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Utopia Falls - Season One - Review: Great Gaia! This Series Is Flames!



THIS REVIEW IS FULL OF SPOILERS. IF YOU HAVE NOT YET WATCHED THE FULL SEASON, DO NOT CONTINUE WITH THIS ARTICLE UNLESS YOU WANT TO BE SPOILED.

Utopia Falls is a unique new genre-bending series on Hulu that was created in partnership with CBC. At first glance, it has all the hallmarks of a typical teen drama, the angst, and romance, but then it makes itself unique and rapidly carved out a spot for itself in the television genre spectrum with flashy performances and complex character arcs. The series was created by R.T. Thorne and developed for television by prolific Executive Producer and Showrunner, Joseph Mallozzi of Stargate and Dark Matter fame. The concept is something all its own combining various aspects from across the teen drama and sci-fi spectrums. This show is Hunger Games meets the various Got Talent reality shows. It has the very distinct Mallozzi way of storytelling, mixed with the unique flair of Thorne. This was a brilliant partnership to help bring this series to life.

The series centers on the Exemplar Academy within the futuristic colony of New Babyl. This show takes place in a post-apocalypse world where humanity was forced underground after a nuclear war left the land uninhabitable. Then one day, a brave leader, Gaia, ventured back to the surface and brought humanity above ground to form a new colony. Gaia is worshipped by the people of New Babyl for her bravery. But despite its progressive nature, New Babyl is a society trying to forget the past to build a new future. The problem is that in the process of trying to erase the past they have lost the ability to learn from it. That is where a group of talented kids comes into play. They have all been accepted into the prestigious Performing Arts Academy, the Exemplar. Each year only the very best of the best are accepted from each sector. This group is the 73rd group to attend and compete to win.

Their colony is broken into four key sectors: Progress, Nature, Industry, and Reform. All perform the duty it sounds like they do with Reform being where those who dare to be different or commit a crime end up. Of the main group of teens: Aliyah 5 (Robyn Alomar) and Tempo 3 (Robbie Graham-Kuntz) come from Progress, Brooklyn 2 (Humberly González) and Apollo 4 (Phillip Lewitski) are from Industry, Bohdi 2 (Akiel Julien) and Mags 2 (Mickeey Nguyen) are from Reform, and Sage 5 (Devyn Nekoda) is from Nature. Each has the great honor and duty of representing their sector with the goal of ultimately winning the competition.

The colony is overseen by an organization known as the Tribunal which is led by Chancellor Diara (Alex Castillo) with Authority Phydra (Kate Drummond) as head of the security group known as the Authority. Gerald (Jeff Teravainen) is a member of the Tribunal and Aliyah's father. He and Phydra have a very tense association. The Exemplar Academy is overseen by Mentor Watts (Huse Madhavji) with the aid of Mentor Chapter (Milton Barnes).

The Tribunal does a good job of keeping things from the past away from the population by crafting a very structured way of life for the citizens of the colony. That is until a mysterious invitation finds its way to all the Exemplar attendees their first night at the academy. The invite lures them into the woods where Bohdi and Aliyah discover The Archive (voiced by Snoop Dogg) by accident. Hidden within The Archive is a whole library of content from the world before the apocalypse. The Archive can show the teens music, fashion, and all level of archived footage from the past. While the two of them keep it secret at first, they end up letting the other candidates know about it. At first, they just use it to add to their performances, but soon it becomes a rallying point where they see the things that are wrong within New Babyl. Each of the teens goes on a journey of self-discovery and growth as they take a stand against the injustices they see within the colony.

Aliyah 5's monologue of the past launches the series and tells the audience about Gaia and New Babyl. She is an impressive dancer with a strong sense of self and loyalty to her friends. She starts the season in a stable relationship with Tempo 3, but as the season goes along, they end up at odds. She finds herself attracted to Bohdi 2. More importantly, Aliyah turns out to be the key to the launching of a revolution. It is her handprint that gets her and Bohdi access to The Archive for the first time. A revelation that would lead her to ask many questions that results in her finding out from her father that Anna (Genelle Williams), her mother, who she had thought was dead for the past twelve years, may still be alive but had ventured outside of the safety of the shield protecting the colony. To protect their daughter, Gerald had faked Anna's death to avoid the stigma that came with her decision to leave. Anna had also found The Archive and become enamored by it which is where she learned that there may be more groups of humanity outside of the shield. She became obsessed with that information. When Aliyah was a child her mother brought her to it, which is why she was able to access it when she found it with Bohdi. Aliyah pieces enough together that Mentor Chapter intervenes and reveals to her that not only does he know her mother and that she is alive and well, and still deeply loves her, but has started a new life in a rival colony known as New Lazarus. Mentor Chapter was able to use a Sonic Disruptor that Anna had pieced together to gain access back into New Babyl to help facilitate a revolution. The season ended with Aliyah in Authority custody and her mom gaining access back into New Babyl thanks to Bodhi who had the Sonic Disruptor in his possession.

