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'Utopia Falls' Might Be a Sci-Fi Musical, but There's Nothing New Here
February 14, 2020  | By David Hinckley

Utopian communities of the future work out about as well on television as utopian communities of the past worked out in real life.

But TV keeps creating them, maybe because they always come with arrogant leaders and sympathetic underdogs.

The latest putative TV paradise, New Babyl, springs to life on Utopia Falls, a 10-episode series premiering Friday on Hulu.

Civilization on Earth has all been wiped out by something called The Great Flash, which seems to have been the culmination of technology being used for harm and destruction rather than the common good.

With the planet's surface uninhabitable, a small colony survived underground for hundreds of years before finally emerging to launch Earth 2.0.

That would be New Babyl, whose figurative promotional brochure says everyone has enough to eat, everyone has a job, everyone gets along, and everyone understands that a community survives by learning from the mistakes of the past.

To celebrate that realization and renewal, New Babyl holds an annual performance festival called the New Exemplar, in which 24 young people create music and dance that salutes the glory of the state.

It's like an earthly heaven in which Glee has broken out.

Except that what if this façade of camaraderie and solidarity turned out to mean no more than an emoji? And what if The Exemplar were really closer to The Hunger Games, just without all that sharpened metal?

No, New Babyl isn't the new Woodstock, with peace, love, and music. Its leaders, a small group called The Tribunal, set a series of harsh rules in the name of safety and security. These rules are enforced by The Authority, a familiar incarnation of the amoral policing unit found in every future dystopia.

Many generations removed from Earth's earlier inhabitants, the current population is deliberately kept unschooled in any vestige of history. That all went away in the Great Flash and knowing anything about it would only distract people from focusing on the present and future.

Only problem is, human nature didn't go away. When the 24 contestants in the New Exemplar competition decide to go off-campus and throw themselves a welcome dance party, they come across something they were never supposed to see.

It's an archive of the past, with the voice of an unseen Snoop Dogg as the sort-of librarian.

The first person to enter the archive is Aliyah (Robyn Alomar, top), who immediately recognizes both its significance and her own potential conflict of interest, since her father sits on the Tribunal.

Aliyah's partner in this discovery, Bodhi (Akiel Julien, top), has less of a conflict. He's from the Reform Sector of New Babyl, the place where potential troublemakers have been sent to be straightened out.

Bohdi and his friend, Mags (Mickeey Nguyen), are the bad boys of the competition – in contrast to Aliyah's straight-arrow boyfriend, Tempo (Robbie Graham-Kuntz), who's all in with the New Babyl program.

Music, teenagers, grownups with a secret. Yeah, we're not betting New Babyl will emerge from this in anything like the shape we found it.

In that longer arc, Utopia Falls breaks no new ground. We've seen each of these dramas and met each of these characters before. 

But the mix-and-match isn't bad, and we do get a fair amount of energetic song and dance in between the efforts of the elders to keep these infernal kids from learning things they're not supposed to know.

It seems you can blow the whole planet up, and somehow people will still find a way to be people.

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