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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Utopia Falls is a drama in which teens in a futuristic society compete in talent battles under an authoritarian government. Characters are diverse (in terms of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, race, age, and sexual identity), and two characters in particular show courage, self-control, and perseverance in examining humanity's history and then addressing political abuse and unfairness. Teen characters are in danger, but they fear being kicked out of the city -- not death, injury, or prison. There is some ageism (like when two older characters are called "mentally foggy" due to their age), and many competitions (the talent battles appear in each episode), but characters primarily compete with their own performances. Expect same- and opposite-sex kissing, flirting, dating, and relationships.
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What's the story?
As teen sci-fi drama UTOPIA FALLS opens, disasters and war have made earth uninhabitable, but the surviving humans have set up a city, New Babyl, that exists under a protective force field and seems like paradise on earth. All citizens live in harmony, with every person provided for, and all are encouraged to think about what's good for the group, not for the individual. That is, except for during the Exemplar, an annual talent contest in which teen singers, dancers, and musicians compete, with the winner crowned New Babyl's cultural ambassador. But when contestants Aliyah (Robyn Alomar), a privileged girl whose father is a member of New Babyl's powerful Tribunal, and Bodhi (Akiel Julien), a boy from the underprivileged Reform section, find a repository of music from pre-New Babyl days, the two start to discover new things about the past that shed light on mysteries of their present.
Is it any good?
This genuinely odd series is both a futuristic dystopian drama and a dance competition, melding tropes from both YA sci-fi and reality battles in a way that's alternately flat and fascinating. As Utopia Falls opens, it seems like New Babyl is a pretty cool place to be. "No one wants for food or work or a sense of community," we're told in the monologue that opens the show. It's a society where everyone has a purpose. But since a show about heaven on earth would be pretty boring, it's not really a surprise when the illusion of the fair and just authority begins to fall away, and the fascism beneath is slowly revealed.
The group of teens at the center of Utopia Falls' drama, who hail from different segments of the Hunger Games-style divided society, are similarly depicted as the best of New Babyl at the start of the series, before they find artifacts from the past that make them question the present. Only Aliyah and Bodhi are given the screen time to develop into convincing characters. There are too many other Exemplar candidates vying to make a strong impression (and though we're told they're each super talented, the scenes in which they're shown singing and dancing don't demonstrate that). But the narrative is such an unusual one that viewers will be content to drift along to see where this strange show is headed. Utopia Falls doesn't score on all levels, but it's arresting -- and peculiar -- enough to hold your attention.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the "last man standing" premise in Utopia Falls compares to current reality shows. Which shows pit people against each other? Why is it so much fun to watch the alliances and drama unfold in these programs?
Use the movie's depiction of New Babyl to discuss totalitarian governments and dictatorships. Why are there more bleak portrayals of the distant future than optimistic ones? What are some other books and movies that feature a post-apocalyptic or post-war future?
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