Last night's viewing - Utopia, Channel 4; Yes, Prime Minister, Gold

 

Utopia is nasty. Then again, Utopia wants to be nasty, so you can take that verdict both as a fair warning and as a recognition that it has achieved its ambitions. Utopia is distinctly comic book, too. But again, given that the plot of Dennis Kelly's conspiracy thriller centres on a fabled graphic novel that is rumoured to have darkly predictive powers, comic book is precisely what it wants to be. Marc Munden's direction, full of tightly drawn framing and double-page wide shots, takes its cues from a comic's way of presenting a story. And, as is often the case in these things, the story takes pleasure in bringing together the shadowy world of dark forces with the supremely ordinary world of the kind of people who hang around fan fairs and can tell you the serial number of every issue of Superman.

It begins as it means to go on, with the arrival of two taciturn men in a graphic-novel store. They murder everyone present, pausing only now and then to ask, "Where is Jessica Hyde?", a question none of their victims appear to understand. The 10-year-old boy detected cowering under a display rack isn't spared, which is a way of letting us know we won't be either. But the killers, reassuringly, aren't the steely men in black overcoats who generally do this kind of thing in comic books. In fact, they're borderline gormless, though that doesn't in any way undermine their menace. And that hint that stock components will be given a little twist proves reliable. A little later, there's one of those rush-of-lust knee-tremblers that popular thrillers love, only in this one everything goes awkwardly awry, as it most likely would in life.

The killers are trying to track down Utopia 2, also the object of fervent speculation on a specialist chatroom. And when five fans agree to meet up to discuss the thrilling rumour that one of them has tracked down a copy, they become targets for the assassins as well. Alongside their attempts to stay ahead of their pursuers runs a parallel storyline about a blackmailed civil servant, forced to put in a large order for flu vaccine with a Russian pharmaceutical company. And behind both stories sit "They", as yet unrevealed but with the power to tinker with DNA records and track mobile calls. Rather neatly, one of them, Wilson, supplies both comic relief and a shocking confirmation that paranoids can sometimes be realists. "I don't drink tea," says Wilson at one point. "Caffeine was invented by the CIA." But then the killers catch up and Wilson is subjected to torture so extended and so horrible that you may begin to wonder why it's necessary at all.

I'm not entirely convinced it is, but as nasty as Utopia can get, you never get the feeling that it's just toying with interchangeable puppets. A dystopian fantasy has been populated with relatively real characters and genre terrors mixed with familiar human ones – that the boy you like might be interested in someone else, or that your alcoholic mum might one day not come out of her stupor. And all of it is delivered with great visual style. Get out the glassine envelopes and collect the whole set.

The revived Yes, Prime Minister, returning after a 24-year absence, at least came in on the perfect political cue. "Dealing with Europe isn't about achieving success," David Haig's exasperated PM tells the head of his Policy Unit, "it's about concealing failure." But that kind of timing isn't what comedy is about and in two ways this was a beat or two off. For one thing, you just can't pretend that The Thick of It never happened, as this seemed to do in featuring a scene of political advisers wincing as their boss flounders through an interview. For another, Henry Goodman can't quite expunge the memory of Nigel Hawthorne's silky perfection. Further consultation required.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future