Tempo 3 was raised in the Progress sector by the equivalent of today's modern-day foster system, but thanks to mysterious intervention by his birth parents he was always well cared for. He, like Aliyah, is a very gifted dancer and extremely committed to doing well. He starts the season in a relationship with Aliyah, but as noted above, that hits some bumps in the road that sends their paths in opposite directions. Tempo is a very by-the-book kind of guy and when the rest of the group is getting excited about what The Archive offers them, he is ready to let the Tribunal know all about it. He doesn't, but he does end up destroying it in a vain attempt to prevent the knowledge of the past from destroying the future. That puts him at odds with Aliyah and the whole group including his best friend Apollo 4. Many times, throughout the season it looks like he is going to fully sell them out to protect himself, but in the end, he comes through for them. It is because of him that Bohdi is ultimately able to escape the city in the season finale and Brooklyn and Mags escape the stage after their rebellious performance. Through the chaos of it all, he not only becomes the de facto winner of the 73rd Exemplar, mainly because the rest of the finalists are on the run from the Authority, but he also learns a startling revelation about his parentage. It is revealed to him by Phydra that she is indeed his biological mother. His father might even still be alive, but she doesn't know anything about where he might be. Tempo ends the season in Authority custody, but his connection to Phydra might very well save him long enough to help his friends and redeem himself.

Bohdi 2 was raised in the Reform sector, but unlike others, he wasn't sent there for doing anything wrong. His father was sent to Reform and when he passed away Bohdi was left to be raised along with Mags 2 by Moore Times (Dwain Murphy). Bodhi is a gifted singer and after being exposed to The Archive he becomes a powerful rapper delivering important messages through his rhymes. When he and Aliyah end up in Authority custody after their first Archive inspired performance, she is set free and he is left to face down Authority interrogation. It is a lot like modern-day society where birth status can buy one freedom over another who is in the exact same position for the exact same crime. Bohdi is eventually set free, but only after his fellow Exemplar candidates stage a coup and refuse to perform until he is released. That experience is a big moment for him. He comes out of it changed and more ready than ever to fight for the citizen of New Babyl. This, of course, gets him into trouble and by the end of the season, he is on the run for his life. His season concludes at the ends of the shield with the Sonic Disruptor in hand, Mags and Moore Times by his side. That group is the first to meet Anna, Aliyah's mom, and she didn't exactly seem super friendly especially when she found out her daughter wasn't with them. Bohdi cares for Aliyah a great deal, so hopefully, he and Anna can bond over that and work together to save Aliyah, Gerald, and all the friends that they had to leave behind.

Mags 2 was raised by Moore Times in Reform. He and Bohdi are best friends and a lot like brothers. They mess around with each other and tease one another, but when it counts, they are always there for each other. Mags is a gifted singer and he can throw down some serious dance moves as well. He is loyal to a fault and cares about his friends. He helps facilitate the relationships between Bohdi and Aliyah as well as Brooklyn and Sage. In the case of the latter, he even plays a part in helping them reconnect and reconcile. He was also arrested during the riot that sent Sage to the hospital after being injured. He sacrificed himself to give Sage and others a chance to get away showing a great amount of courage and bravery. He was released in time to perform in the semi-finals and win a spot in the finals with Aliyah and Brooklyn. When it came time for their final performances, he snuck up on stage with Brooklyn 2 and together they delivered a call to arms song that helped kick off the revolution the group aimed to launch. When it came time for Brooklyn to deliver her moving speech to all of New Babyl he stood at her back and was there for her. Mags is a character that could use more screen time to get to know him better. He is not one to give up and his loyalty makes him an invaluable member of the group.

