An otherwise unconnected group of conspiracy theorists come into possession of a seemingly prophetic graphic novel, the eponymous Utopia. A shadowy organisation called The Network wants it back. And they are prepared to use any means at their disposal to get it.
What follows is two seasons of some of the most compelling, labyrinthine television ever. The cinematography and use of colour are spectacular. The soundtrack is banging. And each episode is lean, tense and fantastically entertaining.
What elevates Utopia is that it forces you, the viewer, to confront a moral dilemma where something seeming irredeemably evil becomes… a logical, even rational, means to the right end? When you find yourself feeling sympathetic to the perpetrator of a mass shooting in a school, you know it’s something a bit different.
If I’m making it sound bleak, it’s leavened by diverse, relatable characters and a dark humour that at times is laugh-out-loud funny. If you haven’t seen this show, watch it post-haste.
Film: The Prophet
There is something fascinating about prison. It’s a claustrophobic place of fear and violence that most of us would not fare well in. I definitely wouldn’t. In French prison film The Prophet, a young, scared Arab prisoner, Malik, enters this grim, forbidding world and is at once ordered by the prison’s ruling gang to commit a murder — or be killed himself. The plan is for Malik to conceal a razor blade inside his mouth, offer the victim an act that is definitely not PG-13, and then stand up a slit his throat. The subsequent scene is gut-churningly, knuckle-white tense.
It sets the tone for the entire film, as Malik gradually navigates this world of violence and vulnerability, fear and intimidation. I’ll leave whether he becomes the titular prophet of the title for you to find out for yourself.
Mike Duncan, author and narrator of the History of Rome podcast, charts some of the greatest political and socio-economic upheavals in history. From the English Civil War to the American War of Independence, through to the insanely complicated and convoluted French Revolution and the horrors of Haiti’s birth as a nation, Duncan manages to plot a relatively tight narrative, introduce us to a fascinating array of colourful and bizarre characters and infuse it all with his own dry humour and sarcastic asides.
Short story: Sandkings
Before George RR Martin embarked on the cultural fantasy behemoth that is Game of Thrones (from his A Song of Ice and Fire series), he wrote Sandkings. The plot follows Simon Kress, an amoral and sadistic collector of rare and dangerous animals, who purchases a terrarium of the insect-like sandkings. The semi-intelligent sandkings will worship their owner like a god, but also reflect their new god’s personality in their actions and characters.
Bored, Kress begins to torment his new charges — starving them and forcing the creatures to fight both each other and increasingly exotic and dangerous animals. Until an unexpected event forces him to confront the consequences of his actions.
While nominally science fiction, Sandkings is both a disturbing horror story and an examination of the corrupting nature of power and adoration. The skittering omnivorous sandkings are skin-crawlingly creepy and Kress is a self-serving narrator with few qualms or redeeming features. At the very least, it’s a reminder to always feed your pets on time…
Advert: Beer Chase
Four scruffy-looking bank robbers end up in a bar full of policemen. Fleeing with pints in hand, they realise they can’t drink and drive. So cops (also with pints in hand) and robbers set off on foot on a classic clichéd police chase: crashing into cardboard boxes, dodging a sheet of glass being carried across a street and “smashing” through a road block — all without spilling a drop. It’s stupid, but very funny — something Carlton Beer does very well.
What’s your hidden gem? Could be a video game, graphic novel, book song or anything you damn well like. Let us know in the comments.
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