Guilty Pleasure No. 45: Utopia

Utopia ended on a Halloween.

Now, I’m not talking about utopia as a concept.  I imagine that there are still people out there who think that the idea of creating a utopia is a a viable one.  (I’m not one of those people but that’s mostly because I think living in a perfect world would be hella dull.)  Instead, I’m talking about a reality television show that premiered in September of 2014 and which was canceled one month later.

Though it’s pretty much forgotten today, Utopia was a pretty big deal in the months leading up to its first episode.  It’s estimated that Fox spent 50 million dollars to develop and promote the show.  Not only would Utopia air twice a week but, much in the style of Big Brother, audiences would be able to watch the show’s participants interact live online.  The commercials, which were inescapable that summer, explained that 12 people with radically different philosophies would be expected to come together and form a new society on a California farm.  An atheist would live with a minister!  A libertarian would have to work with a socialist!  An attorney would have to find common ground with an ex-con!  A huntress would eat at the same table as a vegetarian!  The show was an experiment that would last an entire year and it would answer the question: Can different people come together to start a brave new world?

I have to admit that I was kind of excited for the show.  Utopia started just as the 16th season of Big Brother came to an end.  That season was one of the worst in the history of Big Brother, largely as the result of the show’s producers putting the insufferable Frankie Grande in the House and then trying to rig the show in his favor.  After a terrible season of Big Brother, I was actually had hope that maybe Utopia would be everything that Big Brother had ceased being.

Of course, I was wrong.  From the first episode of Utopia, it became obvious that we would never learn whether people could come together to start a brave new world because, for the most part, no one on the show was interested in doing that.  There was a lot of drinking, of course.  There was also an entire episode devoted to one of the Utopians, a pastor, worrying that he would lust in his heart for the female Utopians unless they started wearing more clothes.  For two episodes, a redneck named Red announced that he wanted to start his own society in the woods but eventually he changed his mind.  The Utopians lived on a farm but only doomsday prepper Bella seemed to have any farming experience and, as quickly became obvious in her case, having experience doesn’t necessarily mean that you know what you’re doing.

It was a weird show.  I’m assuming that Fox thought that there would be instant conflict if they put a libertarian and a socialist together but, for the most part, no one on the show ever discussed their differing philosophies.  In fact, it was hard to see that any of them had any philosophy as all.  Hex was regularly described as being a “huntress,” despite the fact that we never saw her hunt.  Rob was described as being a libertarian but we never actually saw him discuss what that meant and he acted like just as much of a petty authoritarian as the other members of the cast.  The show tried to create the appearance of conflict but, like most Americans outside of Twitter, the cast dealt with their differences by not really discussing them.  So, as a result, we ended up with entire episodes devoted to doomsday prepper Bella getting upset because veterinary assistant Bri wanted to have some say in how the farm animals were fed.

The one thing that kept all of this from being unbearable dull was that the show’s perpetually optimistic host, Dan Piraro, described every minor event in breathless detail.  When one of the Utopians got too drunk and acted like an ass, he was put on a trial.  The end result of the trial?  Everyone asked him to please not get drunk and act like an ass again.  “And so the Utopians have created a legal system!” Piraro exclaimed.

As the show progressed, the Utopians started to get bored.  Some of them voluntarily left Utopia, largely because they just wanted to find something better to do with their time.  After the show’s producers tried to turn attorney Mike Quinn into the star of the show and centered a few episodes around his relationship with “polyamorous Dedeker,” he abruptly left.  (“And so Mike leaves Utopia….”)  Whenever an old Utopian left, two prospective new ones would be brought in and would explain why they should be selected to live in Utopia but the new Utopians soon proved themselves to be just as boring as the old ones.  The Utopians attempted to raise money for food by opening up their farm to the general public.  Huntress Hex gave hunting lessons and revealed that she wasn’t really sure how to use a bow and arrow.  One of the new arrivals attempted to create a website for the farm, just to have the site besieged by online trolls.  Ratings crashed and the show soon went from airing twice a week to only airing on Fridays.

And yet, the worse the show got, the more fascinating it became.  Utopia offered audiences the opportunity to watch a month-long train wreck as it unfolded.  It was so bad that you couldn’t look away and each attempt by Fox to somehow spice up the show only made it more of a disaster.  I would watch each episode just to see how much more pointless the show could become.

