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Eye-gouging within the first half-hour: the edgy new rules of TV drama

Plus: James Delingpole unveils a brand new episode of Made in Chelsea

23 August 2014

9:00 AM

23 August 2014

9:00 AM

Where is Jessica Hyde?

If those words mean nothing to you then I have some excellent news. If not, then you’ll already be aware that I have failed you totally. And not for the first time, either. I was about a series (sorry, ‘season’) late to Game of Thrones; not much quicker into Breaking Bad; and now here I am again belatedly drawing your attention to something we all really should have seen last year if we were to consider ourselves even halfway in the loop…

Anyway, for what it’s worth, the show is Utopia (Channel 4, Tuesdays) and I can’t remember when I last saw a British drama series open so strongly. Probably, like, never — for how often is it, even on Channel 4, you come across a series so edgy, uncompromising and assured that it actually allows one of its main (and most likable) characters to have his eyes gouged out with a teaspoon in the first half-hour? (It’s the kind of initiative of which — one for my father-in-law, this — Tony Blair would surely have approved.)

Utopia, you can tell from the start, is not afraid to break the rules. Or, rather, it’s dementedly eager to play by the new rules as previously established by Game of Thrones: no one is safe; everyone is expendable — including cute kids; all bets are off as to where the plot might go, a) because the creator, Dennis Kelly (previously best known for co-writing the hit musical Matilda), probably doesn’t know himself and b) because even if he did, he’d deliberately do what you didn’t want just to frustrate and annoy you.

I love it and so, if you can stomach the ultra-violence and the insufferable hipness, will you. We were introduced to it by our quite straight lawyer friends from London, who don’t generally watch much TV and who infuriated us by arriving at our annual summer holiday let in Wales last week saying, ‘Sorry. Can’t play bridge for long tonight. Got to catch the final episode of Utopia.’

So the Fawn and I skulked in the bedroom and caught up with the first part on Netflix. I do so love conspiracy thrillers that begin with unheralded, inexplicable, merciless killings (the opening of Three Days of the Condor being my all-time fave, especially the scene with the cute Chinese girl) and this did the job nicely. (Plot spoiler alert: when I said no one is safe that includes if you’re an inbetweener.)

A graphic-novel manuscript has gone missing. A bit like the one in Heroes it appears to have the power to foresee the future. At any rate, some deeply unpleasant people want to get their hands on it, the conspiracy appears to go to the very highest levels of government, and the only people capable of preventing evil from triumphing are a random assemblage of hopeless comic- book geeks: a delinquent kid, a raven-haired Welsh temptress-cum-wannabe PhD student, a groovy black guy and a paranoiac so wary of government surveillance that he lives totally off the grid. I can say no more, other than that for those who haven’t yet seen it an enormous treat awaits.

Tell you what I can’t recommend, though: Made in Chelsea (E4, Mondays). But at least one of my kids loves it and forced me to watch an episode. Here’s what it’s like:


INT. A VERY EXPENSIVE COCKTAIL BAR IN A PART OF TOWN YOU CAN’T AFFORD. Close-up of hunky mixologist shaking cocktail made of guava, vintage Krug, crème de cacao, foie gras, organic angel’s breath.

Camera pans to table occupied by two impossibly good-looking blondes and two men who really ought to be gay the way they dress but aren’t — they’re just ludicrously rich.

BINKY: ‘I am so totally over him.’

ARAMINTABELLA: ‘Be strong, hon. Don’t take his calls. Come with me in the Private Jetster Wetster to Cap d’Antibes tomorrow, that always makes you feel better.’

ETON DE WANKSCHILD (answering his diamond-encrusted Vertu mobile): ‘Hey boi. Not a good time.’

MYLES TOSSER (sotto voce, hoping the girls aren’t listening): ‘Mate. It’s not, mate, is it, mate?’

ETON winks.

BINKY: ‘eek. It’s him. It’s him.’

ARAMINTABELLA: ‘Remember, hon, be strong. You’re totally over him. He slept with Tigger, Pongo, Chambolmusigny, Tash, Mash and Gash while you were out shopping in Verbier, remember?’

ETON (hurt): ‘I think you’ll find that was me.’

MYLES: ‘No, that was the week before, when Binky was kite-surfing in Bora Bora.’

BINKY (batting eyelashes; looking pouty and sensitive): ‘But I love him.’

ETON (relaying instructions via the phone): ‘He says he’s very sorry and he wants to meet you in Sydney yesterday.’

ARAMINTABELLA: ‘But that’s impossible!’

TOSSER: ‘Not necessarily. If you catch a private jet now, fly the wrong way round the world, the time zones might just work out for you. Anyone know anyone with a private jet going spare which they won’t after all be using to fly to Antibes?’

ARAMINTABELLA: ‘Grrr.’


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