Thank You Utopia...

... for reminding me to write exactly what I want to write, instead of trying to second-guess what might slot into the current climate and landscape.

It's a reminder we all need from time to time: follow your heart, gut, balls... whichever part of the body you use to personify your gumption and personality.  Writer Dennis Kelly clearly followed his, and the result has been six weeks of Utopia on Channel 4.

What a great show.  I consider myself a battle-hardened viewer of unpleasant material, but Episode One managed to leave even me disturbed.  I love to be disturbed.  That episode felt like a real statement of intent, intended to drag people in (although it may have equally turned off the faint-hearted), and which actually meant Utopia never had to be quite so extreme again.  The threat was always there and that was sufficient, give or take the odd school massacre or child watching its mother get shot in the head.

Beyond the jolting violence lay plenty of other treats.  Utopia looked fresh (thanks to the stylised widescreen work of directors Marc Munden, Wayne Che Yip and Alex Garcia Lopez, not to mention everyone else involved on that side of things), sounded fresh and brilliantly ignored several TV rules.  The whole thing felt like a beast unbound, in a world where anything could happen. That's rare enough in film, let alone the more constrained world of TV.

Those who switched off early, perhaps assuming Utopia was just going to be a load of shooting and torture, missed out on a Huge Underlying Question worthy of Russell T Davies, along with a conspiracy plot which kept unfolding and surprising.  Among an ensemble of strong performances were two actors who absolutely demanded you keep your eyes on them.  You couldn't not watch Arby (Neil Maskell) and Jessica (Fiona O'Shaughnessy), seen in the photo above.  Two amazing examples of character and actor blending in an utterly compelling way.

Regardless of how well Utopia did in the ratings, I can confidently predict it will reach countless more people via 4OD (as I type, all six episodes are still available to view), DVD and Blu Ray.  Its place as a cult classic is already assured.

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Jamie said...

A heartening reminder indeed.

Although in all fairness, I'm not sure we can quite hold Dennis Kelly up as an ideal example of writing exactly what he wanted to write given that Kudos brought the initial idea to him, rather than the reverse.

Still good though.

Jason Arnopp said...

It's true that the original idea is credited to three people. But Dennis Kelly is credited as creator, so he clearly took that idea and sprinted with it, shooting various people in the face as he went. Tremendous work from all.

Cal said...

Good post. And dead right. It's advice that's often given, but which it usually takes ages for writers to learn. Write from the gut. Not what you think others want you to write.
Rule number one in being a true writer should really be: Learn not to give a f**k.

David Lemon said...

Couldn't agree more. The last few months have been wonderful for homegrown TV. Utopia and Black Mirror amongst my favourites too.

Dave Scullion said...

100% agreed. Absolutely loved Utopia and - perhaps because I watch a LOT of horror - didn't find the 'ultra' violence offensive. It set a tone and ensured the audience wouldn't be expecting any old conspiracy thriller. And the general 'question' reminded me of the moral dilemma I faced at the end of "Gone, Baby, Gone".

Beautiful, inventive, brutal and compelling stuff. It is rare I'll set a timer on my television to watch anything, but Utopia received that 'honour'.

Inspiring stuff.