The final episode aired on Halloween and it featured the host wearing a cape and, if I remember correctly, plastic fangs at one point.  By this point, Fox had changed the show’s concept.  Now, the viewers would vote each week on who they wanted to banish from Utopia.  (“But I’m an atheist!” Hex wailed, “America’s going to hate me!”)  Or, at least, that’s what the show’s producers said was going to happen.  Instead, Utopia was canceled before America ever got a chance to vote.

Interestingly, the only people shocked by Utopia‘s cancellation were the people living on the farm.  Apparently, the day after Halloween started out normally for them and for whoever might have been watching them on the live feeds.  Sometime in the afternoon, the feeds abruptly went down and never came back up.  From what I’ve read, the Utopians were called into a meeting and told that they were going home immediately.

Utopia has never been tried again but I fondly remember watching it.  The Utopians failed to create a brave new world but they kept me amused for 12 episodes.

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me
  42. Harper’s Island
  43. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone
  44. Paranormal State

Halloween Havoc!: Bela Lugosi in CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (Fox 1932)

cracked rear viewer


Thrills! Chills! Romance! Action! CHANDU THE MAGICIAN plays like a Saturday matinée serial aimed directly at the kiddie crowd. Based on a popular radio series, the film is pretty antiquated seen today, its saving graces being the special effects wizardry of co-director William Cameron Menzies and the deliciously evil Bela Lugosi as the megalomaniacal villain Roxor.


The movie kicks off with the banging of a gong and an offscreen narrator ominously intoning “Chan-du the Magician”. A hand is used to wipe the screen credits, the first of Menzies’ many filmic tricks. We’re taken inside a temple where Frank Chandler, aka Chandu, has spent three years learning the ancient secrets of the mystic arts (move over, Dr. Strange!). He’s a yogi now, master of the hypnotic eye and astral projection, and demonstrates his prowess by performing the old Indian rope trick and walking through fire. His mentor bids him to “go…

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‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ (dir. Matt Reeves)


(Poster by Matt Ferguson)

When ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ came out, I wasn’t excited; I didn’t even see it in theaters. I am a fan of the original franchise (one and three mainly), and still had the bad taste of the terrible Burton remake in my mouth. So the idea of a prequel/reboot was one of the last things I wanted at the time. Still, I gave it a chance when it was released on home video, and it blew me away. I, like so many, was surprised by just how good it was. So good in fact, that I desperately wanted a sequel. Luckily the film was a success (both financially and critically) and that inevitable, albeit desired, sequel was made. Having now just seen it, the question now becomes whether it lives up to both that first film and the enormous expectations I had built up between films (especially more recently with the “prequel” shorts). The answer, thank god, is a resounding “Hell yes!”

It was so good in fact that I’d go so far as to say that this franchise has become my favorite since Nolan’s ‘Batman’ films. This is why the easiest way for me to describe how this compares to the first film is to say that ‘Dawn’ is to ‘Rise’ as ‘The Dark Knight’ was to ‘Batman Begins’. ‘Rise’, like ‘Begins’, was an exceptional origins tale; but it was a story that felt rushed or overshadowed in place for the development and establishment of  only the central character. ‘Rise’ still had an emotional resonance, and the final twenty minutes are incredibly thrilling, but it ultimately felt incomplete.  With ‘Dawn’, like with ‘The Dark Knight’, the film makers were free to use what was already established with their new hero to tell a much more complete, more complex and emotional story on a much grander scale.


‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ takes place ten years after the events of the first film. The world has been devastated by the Simian Flu. Humans have spent the last decade fighting the virus and themselves. They live in a post-apocalyptic world, struggling to survive, but are making progress. Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his troop on the other hand have built themselves a community, a tranquil home in the Muir Woods that is thriving according to their needs.  That peace is interrupted when a group of humans enter their territory. They are led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who is trying to find and fix a hydroelectric plant that could help bring power back to San Francisco. The actions of one in that group lead Caesar and his family to have little trust in their intentions, but allows them to proceed because they are clearly desperate. Caesar is one of the few apes that has seen the good in human’s and also knows cooperation could keep the peace.

