It’s been nearly a year and a half since the first season of Dennis Kelly’s twisted political fantasy Utopia first aired, but it somehow feels like so much longer. Originally pegged as one of the most ambitious dramas Channel 4 has ever invested in, the series saw an eclectic group of everyday individuals facing off with a small army of trained killers over a 70s-style paranoia plot concerned with “population control”. And that’s about all one can say without coming dangerously close to spoiling any of the series’ incredibly dark and unforgiving twists and turns. Characterised by its stunning photography and ripples of pitch-black humour, Utopia 1 was a refreshing step towards a more cinematic style of television drama, and Utopia 2 looks to be offering more of the same. Hell, it’s like it never even left.
Utopia 2 kicks off, rather unapologetically, almost 35 years prior to the first season’s main story, devoting its entire first episode to one long 50 minute flashback. This of course means if your Utopia know-how feels a little rusty it might be worth refreshing your memory before committing to the new episodes.
There is literally no holding back on Kelly’s part, as he willingly throws us straight back into the deep end and with a whole host of new and altered faces to learn and recognize. There’s a reason these first two episodes are being shown so closely together: the first offers all the answers to the conspiracies of Utopia 1 whilst the second focuses more towards powering-up Utopia 2 and well, getting the gang back together. It’s a bold and, some may argue, rather indulgent way to begin the second stage of the mystery but one that, for the most part works, if a little slowly.
Leaving the time-jump hurdles to one side though, on a more visual front the strong and strikingly colourful imagery of director Marc Munden makes a much welcomed return. The lingering cameras and over-amped colour grading once again gift Utopia with a style that’s not only distinctive, but also one that knocks rather loudly on the doors of big-league cinema, helping it truly push the medium beyond what other dramas might offer, at least on a visual scale. In fact, every element that made the show’s first outing so refreshing and vibrant returns to the mix this second time round, and some might say with added punch.
Much like its predecessor, Utopia 2 is not a show for the feeble or weak-hearted. The language is consistently foul-mouthed, the constant and quite often (borderline) psychotic violence is rarely censored and never hesitant, and each and every ultra-dark twist is, well as expected, ultra-dark. This is a drama that frequently aims to make one feel uncomfortable, and with its second outing, it really doesn’t back down. Within these first two episodes alone one can be expected to be treated to a lengthy shootout, a few close-up and rather grisly murders and even a ludicrously tense torture scene that will no doubt have the large majority of viewers diving behind the sofa.
Although a little slow in its start-up, Utopia 2 looks to be just as ambitious and memorable as its first effort. For fans of Utopia 1 there’s a lot more of the same to love here, and for any new viewers looking to get lost down the rabbit hole, the added madness of season 2 is simply another reason to grab a boxset and start from the very beginning. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Utopia is broadcast on Channel 4 Tuesdays at 10:00pm. The first episode will be broadcast on Monday 14th July at 10:00pm.
8/10 – A strong and ambitious start that echoes the series’ early success whilst also building towards an impressive new direction.