathilda) Utopia looks, on the evidence of the first episode, to be a very intriguing and original piece.
Utopia is a graphic novel from the dark and distant 80’s, about a scientist who makes a deal with the devil. Its unfinished status, the suicide of the author and seemingly accurate predictions and observations about the future have turned it into a bit of a cult. There is however, a lot more to it than that.
Utopia is like a black hole, around which a housing estate urchin, a pharmaceutical conspiracy and a pair of hit men all revolve; in turn they suck a Utopia internet chat group and senior civil servant into its enigmatic orbit.
There is a lot crammed in the first episode, we are introduced to a dozen different characters, their back stories and a number of possible story arcs. In lesser hands this could have been overly complex and messy but instead Kelly carefully weaves the exposition and drives of the characters carefully into the plot and it all flows very naturally.
The introduction of the two sadistic killers in the first few minutes (a big nod to David Cronenberg’s ‘A History of Violence’) and a very funny sex scene highlight the author’s skill at balancing laughs with tears.
The cast is brilliant too, particularly Adheel Akhtar (4 Lions), as Wilson Wilson the chief conspiracy theorist of Utopia and Oliver Woollford the young estate kid who doesn’t say much but when he does its hilarious and his place in the mystery is to me the most interesting.
There have been a spate of good drama of late such as ‘Secret State’ and ‘The Town ‘as the British up their game in the wake of the recent American successes, and I have been very impressed but Utopia just smells different from the rest. It seems to have a depth beyond its premise.
I just hope that it the final product is as good as the set up and its fascinating premise does not give way to cliché and tedium in the way British high concept drama often does.