As the bond between human and ape grows there is still one among Caesar’s troop that does not believe that peace is possible. That ape is Koba (Toby Kebbell), who was beaten, tortured and used for medical testing his entire life. Koba’s distrust only grows when he learns that the humans, led by a man named Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), have access to military stock piles and are willing to take control of the area surrounding the dam by force if it were to become necessary. Thinking Caesar is weak and too loyal to humans, Koba decides to take it upon himself to protect the apes, and his actions set off a chain of events that could only lead to only one thing…war.


When the film ended and I walked out of the theater I felt completely satisfied with what I had just seen. My expectations for the film were already incredibly high, but I would be lying if I said this didn’t actually exceed them. What makes the film such a resounding success for me is the way in which the story puts everyone on equal grounds. There are no true villains here, and even those that assume that role do so for reasons that were easy for me to empathize with. Dreyfus may want to kill the apes, but he does so because he is a man who has lost everyone he ever loved and will do anything to protect the remaining humans that have put their trust in him. Koba, as selfish as some of his actions may be, is someone who was physically and mentally abused his entire life. His revenge might seem cruel, but one could hardly blame him for wanting it. Everyone is fighting for the survival of those that they love and the homes they established. I couldn’t help but want everyone to succeed. Unfortunately, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that the pain and damage under the surface of both man and ape make the idea of peace between the two impossible. Some differences are irreparable. There is definitely an allegory here of war that reflects current and past conflicts.

Luckily those themes of warfare, family and survival are all expressed effortlessly through the actions of its characters. It manages to be intelligent and complex without being thematically overbearing, while maintaing an intanacy. That is mainly because the film is handled with exceptional craftsmanship by Matt Reeves. The direction and cinematography, especially within Caesar’s settlement, is wonderful. It is never flashy, and is often much darker and moodier than one might expect. The editing and pacing is near perfect, which is rarely the case with these sorts of films. It only ever slows when it needs to, but the story is always moving forward. Every scene matters, even the quieter moments, for which there are many; again, something one might not expect, especially given the action heavy trailers. The score is perhaps the best Michael Giacchino has done since ‘Up’, adding to the moody atmosphere, and I LOVED his little nob to ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ in the opening sequence. Everything here is done with purpose and execution of it all is nearly flawless.


Lastly, I would be remiss to end this review without mentioning the performances, which were the soul of the film. Even with the way everything else was handled, I am not sure ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ would have worked without these specific performances. The human cast of Clarke, Oldman and Russell were all fantastic. The film’s only real flaw was that there actually wasn’t enough focus on them. I understand that the heart of the story is Caesar and his apes, but the human characters could easily have been developed more. Still, what development and emotional connection we did get was due mainly because of the actors portraying them. They make us care for these people, making the inevitable conflict even harder to bear as the film approached its climax.

The motion capture for the apes was mind blowing. Andy Serkis is in a class of his own. The visuals and animation here are some of the best I think I have seen; but it is the emotion and talent of the actors behind all that CGI that makes those ape characters feel so real. Serkis plays Caesar as someone filled with grief and the weight of the responsibility of caring for his troop bleeds through. Toby Kebbell plays Koba with a ferociousness that is equally terrifying and mesmerizing; and I also really loved Nick Thurston, who played Caesar’s eldest son Blue Eyes, and how he managed to expressed so much in just his gaze. I mentioned early in this review how this film compares on some level to ‘The Dark Knight’ for me. That film was speculated to be in the run for an Oscar nomination for Best Picture but it never happened. The backlash was so strong that some think it was the reason the Academy increased the number of films that could be nominated. I truly hope that Serkis will receive some form of recognition for his work here; and if not, I hope all of us praising him so greatly now will be vocal enough when the time come that maybe the Academy will make another change to who and what it nominates.


I am not sure where I would place this film among others I have seen in 2014 but I know I’d put it somewhere near the top. This isn’t just another intelligent summer blockbuster; it is really an exceptionally crafted epic, a thrilling action-drama with an emotional and thematic resonance that future films should make a note of. And, as I felt when I first watched ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, I eagerly await the next installment – which will thankfully be directed again by Matt Reeves.

