Utopia

TV review by
Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
Utopia TV Poster Image
Sensationalism overshadows reality show's thoughtful issues.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

A mixed bag. The show purports to be a groundbreaking social experiment that will challenge people of vastly different backgrounds to find common ground for the sake of the community, but in reality it mostly sensationalizes the predictable friction that erupts among opposing personalities. Every word, every action, every moment of "alone" time is displayed for viewers' entertainment -- if not on the prime-time show then on the 24-hour live stream available on devices. That said, the pioneers make great strides in some cases, showing how compromise and respect can bridge gaps between them. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Every participant shows his or her good and bad sides at some point throughout the show. Manipulation, heated arguments, power struggles, and philosophical disagreements are par for the course, though, to their credit, all the pioneers are firm in their own beliefs. Compromise isn't easily achieved because of egos and tempers. Each challenge presents an opportunity for someone different to step up as a leader, so the community benefits in some way from each member. 

Violence

Some confrontations erupt into fistfights and other scuffles, and there are some injuries and illnesses that require medical attention. Heated arguments sometimes yield threatening language that promise bodily harm. 

Sex

Kissing, making out, and the implication that sex is happening between couples who hook up. A number of women occasionally walk around or swim naked (though breasts, groins, and butts are blurred), and others wear skimpy outfits, bathing suits, or bras and panties. Sexual banter is common, with lewdness and crass humor a possibility, particularly when alcohol is in play. Vulgar motions (when a guy simulates masturbation, for instance) are blurred. Some pioneers' feelings about love and sex challenge traditional sexuality -- witness a polyamorous woman, whose partners include men and women, and a student of tantric sex.

Language

There's a lot of cursing: "Damn," "hell," "bitch," "dumbass," and "dick" are audible; "s--t" and "f--k" are bleeped.

Consumerism

Viewers see and hear frequent reminders to access the program's 24-hour live feed through an app and the show's website. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking is part of the culture of this show, though not everyone partakes. In at least one case, it lands one pioneer in the hospital with alcohol poisoning and plays a role in a threatening and vulgar encounter between a man and some of his female peers. Some people allude to having problems with alcohol, and it obviously impairs judgment at times. Smoking is less visible but does exist. A pioneer talks about his past in dealing drugs such as crack. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Utopia is a no-holds-barred reality series that plays up controversy, sexuality, and emotional drama among 15 strangers living in a society of their own making. The cast members' distinct personalities and opposing values and views account for much of the drama, and they're often disrespectful and verbally aggressive toward one another as a result. There are hookups (you only see making out, but it's implied this goes further), a lot of full-body nudity (sensitive areas are blurred, but women in bras and panties are common), and a lot of drinking, some of which alters people's behavior in negative and dangerous ways. Expect some crass, sexually motivated humor and a lot of cursing, with "damn," "hell," and "d--k" audible and stronger words bleeped. Mature teens might be able to see past the sensationalism to the more meaningful issues of government, freedom, faith, relationships, and the environment explored by the cast members in their quest for the perfect society. 

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What's the story?

"Imagine what it would be like to start your own world with your own rules." That's the challenge that faces 15 pioneers in the reality series UTOPIA. Set on a five-acre farm with no electricity, no plumbing, and minimal conveniences and supplies, Utopia brings together a group of strangers from different walks of life and tasks them with starting a society entirely of their own making over the course of a year. Democracy? Dictatorship? Organic? Faith-based? The decision is up to these trailblazers, who count among them a lawyer, a survivalist prepper, an ex-convict, a behavior specialist, and a fundamentalist preacher. Together they must decide how to use resources, establish rules, and allot judgment, but, although each pioneer arrives with a clear picture of his or her own utopia, they soon find that agreeing on a blueprint is far from easy. And just when they gain some traction as a community, the balance will be upset by one member's expulsion and the arrival of a new pioneer with new ideas to bring to the mix.

Is it any good?

Hosted by Dan Piraro, Utopia bills itself as a large-scale social experiment in creating the perfect society, which hints at warm-fuzzy moments of clarity and companionship among these vastly diverse cast members. And, although there are some touching exchanges that defy stereotypes and challenge snap judgments, it's clear from the start that the show aims to hook viewers by playing up controversy more than compromise. Not convinced? Look no further than the cast itself. These 15 participants (and the replacements arriving on a regular rotation) weren't names drawn from a hat; they were chosen for their fiery personalities and rivaling viewpoints, which causes rifts and sparks from the very first day.

On the other hand, the project and its pioneers should get some credit for designing a reality show that invites discussion on big issues and ditches concept of (and award money for) a single winner. Put an arms-bearing libertarian and an animal rights activist on the same farm, and there are bound to be some heated debates. Atheists and Christian ministers looking to win converts don't see eye to eye on much, but, when the influence of the real world is stripped away, they may find they have more in common than they think. The lines between personal freedom and community welfare, traditional and non-traditional relationships, and cultural divisions are blurred in unique ways in Utopia, and that can generate some interesting thinking and talking points for parents and teens. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether this show achieves its goal. Do the participants take their task seriously? What motivation do they have to succeed? Does this project yield any lessons that might benefit modern society? 

  • What challenges exist in working cooperatively with people who are different from you? How do you bridge this kind of gap? Is it possible to compromise all the time? What examples of good compromise do you see in this show? 

  • How does Utopia's governing structure compare to the one in your society? Could it be applied to a larger population, or would it lose its effectiveness? How are dissenters heard? What are its drawbacks?  

  • Is this series voyeuristic? Do the pioneers seem bothered by having their lives on display like this? Do you think there's any inherent harm in this kind of entertainment? How would you feel about this lack of privacy

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