It is a truth universally acknowledged that a television network in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a new concept for a reality show. But sometimes, when all the decent concepts have been exhausted, you just have to go with the first vaguely intellectual-sounding theme that comes to mind. This, I have to assume, is how we ended up with “Utopia,” Fox’s latest televised offering to humankind, which premiered last Sunday (presumably airing on the Lord’s day so that viewers and producers alike might immediately beg for forgiveness).
The point of “Utopia,” as you might imagine, is to create a perfect society. In this “bold” “social” “experiment,” 15 strangers from all over the United States secede from the modern world and attempt to forge a better civilization.
But “Utopia” is hardly the first camera-ready social science experiment to air on American television. There’s “Big Brother” (How many seasons is too many for one show? Sixteen? Seventeen?), “Wife Swap” (Why do so many of these families work as clowns/magicians?) and “Celebrity Wife Swap” (Who are these people?) Even MTV’s “Punk’d” was an experiment of sorts, testing how much Ashton Kutcher one nation could withstand (answer: nine seasons).
Which leads us to “Utopia,” in which 15 people live together in rural southern California not just to have sex, as in MTV’s “The Real World,” but also for a higher purpose: to initiate an audacious restructuring of humanity, and then also have sex.
The cast of potential heroes is about as well adjusted as we have come to expect of American reality show contestants. Few of them have careers in definable sectors of society. There’s Dedeker (belly dancer), Bella (doomsday prepper) and Red (handyman/moonshiner).
If you’re upset that you missed your chance to join this noble band of heroes, not to worry: Fox is continuing to hold open casting calls for new Utopiettes. Each month, the three most useless/least popular cast members will be nominated for exile, and those who don’t make the cut will be replaced by new useless and unpopular people. And sometimes, as in the first part of the first episode, someone decides to leave after realizing that “Utopia” might not actually be the perfect world he or she envisioned. So consider using those acceleration credits you’ve been hoarding since high school to trade Yale for weird sexual advances from fellow Utopiettes. It’s probably easier than finding a spring internship.
A unique aspect of “Utopia” (well, unique to anyone who hasn’t heard of “Big Brother”) is the inclusion of a live stream feed which allows viewers to watch the secluded compound at all times. According to Entertainment Weekly, over 1 million people tuned in to the live stream in the first week. All I had to do was open an internet browser, activate a suspicious plug-in, and — bam! — there it was: a live stream of Plato’s “Republic.” In the first 10 minutes I saw some people hanging out outside, some people hanging out inside and a conversation about how it was probably going to rain that day, but maybe not.
It still remains to be seen whether “Utopia” will change all of human civilization as we know it and/or get renewed for a second season. If the already-plummeting ratings are any indication, this experiment may not last much longer. I have been to the live-streamed Utopia, my friends, and it looks an awful lot like whatever dystopian hellhole we’re currently living in.
Contact Madeline Kaplan at firstname.lastname@example.org .