A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
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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