It's safe to say that everyone involved with Fox's new reality series Utopia knows it's a huge risk.
The ambitious project, which kicks off a three-night premiere on Sunday at 8/7c on Fox, places 15 "pioneers" in an isolated setting with only the barest of essentials and tasks them with building a new society. And there will be no shortage of drama: In just the first few days of production, which have been live-streamed, there have already been physical altercations, an expulsion, an emergency trip to the hospital, and a splinter group setting up their own community within the larger group.
Pro: Unlike other reality shows, which rely on (sometimes silly) competitions to put its participants into action and give structure to the episodes,Utopia's only mandate to its players is to build a community as they see fit. This approach makes the experience less about winning or losing and perhaps will allow the show to really focus on the contestants' character and behavior.Con: With no real guidelines, there's nothing necessarily preventing all the pioneers from just lying around working on their tans all day. In other words, things could get boring pretty quickly.
Green says: "You have to have faith that people will generate interesting stories about the circumstance they find themselves in. If everyone had decided to do no work, they wouldn't generate any money or they'd find themselves hungry very quickly. We believe there'll probably be an ebb and flow in the way the community works... It does completely change the way that you approach a show. We haven't made any plans, because ultimately, this is about their plans. If I were to say I have plans for it, that would be missing the whole point of the show."2. The viewing timeline will be unlike anything else on TV.
Pro: Most reality productions last only a few months, but, if it's a success, Fox intends to produce and air Utopia for an entire year, making the scope of the social experiment one of a kind for TV.
Con: It's just as huge a commitment from viewers as it is the contestants. If the show is a total bomb with viewers, Fox will have to fill some gaping holes in its schedule (the show will air regularly on Tuesdays and Fridays each week) or tough it out with potentially lackluster ratings.
Green says: "It's the sheer scope of the project that attracted me — the fact that we're not setting out with a set goal, a set endpoint in mind. I think it's the closest [we've] ever been to doing something like The Truman Show, but a 5-acre site covered in cameras is extremely difficult to manage. And the fact it's got 24/7 viewing does make it the most ambitious show this far that's ever been attempted."
Exclusive: Get a first look at the cast of Utopia
3. The cast is an interesting collection of people.
Pro: Almost all of the drama from the show will come from the unique (and opposing) viewpoints of the pioneers. For example, Jonathan, a high school teacher and pastor, views his time on the show as a mission to spread the word of God to other contestants, which includes a naked yoga enthusiast, a former drug dealer and a polyamorist.
Con: The show hasn't even aired and some of the cast isn't playing nice. One competitor, born-again virgin Andrea, was expelled for bringing a cell phone and another, contractor Josh, was almost expelled for sexually harassing some of the women. (The group ultimately decided to let him stay after imposing the closest thing they have to a restraining order.)
Green says: "It seems like the simplest thing in the world, give people a slice of paradise and a chance to do whatever they want. But what seems to be happening is people struggle with even the most basic decision- making."
4. That cast could change throughout the year.
Pro: The show allows the group to vote people out if they aren't contributing to the new society in the way the group likes. At various points, the cast chooses two people to possibly be replaced and the producers then provide two possible replacements (potentially fans who have been watching at home!). Whichever player the group votes in then decides which player leaves in his or her place. This system should keep the show fresh while also illuminating which players are true leaders who can sieze control.
Con: The show could end with a completely different cast, which would seem a bit like a failure in creating a successful society.
Green says: "I'm sure we'll lose some people to attrition over the months. But I think that all of the 15 people that we put into the initial group have all entered with the view that they should be able to last the long haul, and I would really hope that over the course of a year, if we did one replacement every month, there would still be at least three original pioneers left. But you never know, there may be more.
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5. The show could be an illuminating look at what our current society is doing wrong.
Pro: The players get to decide their own form of government, which could be entertaining in the days of political gridlock in Washington. (Green says one thing most of the initial cast agrees upon is that the current U.S. government isn't working at all.)
Con: We might not like what the show reveals about our current way of doing things. And of course, the alternatives could be even harder to watch.
Green says: "We've tried to reflect the views of every group, pretty much, within America. It should be fascinating on a human level and possibly on a societal level too. They might prove some very interesting things about the way that people communicate with each other. It's definitely a hope that we can learn something from this, but we might just learn that you need government."
6. It's closer to The Real World than Survivor.
Pro: If the show works as intended, the people will be the stars, not the larger conceit of the show.
Con: Ultimately, there's no way of knowing what the show will become until it premieres.
Green says: "It requires a belief that the small things that people do are fascinating. It requires a belief in the ebb and flow of human relationships. It's fascinating to watch, and if this works as an ultimate piece, I think it will be a living, breathing, incredibly intimate and intense human soap opera that the world can interact with."
Utopia premieres Sunday at 8/7c on Sunday on Fox. It will air regularly on Tuesdays and Fridays at 8/7c Check out the first five minutes of the premiere. Will you watch?