Throughout history, people have tried to build many different versions of Utopia. Sometimes it's a charismatic leader ushering people toward a righteous path with a common goal. Other times, groups of like-minded people come together to democratically work toward a common goal. And sometimes it's just a bunch of knuckleheads on a reality show.
If you bothered watching the 2-hour series premiere of Fox's new show Utopia last night, you saw 15 people come together with no common goal and just fuck around and scream at each other. That's not Utopia. That's just every reality show from the 1990s.
"Imagine what it would be like to start your own world with your own rules," Utopia's host muses at the beginning of the show. "For fifteen pioneers, that dream has become a reality."
The show tosses fifteen Americans "from all walks of life" onto five acres of land with two cows and a barn. Oh, and there are cameras. Lots of cameras. Like Truman Show-level camera-ness. They'll live there for a year, with one member of the "community" being voted off each month, and a new "pioneer" joining the fold.
"No laws. No church, no state, no rich, no poor. Nothing is taken for granted," the host explains in words that are obviously not meant to sound ominous at all.
Also, wait just a second: What's that about no laws? It's unclear exactly where they shot this, but unless it was Nevada or the moon or something, it was probably in a place with laws and all that stuff. So, um, no. You really only need to watch the intro to understand that this is going to be Real World: Ersatz Pioneer edition. Although these pioneers clearly aren't meant to be in the same wagon train.
"I want to go to Utopia and put God back at the center, where He belongs," says the Pentecostal pastor from Tennessee during the introduction montage.
"My Utopia is a place where there's no judgment," says one bikini-clad woman embracing three other people in a pool. Uh oh! Can you imagine if the pastor ever crosses paths with the polyamorous lady! What hijinks will transpire?!?!
Another woman explains that her Utopia would not include guns. Not a second later we see a no-nonsense guy holding a gun, which is definitely not something he carries around to compensate for other physical shortcomings. I sure hope those two never cross paths in this completely natural environment of 15 people living together under stressful conditions!
Oh, and hey look, it's just the first episode and the film safety crew on site already needs to intervene and call an ambulance for a "pioneer" with alcohol poisoning! What a crazy anarchist world they're living in. I can't wait to see how the strong safety net of modern infrastructure and workplace safety laws intervene next!
Fox reportedly spent $50 million to produce the show (a surprisingly high amount for a reality show) which is why you may have seen so many promos for it recently. Fox really wants this show to succeed. And it very well might. But not because its fundamental premise made any sense. This Utopia will succeed or fail based on whether people want to see old-school reality shows again. The kind where an extremely diverse mix of Americans fight and fuck and judge each other, all in the name of documenting "reality."
There's no doubt that executives who pitched this show (actually an Americanized version of a Dutch reality show) did so chuckling to themselves about how stupid their own premise was. Utopia is impossible and we're proving it by putting gun-toting libertarians and yoga-practicing hippies together! Right?!?! Amirite?!?!!
Again, the very nature of building anything approximating a real world Utopia is getting people to rally behind a common goal. Amazingly, that common goal doesn't exist here. There's no sense of purpose, nothing to rally behind, not even a cash prize waiting at the end.
It's almost—almost—as if the creators of the show didn't want to build a real Utopia at all. I, for one, am shocked and appalled.
You can watch Utopia twice a week on Fox (Tuesdays and Fridays), and on the livestream in true Truman Show style. Or not. Yeah, probably not.
Images: Screenshots from Fox's new "reality" show Utopia