Apollo 4 starts off the season as a typical best friend side-kick character to Tempo. Apollo, like Brooklyn, is from the Industry sector. He is a gifted musician who plays multiple instruments. He appears to be a quiet and reserved guy, but it becomes apparent there is a lot more to him than meets the eye. He is a natural-born rebel and is very loyal to his friends. Once he gets a chance to be alone with The Archive he becomes fascinated with Native American culture and feels a deep-rooted connection to what he sees. That inspires a change in his music and leads him to become bolder and surer of himself. His story is a journey of discovering his heritage and knowledge of the spiritual people he comes from and that plays a big part in his arc throughout the season. He is also the founding member of Vice Cartel, a rebellious artistic group. He rallies the group to help his Exemplar friends in the final confrontation of the season with the Authority. He ended the season laying down the track for his rebellious friends as he was unable to get out of the Nature sector to join them.

Sage 5 is a very talented dancer who has learned to weaponize her dance as is seen in the season finale. She was raised in the Nature sector by Gran Riel (Brenda Bazinet) and Gran Chyra (Diane Johnstone) after her parents gave her up. She was raised around a lot of kids and as Brooklyn rightfully picks up on that fact has made her turn inwards and put up walls. From the moment Sage and Brooklyn locked eyes it was clear that there was a spark. Mags was the first to pick up on it that first night in the woods and he encouraged Sage to dance with Brooklyn. While Brooklyn was clearly into Sage and vice-versa it took the dancer a good while to let down some of her walls to let Brooklyn close. By the time they shared their first kiss their connection felt earned and it was nice that it was Sage who initiated the kiss. They got a short time to show off the adorable nature of their budding relationship, but it didn't last long before circumstances set them on divergent trajectories for a while. After the riot where she was injured, Sage felt abandoned by Brooklyn, who had gone off on a mission with Apollo, Bohdi, and Aliyah instead of meeting her as they had planned. That caused her to push Brooklyn away and by the time she realized, that she did still really care about Brooklyn it looked like it was too late. Brooklyn had moved on to focusing on the mission of rebellion and trying to win Exemplar. But Sage took the advice Mags gave her, and despite being voted out of the competition, she stuck around to try to see if she could rekindle anything with Brooklyn. At the underground dance club on the eve of the launch of the rebellion, they began to rekindle their relationship and when Brooklyn had to go on the run from the Authority it was Sage who ran to find her. It was also Sage who took a stand and singlehandedly fought off the Authority to keep them from arresting Brooklyn. She ended the season cut off from the rest of the group and her grans, but she was at least with Brooklyn at the Academy.

Brooklyn 5 is a rebellious and sassy singer from Industry who can also drop some dance moves. She is a late addition to the group making a fashionably late entrance to the Academy. The moment she walks in she sets her eyes on Sage and it was obvious she was very interested. Even before their first kiss, she nicknamed the dancer "Sweet Sage" and said it in such a tender and caring way that one could almost see Sage’s heart-melting. She pursued Sage and upon staging a romantic dinner in Sage's room she earned herself a kiss from her dancer. The two went on to have a brief romance where Brooklyn had to constantly reassure Sage that she was deserving of her attention. Their relationship started tender and remained that way even when the two temporarily separated. While Sage suffered from a feeling of abandonment by Brooklyn after the riot, Brooklyn was dealing with her own trauma. Not only did she watch Apollo nearly die, but for a brief moment in time, she thought she was going to lose Sage as well. Then to top that off she learned by accident that she had been labeled as Dissonant which meant she didn't fit in anywhere. That made her doubt herself which caused further issues with Sage as Brooklyn needed time to process everything that she had learned while trying to be there for Sage. When Sage shut her out that caused her further self-doubt, but luckily she was taken under Gran Riel's care and learned from her that she too was Dissonant. Gran Riel had gone on to live a very fulfilling life and that helped boost Brooklyn's confidence. Between Gran Riel and Gran Chyra, Brooklyn regained her confidence and was moved to deliver a moving message to Sage through a beautiful song. It took some time, but Brooklyn and Sage reconciled by season's end they literally fought to save each other. Brooklyn ended the season at the Academy cut off from the rest of the group, but at least she was with Sage holding hands and snuggled up against each other for comfort. Together they are a force to be reckoned with and if they can get back to the rest of their friends they may have a shot at making it out of the city.

The adults got equally compelling storylines. Phydra, as noted above is the head of the Authority and Tempo's mom. Drummond clearly loved playing the sinister side of Phydra, but she also showed that Phydra does have a bit of a soft spot for her son even though she gave him up. She appears to be very power-hungry which leads her to stage her coup. She had Chancellor Diara unceremoniously removed from power. Perhaps her thirst for power was because she came up through Reform and she wanted more, or maybe because she was just always corrupt, but either way, it could be said that Tempo was lucky she gave him up. He is honorable to a fault, but learning the truth about his mom inspired him to become a better man, presumably to not end up like her.

A much better example of a parent is Gerald, Aliyah's father, who at times through the episodes looked like he had questionable motives as well. It turns out he was just doing everything in his power to try to protect his daughter in all the ways he had been unable to protect his wife. When he confessed the truth to Aliyah about her mom it was obvious that it had hurt him that Anna left and even more so that he had to lie to his daughter about it all. When the group needed him the most, he risked everything to try to help them bring down the shield. For his aid he was assaulted and presumably arrested at the hands of Phydra, unable to complete his task to get the shield down. At least he tried and did everything he could to help the teens and his daughter. With Anna back in the city things could get quite interesting for him pending he can find a way out of Authority custody. Teravainen brought so much heart to Gerald as he fought to protect his daughter.

This series isn't perfect, it does suffer from the typical pacing issues most short season shows suffer from. Both the triangle between Tempo, Aliyah, and Bohdi as well as the relationship between Brooklyn and Sage suffered from having to be rushed. The latter only got a single episode after their first kiss before their relationship imploded. Granted that time apart helped them both grow a lot, but a little more time of seeing them as a couple would have made their separation and reunion more impactful. Thankfully González and Nekoda have impeccable chemistry and found the right beats to capitalize on the emotion they needed to bring to Brooklyn and Sage's beautiful connection to life. They made these two so easy to root for and cheer on as they fell in love and reunited. The trio wasn't quite as rushed because at least Tempo and Aliyah were already established as a couple, but the Aliyah and Bohdi’s budding romance could have used a little more time to grow as well. They got more room to grow and mature than Brooklyn and Sage did, but not by much. Again, this isn't the fault of the writers, but a typical issue caused by short seasons. Unlike their long season counterparts that often suffer from mid-season fluff and filler these short-season shows get to focus more on the core story, but usually at the cost of time to spend with certain relationships and dynamics. Add into all that the fact that all first season shows feel a bit uneven it is no surprise they suffered from some pacing issues.

Despite being billed as a teen show, Utopia Falls did a great job with balancing the amount of time they gave between the teen storylines and the adult storyline. In teen shows the adults often feel like afterthoughts and are relegated to the shadows, but with this show, the adults were as big a part of the story as the teens. That was a nice change of pace. The plot the adults were given was every bit as relevant as the teens of the show.

The show is very heavily set in the world of performing arts and had they miscast even a single one of these characters it could have been a grave detriment to the show. Luckily, they nailed the casting and not only got a cast that has great chemistry all around but has a multitude of talents. The performers playing the teens had to not only be talented actors, but they also had to be gifted singers, dancers, and musicians. González, Julien, and Nguyen are very talented singers and all three of them threw in some explosive dance moves as well. Alomar, Graham-Kuntz, and Nekoda are all skilled dancers who delivered some very beautiful dance performances. Lewitski tackles several instruments throughout the season and he believably executes flawless performances on them all. This group was the perfect team to tackle this multifaceted show.

This is a very serialized series. Every episode built on the one before it and created a world full of rich material to draw from. Questions were answered and new ones asked by the conclusion of this arc. New Lazarus, the city outside the shield where Anna has been living, could prove an interesting factor in a second season. Getting Aliyah, Tempo, and Gerald out of Authority custody could be an interesting task, but the guard who put Aliyah in her cell flashed his arm that showed he is a part of the rebellion, so they might have some unexpected allies hiding even within the Authority. It was implied that Mentor Watts saw Brooklyn and Sage at the Academy and he looked sympathetic. So those stuck back in the city may still have a shot of reuniting and getting out to join the others outside the shield. Apollo was safe with Sage's Grans, but they are all stuck in the city which isn't safe to be in now. There is also New Carthage, apparently New Babyl's overseers, lurking in the shadows.

If you haven't watched it yet, then go watch it immediately. It might be billed as a teen drama, but it is so much more than just that. It has an important message that is relevant to modern-day society. As an extra added bonus it also has a fantastic soundtrack and the dance and musical numbers are beautifully done. There is more than enough story in this series to fill many seasons, so hopefully, Hulu and CBC will unite to commission another season of this show. Despite its typical first season imperfections it is safe to say, as is often said in New Babyl, that this series is FLAMES!

Drop down to the comments and leave your thoughts about the season. What were your favorite dynamics? Do you have a favorite character? What were your favorite plot points? What do you think may happen in a potential Season Two?

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