Utopia series 2, Ch4, with Alexandra Roach, Fiona O’Shaughnessy, Neil Maskell

Pietre in Channel 4's Utopia series 2
Mad about the boy – young Pietre in Utopia 2. Pics: Ch4

Rating: ★★★★

Ch4: July, date and time to be confirmed

Story: How did the Janus project to save humanity begin during 1979’s Winter of Discontent? And, in the present day, what has happened to Jessica, Arby, Ian, Grant and Becky…

NO SOONER has Fargo been put into cold storage than Ch4 has another drama for viewers needing something a little, shall we say, outre

Utopia‘s first series last year was certainly on the excessive side, with teeth-gnashing violence and a stunningly off-kilter conspiracy tale.

It’s great to see it return with its surreal style, quirky soundtrack (by Cristobal Tapia de Veer) and nightmarish mood.

Utopia series 2 Fiona O'Shaughnessy as Jessica Hyde
Where is Jessica? Locked up…

Utopia returns with a double-bill

Series two launches as a double-bill over consecutive nights, with the opener being an hour-long

flashback to the origins of the whole mad Janus conspiracy. We see how scientist Philip Carvel (Tom Burke) dreams up a plan with security agent Milner (Game of Throne‘s Rose Leslie) to save the world from overcrowding by secretly sterilising 95 percent of the population.

In the time-honoured tradition of know-it-all scientists from Dr Frankenstein to Dr Strangelove, the best laid plans – ‘We’re creating Utopia’ – go awry as Carvel and Milner’s relationship fractures.

In addition, Carvel fears for his daughter Jessica – yes Jessica Hyde, protagonist of series one – whom Milner is threatening, while also consumed with guilt over his experimentation on his toddler son, Pietre.

Rose Leslie as Milner in Utopia 2
Rose Leslie as deadly agent Milner

Neil Maskell, Fiona O’Shaughnessy and Adeel Akhtar

With the little monster child, writer Dennis Kelly’s sadistic humour flourishes again. Carvel’s deranged bid to use the boy as a guinea pig for a treatment to inhibit violence turns the lad into a mini-Hannibal Lecter instead.

The opener is a wonderful evocation of that period of 1970s industrial mayhem, political paranoia and conspiracy incontinence. Thrown into the mix are Margaret Thatcher, Airey Neave (played by Tim McInnerny), the IRA, Aldo Moro and much more.

Episode two reunites us with the old gang who became embroiled in the conspiracy last time round – Jessica (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), who’s been held captive by latter-day Milner (Geraldine James), Arby (Neil Maskell), Ian (Nathan Stewart Jarrett), Grant (Oliver Woollford) and Wilson Wilson (Adeel Akhtar). The story rumbles on with news of the Network and its plans for ‘V’ Day…

Without ever trying to make a coherent case about the political shenanigans of the past 35 years, Utopia remains an engrossing and distinctive mashup of paranoia, dark suspicions and black humour. When it comes to conspiracy yarns, the drama is – to borrow the title of the 1979 Madness album – one step beyond.

Check out these links…
Utopia series 1 review
The music of Cristobal Tapia de Veer
Utopia Channel 4

Follow @crimetimeprev

Utopia, Channel 4, with Alexandra Roach, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, James Fox

Assassins Arby and Lee are chasing The Utopia Experiments. Pics: C4

Rating: ★★★★½

Channel 4: starts Tuesday, 15 January, 10pm

Story: When a small group of previously unconnected people, who have met on a forum, take possession of the original manuscript of a fabled graphic novel, they find themselves relentlessly pursued by a shadowy unit called The Network.

Utopia is about a mysterious graphic novel, and the thriller is off-kilter and slyly witty enough to have been based on a cult comic itself.

Instead, it’s the work of writer Dennis Kelly, best known for the sitcom Pulling and co-writing Matilda The Musical. His attempt at a conspiracy thriller could be one of the most distinctive and talked-about dramas of 2013.

Becky’s pub drink ends in a run for her life

The Utopia Experiments lead to violence and terror
A group of young, unconnected individuals – including an IT worker, a student, a conspiracy nut, an 11-year-old tearaway – meet on a forum and find themselves in possession of the manuscript of The Utopia Experiments, a legendary, mystifying graphic novel. Very quickly they are pitched into violence and terror.

Two nonchalant assassins are after that manuscript, and we meet them as they brutally wipe out the nerds and customers (including a child) at a comic shop. Arby and Lee, played by Neil Maskell and Paul Ready, are pretty disturbing, with Arby droningly and mysteriously asking each victim, ‘Where is Jessica Hyde?’

Wilson Wilson comes eye to eye with Lee

Alexandra Roach as Becky
The offbeat band on the run are beautifully cast, with Alexandra Roach as Becky the student, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as the stroppy IT guy Ian, and Adeel Akhtar as the barmy Wilson Wilson. ‘I don’t drink tea,’ he tells a detective. ‘Caffeine was invented by the CIA.’

The group meet in a pub for the first time in the hope of encountering forum member Bejan, who claims to have the original artwork for the graphic novel. However, he gets a visit from Arby and Lee, and the manuscript is swiped by young hooligan Grant, another forum member.

Wilson Wilson tortured by Arby and Lee
All kinds of horrors are then visited on the forum members, with various trumped-up charges of sexual deviancy from the police hitting Becky and Ian, and Wilson having chili, sand and bleach rubbed into his eyes during a gleeful torture session by the deadly duo.

Meanwhile, civil servant Michael Dugdale is being blackmailed by a Russian-sounding hood over his getting a prostitute pregnant. After an intimidating meeting with two corporation honchos played by smiling, menacing Stephen Rea and James Fox, Dugdale hoodwinks his minister into buying a Russian flu vaccine on behalf of the government.

Danger boy – Grant has the manuscript

The Network
This is crux of the story, with themes of manufactured diseases and an alarming group called The Network, represented by Fox and Rea. Does The Utopia Experiments have coded messages about some vast conspiracy?

Utopia is stylishly shot like an indie film, with an atmospheric, chiming soundtrack. It also mixes moments of dread that will make some viewers flinch, with offbeat humour. There’s a disastrous sex scene, and Wilson Wilson is always a pleasure, even when blindly aiming a gun at his torturer.

Terrific cliffhanger
The schedules are littered with series that get off to a good start in setting up an intriguing story, only to descend into dross with each subsequent episode. Here’s hoping that Utopia, the first instalment of which concludes on a fine cliffhanger, keeps up the pace and surprise of this opener for the remaining five episodes. That will be a sight for sore eyes.

Cast: Paul Higgins Dugdale, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett Ian, Alexandra Roach Becky, Neil Maskell Arby, Fiona O’ Shaughnessy Jessica, Adeel Akhtar Wilson Wilson, Oliver Woollford Grant, Michael Smiley detective, Paul Ready Lee, plus James Fox, Stephen Rea

Follow @crimetimeprev

%d bloggers like this: