Why Utopia Works

As a lover of comic books, I’m surprised it took so long for Utopia to end up on my radar. Now that it’s there, it’s easily one of the coolest shows I’ve watched all year. And given how much tv I’ve been watching recently, that’s a high bar. 

Utopia was a dark, horrifying, fun ride that honestly hasn’t had a bad episode yet. I’m waiting for the next season. While we wait, let’s break down the first season of Utopia and talk about why it works.

Utopia is the story of a group of comic fans obsessed with a comic called Dystopia. They’ve all been waiting for a follow-up series, called Utopia.

But they’re not just waiting for the story. They’re waiting to see what horrific tragedy Utopia might predict. Because this group of online buddies doesn’t just love Dystopia for the story. They’ve spent years looking deep into the storyline and artwork for clues as to what’s going on in the real world.

This is something I think a lot of us think we want to happen. I’ve had fantasies of opening wardrobes to find new worlds since I was a child. Like everyone else, I find nothing but mothballs and old coats. 

But what if I did find something? What if it turned out that your favorite fantasy world was real? I think most of us would find out pretty damn fast that we don’t really want that and we’d like to go back to our regular lives right now, talking animals or not. 

That being said, it’s really fun to think about. And that’s where a lot of the enjoyment of this show comes from. It’s a very realistic view of what might happen if our conspiracy theories turned out to be true. 

Another choice the creators made that worked well for them is to make the main character, Jessica Hyde, totally selfish and crazy. She is willing to do literally anything to survive, including straight up killing innocent people.

This was a brave choice. And it could have gone bad. I mean, we all love an anti-hero, but your MC has to be at least a little bit likable. That’s hard when your MC starts the series by shooting an innocent woman in the head.

And yet, in the way the story progresses, you don’t hate her. You understand where she’s coming from. Maybe you still don’t agree with everything she does. But you at least sort of understand why she did it.

Finally, Utopia managed to find the most perfect item that makes things go viral. It has an incredibly catchy catchphrase.

Stay alive, Jessica Hyde. 

It’s a great line that gives a lot of information. Who’s our main character? Jessica Hyde. There’s some reason why she might not stay alive, but people sure want her to. It also sums up the biggest storyline for the first season. What does Jessica Hyde want to do? Stay alive. What does the bad guy want to do? Kill her. It’s a simple conflict that has a complex resolution. The best kind.

Altogether, this show was designed to draw you in, make you scream out loud, and wait with bated breath to see what happens next. Things we could all do well to remember in our own writing.

Stay alive, Jessica Hyde. 

After a year of nightmares, Sennett and her family need a vacation. Together with Godfrey, they’ve faced assassins, killer AI dogs, mind-altering viruses and politicians. So they’re setting off for Station Central, the ultimate vacation destination with water parks, roller coasters, fine dining and the best hotels in the stations.

But they’re barely off the ship when Godfrey finds himself embroiled in Station politics that he can’t seem to avoid. Sennett discovers not one, but two people stalking her on the station. One of whom might have the secret to her birth family.

Through it all, Sennett and Godfrey are haunted by a darker set of questions. Where are the Hollow Suits, and what are they planning?

Preorder Station Central now on Smashwords.

Why Upload Works

Why isn’t everyone talking about Upload? It’s a clever, funny show that the husband and I binged in two days. Now everyone else needs to binge it in two days.

Upload is about a man named Nathan, a computer programmer. The show starts with Nathan being in a horrible car accident. His body isn’t going to make it. So his wealthy girlfriend, Ingrid, pressures him to let his mind be uploaded into a simulated afterlife called Lake View. 

So yes, this show is about a dead man living in a computer simulation. 

Lakeview is a paradise. It’s everything you could ever want. Like a retirement village you wish you’d end up in. The rooms are amazing, the food is magnificent. You can change the weather anytime you like. You can eat, sleep, swim, love, have sex. It’s just like being alive.

Except it isn’t, not really. And Lakeview is expensive. Nathan doesn’t have the kind of money someone would need to exist there. So Ingrid is paying all the bills. She’s entirely in control of Nathan, even down to what he wears. He’s entirely at her mercy. This isn’t a great set up under the best circumstances. Then, Nathan starts falling for his handler, a woman named Nora. As his very existence depends on Ingrid’s goodwill, this is a dangerous crush.

Hilarity is sure to ensue.

So, let’s talk about why this works.

To start with, this is the rare original concept. There’s nothing else like it. While it does share some traits with other stories, I can honestly say I’ve never seen a show like it.

Now, this is hard to hold up as an example to follow. I mean, coming up with original stories is what all writers are trying to do. It’s freaking hard! As a side note, I don’t see a huge issue with retelling an old story with a fresh voice. Fairy tale retellings, quests to save the kingdom, a young woman befriending dragons. I’ll consume those stories all day long and ask for more. So long as the voice is fresh and the writer brings something new to the story, I’m going to love it.

That being said, sometimes writers use that as an excuse to play it too safe. We’re afraid to reach out to the weird. To experiment outside of set genres, or blend them in weird and new ways. Don’t be scared of this! It’s exactly what people want. 

Now, let’s take a look at the characters. At the start of the season, everyone seems like the asshole. Nathan’s wrapped up in his own tragedy, not noticing that he’s surrounded by people going through the same thing. Or worse. Let’s not forget that his mom and girlfriend watched his head get chopped right the hell off with no warning.

Ingrid, the girlfriend, is entirely an asshole. She is aware that she’s financially responsible for Nathan. And she’s not afraid to use that power to make him heel. And it’s not like he’s upset that he doesn’t have a big enough allowance. Early in the series, we find out that the people who don’t have money to pay for Lake View are called Two Gigs. They have only two gigs of data a month. When that’s gone, they can’t do anything until the next month. That’s the fate that waits for Nathan if Ingrid cuts him off. She’s not shy about threatening it.

Then there’s Nathan’s friend and partner, Jamie. He’s been letting Nathan’s calls go to voicemail since he died. There are reasons, and they have something to do with the app he and Nathan were making. The app that Nathan can’t remember anything about. 

All that being said, the characters make some really hard choices. Like, things I don’t know if I could do. 

Ingrid is having a relationship with a dead man. Even if she’s being a bitch about it, she’s actively choosing to not leave him for someone who is, you know, alive. And she’s a sexy blond with a shit ton of money. It’s not like she doesn’t have options. 

Do you remember I was talking earlier about the Two Gigs? They become a crusade for Nathan. He can’t stand that these people have nothing when it would cost nothing to give them anything. He didn’t have to care about these people. He doesn’t have anything. Not anything that’s his. But he wants them to be okay.

There are harder decisions than that, for sure. But to go into them would ruin some truly wonderful surprises. 

Sorry, I know that was super vague. But a lot of the fun from this season was the misdirection. I’m going to try to explain what I mean without ruining too much. You see, there’s a mystery in this first season. Part of Nathan’s memory is missing. Someone removed it and deleted it. That’s not spoiling much, it’s in the very first episode. This sets off a list of mysteries that gets deeper and darker. 

And it’s not what you think. That’s the great thing about this whole season. Whatever you think is going on, you’re wrong. 

Finally, let’s talk about the morals of the story. There’s always a moral, whether writers mean there to be or not. Sometimes the moral is hidden, soft like a whisper. Sometimes it smacks you in the face like a dead fish. You didn’t need it, didn’t want it, and it smells rotten.

Sometimes it smacks you in the face like a cold wave in the ocean. It’s undeniable and it’s cleansing. That’s how the moral was here. I’m pretty sure you can guess it, just based on this post.

There was a lot to love about Upload. A lot to learn too. Let me know what you thought about it in the comments below. 

Want to know why another show, movie or book works? Suggest it in the comments.

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