TV Series Review
Building paradise isn't all fun and daisies. Not when a television network tells you who, exactly, you'll be building it with.
Utopia, Fox's much-hyped reality show, is described as the "largest social experiment ever televised." The network allegedly spent $50 million on the thing, hoping the return would be two solid hours of primetime programming every week (and oodles more of streaming footage online) focused on its intrepid band of "pioneers." Many of the participants worked equally hard getting ready for this rugged challenge. Some say they planned and practiced for six months, others have been working toward this opportunity for most of their lives.
What's the opportunity, you ask? To set up a new civilization—utopia!—on a pocket of land with only $5,000 in a safe to facilitate outside trading. From building bathrooms and coming up with plumbing configurations to growing okra and corn, they're utterly on their own, for better or for worse, as its said.
Some of these pioneers want to start businesses to earn more cash. Others desire a more meager, subsistence-style arrangement. And some seem to come in with the highest of aspirations—to truly build up a new world that's greater and grander than what lies outside Utopia's telegenic borders.
But they have to figure out how to get along first. And that just might take all year. (Which is just about how long this show is supposed to last.)
"This isn't my utopia," they say when things swing away from their personal plans.
And, well, that's actually quite true. This isn't their Utopia: It's Fox's. And the last thing Fox wants is a real utopia on its hands.
I'm not being mean. It's just that idyllic bliss makes for really boring TV. Compelling "reality" requires conflict and strife. While most utopian-minded communes are founded by people of like minds, Fox's Utopia is populated by a host of drastically diverse and obtusely dissonant personalities—all of which are given bumper sticker labels. We meet "Survivalist Bella," "Hunter Hex" and "Redneck Red." We find out quite quickly that "Polyamorist Dedeker" has a very different view of sexual purity than "Pastor Jonathan." We know that Aaron, who wants to purchase a microwave, is at odds about food prep with Bella, who insists the radiation could kill them all.
The squabbles will ebb and flow, of course, just as the people come and go. Political Activist Rhonda has already been voted off the commune as of this review. And Pastor Jonathan was out nearly before he got in, needing surgery on his thumb. He's replaced by Taylor the #OmaHottie. And so it goes.
Are these folks all looking for what the pastor was trying to preach during his brief stint as symbolic shepherd? The very thing that spiritual salvation provides? Redemption and a second chance? Maybe. But in the meantime, Hex—who openly wept during a baptism orchestrated by Pastor Jonathan—still says, "There are three evils in the world: money, power and religion. My utopia would have none."
And whatever good intentions people espouse here, they doesn't mitigate what else we hear them say and see them do. Namely, they strip down to either skimpy bathing suits and underwear or even just their bare skin. They make rude and risqué remarks. They get falling-down drunk. They swear. And they couple up, smooching and caressing, the cameras catching them in fairly intimate positions.
Did we mention the backbiting, bickering and shouting matches yet?
And would it be boring and redundant at this point to merely state the obvious? That Fox's Utopia is anything but?