Television

Utopia Falls Puts the 'Diss' in 'Dystopia'

And not in a good way

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Utopia Falls. Available now on Hulu.

Imagine, as I suppose you have many times, Footloose set in a Stalinist work camp. Or a Hunger Games in which the weapons are not bows and arrows but manuals of Canadian Choreography for the Big-Butted. Or that you suddenly and unaccountably found yourself with a fatally compelling urge to thrust red-hot pokers into your eyes and ears while praying for a quick descent into the fiery embrace of Hell. This last one, I must dutifully report, is no longer just an amusing fantasy but a genuine likelihood should you decide to watch an episode of Hulu's dizzying post-apocalyptic rap drama (I am pretty sure I'm the first person ever to type that phrase) Utopia Falls.

Why a reputable American entertainment company would buy an atrocity like the Canadian-made Utopia Falls, or why it would have been made in the first place, or why Canada even has a television industry, are all questions that theologians may debate for centuries. Our purpose here is merely to note that bad TV is a transnational phenomenon that transcends all technologies, platforms and business models. None of us are safe from Canadian television.

Utopia Falls is set in a dystopian world blighted by an unspecified technology run-amok (possibly the Roomba Wars). The survivors live in a giant totalitarian compound called New Babyl—in war, the first casualty is spell-checking—with Marxist undertones. (Motto: "For state, for community, for all.") Slogans echo from loudspeakers round the clock, practically everything is in short supply, despite—or, more likely, because of—state-mandated production quotas, and most advanced technology is kept in government hands.

"We are all aware of the dangers of technology when used for personal benefit instead of the common good," says Aliyah (Robyn Alomar, like most of the cast a veteran of Canadian TV), a government flack and daughter of a member of the ruling Tribunal.

She's also about to become one of the 24 contestants in the Exemplar, a national arts competition that sounds a bit like those in The Hunger Games, except that, unfortunately, no one gets killed, not even in a demure Canadian way. The losers just—well, lose. This makes for a rather tepid contest, as does the fact that, in war, the second casualty is singing and dancing talent. The contestants mostly resemble early-round American Idol contenders, except with less talent and a surfeit of high-strung teen angst.

As the Exemplar gets underway, all the contestants get clandestine invitations to a party outside the New Babyl walls, a strictly forbidden area. While there, Aliyah and potential romantic partner Bodhi (Akiel Julien) blunder into a secret underground chamber called the Archive, which is packed with powerful taboo technology like jukeboxes. There's also a collection of ancient and forgotten music, among which the kids discover hip-hop, which of course unsprings their genetic break-dancing skills. You guessed it! Grandmaster Flash, Jay Roc and P. Diddy become the Paul Revere and Thomas Paine of the New Babyl Revolution.

While watching the resulting confrontation with authority, even the most devout hip-hop fan is like to discover a hidden affinity for the Tories. The kids' instantaneous single- and simple-minded devotion to hip-hop and their cultish insistence that it's the apogee of human liberty is gratingly idiotic. (Especially when their supposedly inspirational oratory is littered with Canadian speech pathologies like "aboot.") The platitudes come so thick and fast that the decrees of the totalitarian commissars—among them, that personal expression must be banned because "it fosters disharmony"—start to sound reasonable. "I don't see how singing and dancing could be dangerous!" exclaims one of the kids. Here, let me show you.

NEXT: Even Without Trump's Tweets, the Attorney General's Intervention on Roger Stone's Behalf Would Have Looked Bad

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  1. Garvin, you are too good for this world.

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  2. The problem with reviews like this is it makes me start thinking it might be ‘so bad its good’, and then i might actually watch it… I’m not sure the show can live up to this review.

  3. Utopia Falls is my nickname for Bernie Sanders’ campaign headquarters.

  4. or why it would have been made in the first place, or why Canada even has a television industry,

    Check out American Exceptionalist, Glen Garvin over here.

  5. The platitudes come so thick and fast that the decrees of the totalitarian commissars—among them, that personal expression must be banned because “it fosters disharmony”—start to sound reasonable. “I don’t see how singing and dancing could be dangerous!” exclaims one of the kids. Here, let me show you.

    I like this Garvin kid, he reminds me of the old-time Reason writers.

  6. One of the best reviews I’ve ever read

    1. If you like Glen’s style, check out The Filthy Critic sometime. (For maximum fun, check out the 1-finger review list.)

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  8. That opening paragraph is savage. Well done.

  9. Soooooo…….

    2112 only with breakdancing instead of guitars. Got it.

    1. It reminded me of a movie about 20 years ago of younglings trying to save big band dance in Nazi Germany.

  10. Pity – I was looking forward to a sci-fi show that is a thinly veiled reference to living in Bernie’s dystopian future instead of Trump’s for a change.

    1. I think that Trump has the best dystopian futures, with one WTF after another. Oh; apropos of nothing, Breitbart says Bloomberg is choosing Hillary for a running mate. This would literally be the gift that keeps on giving.

  11. Canada has a TV industry thanks to a combination of government subsidies and Hollywood wanting to use Canadian actors because they are non-union

  12. Wonder if the Canadian jukebox had Bob & Doug McKenzie’s Take Off.

    Or since music and dancing was so dangerous in that post-apocalyptic setting, if they hedged by doing the S-A-F-E-T-Y- DANCE.

  13. Garvin,

    Thank you.
    The only drawback to your excellent review is that I am now almost willing to push for, say, an interpretative dance version of Plan 9 from Outer Space if it will elicit another thrashing like this one. All the tomatoes!

  14. Dammit, now I owe Garvin lunch.

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  16. “She’s also about to become one of the 24 contestants in the Exemplar, a national arts competition that sounds a bit like those in The Hunger Games, except that, unfortunately, no one gets killed, not even in a demure Canadian way.”

    lol. I like this side of Garvin.

  17. Canadian TV produces a random great comedy every now and then (Corner Gas, Red Green, Trailer Park Boys, and currently Letterkenny) so I thank them for pissing their tax money away.

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