The Super Bowl XLVIII ads kick off…

…and there hasn’t even been a commercial yet. Ok, I admit this might seem petty on the surface, but I’m pretty goddamn pissed off. Over the years, I’ve experienced Super Bowl advertisements degenerate from clever, creative entertainment to raunchy, sensationalist garbage, and I’ve accepted it. I’ve seen right-wing nut jobs fork over millions to air their political garbage–anyone recall Focus on the Family’s anti-abortion ad a few years ago?–and I’ve kept my mouth shut. But what I saw in the pre-game show today took tasteless to a new level. For those of you who missed it, Fox got the rights to the game this year, and they exploited their control of the content to interrupt pre-game coverage for a half hour of Fox News and Bill O’Reilly lambasting the president.

Think about that, and forget your opinion of Barrack Obama while you do it. We’re talking about the most televised event in the world, and its exclusive broadcaster this year has set aside tens of millions of dollars worth of content time to advertise for the extreme right wing of the Republican party. “Oh, Bill O’Reilly is relatively moderate, and they just plastered a Fox News logo over it; they didn’t bring up many sensitive issues.” Fuck that. If the KKK sponsored a Super Bowl ad for white hoodies you’d all be shitting bricks. And this isn’t a conventional ad–a business transaction–a hunk of advertisement paid for in full. This is coming directly from the network that ought to be responsible for monitoring advertisement content throughout the game. This isn’t a matter of turning a blind eye for a pay check; Fox shamelessly wants you to know that this program has been brought to you by good, god-fearing straight white people (and their wives).

I suppose they’re not going to lose any viewers over it. I’m still watching–albeit on mute now until the ball’s on the ground–and the money’s already on the books anyway. It was just more dope for the already brainwashed really, and a little salt in the wound for anyone who believes in social justice. But if the NFL accepts without further comment that an endorsement of Fox Sports means an endorsement of Fox News and everything that subsidiary stands for, it’s time we all called it a fun half-century and took up soccer or cricket or something.

My 2012 Emmy Nominations

So, for the past few days, I’ve been happily hopping around my section of the Shattered Lens Bunker and do you know why? 

Because it’s awards season, that’s why!  With the conclusion of the 2011-2012 TV season, Emmy ballots have been mailed and votes are being cast and, come July, we’ll know which shows and performers have been nominated for the 2012 Emmys. 

Before that happens, however, I would like to play a little game called “What if Lisa Was Solely Responsible For Picking the Nominees.”  Here’s how it works — I looked over and studied the complete list of the shows and performances that have been submitted this year for Emmy consideration.  And then, from that list, I picked my personal nominees.

(A complete list of every show and performer that’s been submitted for Emmy consideration can be found here.)

Below are my personal nominations in the major Emmy categories.  Again, note that these are not necessarily the shows and performers that I believe will be nominated.  Instead, these are the shows and performers that I would nominate if I was solely responsible for picking the nominees.

A complete list of my nominations in every single Emmy category can be found here.  (And yes, there’s a lot of Lifetime on the list.  There’s also a lot of Community.)

Best Comedy Series

Bored to Death (HBO)

Community (NBC)

Girls (HBO)

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (FX)

Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Raising Hope (Fox)

Veep (HBO)

Best Drama Series

Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Breaking Bad (AMC)

The Client List (Lifetime)

Downton Abbey (PBS)

Game of Thrones (HBO)

Homeland (Showtime)

Pan Am (ABC)

Ringer (The CW)

True Blood (HBO)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Outstanding Miniseries or Movie

Blue-Eyed Butcher (Lifetime)

Cyberbully (ABC Family)

Drew Peterson: Untouchable (Lifetime)

Five (Lifetime)

Girl Fight (Lifetime)

Hatfields & McCoys (History Channel)

The Hour (BBC America)

Of Two Minds (Lifetime)

Outstanding Variety Series

Conan (TBS)

Fashion Police (E)

Key and Peele (Comedy Central)

The Soup (E)

Tosh .O (Comedy Central)

Outstanding Variety Special

Betty White’s 90th Birthday Party (NBC)

Celtic Women: Believe (PBS)

The Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen (Comedy Central)

TV Land Awards (TV Land)

Wendy Liebman: Taller on TV (Showtime)

Outstanding Nonfiction Special

Bobby Fischer Against The World (HBO)

Catholicism: Amazed and Afraid (PBS)

Crime After Crime (OWN)

God Is The Bigger Elvis (HBO)

6 Days To Air: The Making of South Park (Comedy Central)

Outstanding Nonfiction Series

America in Primetime (PBS)

American Masters (PBS)

America’s Most Wanted (Lifetime)

Beyond Scared Straight (A&E)

Inside Story (Biography)

Outstanding Reality Program

Antiques Roadshow (PBS)

Dance Moms (Lifetime)

Kitchen Nightmares (Fox)

Scouted (E)

Storage Wars (A&E)

Outstanding Reality-Competition Program

The Amazing Race (CBS)

The Bachelor (ABC)

Big Brother (CBS)

The Celebrity Apprentice (NBC)

Hell’s Kitchen (Fox)

Project Runway (Lifetime)

So You Think You Can Dance (Fox)

Survivor (CBS)

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series

Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)

Johnny Galecki in The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

Danny McBride in Eastbound and Down (HBO)

Joel McHale in Community (NBC)

Lucas Neff in Raising Hope (Fox)

Jason Schwartzman in Bored To Death (HBO)

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama

Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad (AMC)

Jeffrey Donavon in Burn Notice (USA)

Damian Lewis in Homeland (Showtime)

Andrew Lincoln in The Walking Dead (AMC)

Timothy Olyphant in Justified (FX)

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Miniseries or Movie

Idris Elba in Luther (BBC America)

Rob Lowe in Drew Peterson: Untouchable (Lifetime)

Steven Weber in Duke (Hallmark Movie Channel)

Dominic West in The Hour (BBC America)

Ben Whishaw in The Hour (BBC America)

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy

Zooey Deschanel in New Girl (Fox)

Lena Dunham in Girls (HBO)

Tina Fey in 30 Rock  (NBC)

Julia Louis Dreyfuss in Veep (HBO)

Mary-Louis Parker in Weeds (Showtime)

Martha Plimpton in Raising Hope (Fox)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama

Claire Danes in Homeland (Showtime)

Sarah Michelle Gellar in Ringer (The CW)

Jennifer Love Hewitt in The Client List (Lifetime)

Julianna Margulies in The Good Wife (CBS)

Elizabeth McGovern in Downton Abbey (PBS)

Anna Paquin in True Blood (HBO)

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Miniseries or Movie

Kristin Davis in Of Two Minds (Lifetime)

Anne Heche in Girl Fight (Lifetime)

Rose McGowan in The Pastor’s Wife (Lifetime)

Emily Osment in Cyberbully (ABC Family)

Sara Paxton in Blue Eyed Butcher (Lifetime)

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series

Charlie Day in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)

Danny DeVito in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (FX)

Donald Glover in Community (NBC)

Nick Offerman in Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Danny Pudi in Community (NBC)

Matt Walsh in Veep (HBO)

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama

Bruce Campbell in Burn Notice (USA)

Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones (HBO)

Giancarlo Espositto in Breaking Bad (AMC)

Michael Pitt in Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Michael Shannon in Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Alexander Skarsgard in True Blood (HBO)

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Miniseries or Movie

Powers Boothe in Hatfields and McCoys (History Channel)

Justin Bruening in Blue-Eyed Butcher (Lifetime)

Mark-Paul Gosselaar in Hide (TNT)

Sir Roger Moore in A Princess For Christmas (Hallmark Movie Channel)

Tony Shalhoub in Five (Lifetime)

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy

Alison Brie in Community (NBC)

Kristen Chenoweth in GCB (ABC)

Anna Chlumsky in Veep (HBO)

Gillian Jacobs in Community (NBC)

Cloris Leachman in Raising Hope (Fox)

Aubrey Plaza in Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in Drama

Christine Baranski in The Good Wife (CBS)

Kristen Bauer Von Straten in True Blood (HBO)

Kelly MacDonald in Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Christina Ricci in Pan Am (ABC)

Sophia Turner in Game of Thrones (HBO)

Deborah Ann Woll in True Blood (HBO)

Supporting Actress In A Miniseries or Movie

Tammy Blanchard in Of Two Minds (Lifetime)

Kaley Cuoco in Drew Peterson: Untouchable (Lifetime)

Lisa Edelstein in Blue-Eyed Butcher (Lifetime)

Jessica Lange in American Horror Story (FX)

Jena Malone in Hatfields and McCoy (History Channel)