Clone (2008)

We have had a large number of “snow days” here in my neck of the woods lately. A typical winter storm here is usually no more than three inches at max; so having the sky rip open and dump two servings of nearly two feet each is unheard of. Needless to say, my state was declared a federal “disaster area”, and my work has been closed. What a better time to get some new material up for this very blog! Since I can’t leave the house at all, I was browsing Hulu’s “BBC” section and noticed something I had not heard of tucked away that could be useful for this blog. The show in question is a 2008 BBC3 production starring Jonathan Pryce, Mark Gatiss, Fiona Glascott, Oliver Maltman and Stuart Mcloughlin as the titular character – Clone.

Clone is the story of a secretive Army program to create a bloodthirsty killing machine for use in war. Since this is a comedy show with a science fiction lean and not a Universal Soldier film, one can immediately guess that this test went horribly wrong rendering the clone about as menacing as a kitten playing with a ball of yarn. Mark Gatiss (of Sherlock and League of Gentlemen fame) plays Colonel Black, a seemingly crazy and borderline psychopathic man put in charge of MI7, and ultimately the clone program as a whole. When the clone, Albert, is “born” his scientist “father” Dr. Victor Blenkinsop (as played by Brazil and Pirates of the Caribbean’s Jonathan Pryce) has his reputation shattered, and takes Albert away to a small village to protect him and hopefully “fix” his warrior programming. It seems Col. Black wants Albert dead and any involved in the failed experiment reprimanded. The duo spend their time hiding in a tiny pub and attempting to convince a math genius (Rose, as played by Fiona Glascott) to help them out.

BBC3 Clone 2008

With the all-star cast involved, one would imagine that Clone would have been a runaway smash hit of epic proportions. Sadly, while not terrible, the show does have some noticeable problems and only ran a paltry six episodes. The show itself was created in the midst of a rebranding of sorts within BBC3, a venture where big-wigs there decided to start targeting a younger demographic than it normally does. All of the actors involved are pretty good, and aside from some superior league scenery chewing by Mark Gatiss, most play things pretty well. I’m not digging on Gatiss, but the way he portrays Colonel Black is reminiscent of Doctor Evil from the Austin Powers films. A character as such would be brilliant in a skit comedy, but here it’s a bit silly. Equally over-the-top is Albert the clone. Just about everything he does is a situation of not understanding human conventions and culture, but not in a subtle way like other “fish out of water” comedies. One notable early scene shows Albert urinating all over a desert table full of éclairs and danishes, you know classy highbrow humor.

I think that is the real problem with this show is who it is targeting. On one hand it is written in such a way that it reminds me of another quirky BBC comedy called My Hero. That show was a story of an alien that came to Earth and became a superhero despite his complete inability to understand humans. Like Mork and Mindy, My Hero dealt with the adult relationships this alien obtained and how he became more human. Sadly Clone seems to not be written for adults at all, and had it not been for a bit of adult humor within, I would assume this was a kid’s show. It bounces from situation to situation where Albert does something shocking like staring into someone’s window while they are intimate with no clothes on, then him getting scolded about it. It’s like a raunchy version of Curious George. This identity crisis within the script keeps it hard to pin down and ultimately keeps it as nothing more than low budget filler television.

All in all, Clone is fine if you have some free time and want a humorous show to waste some time on. Stuart Mcloughlin is a good comedy clown, and would work really well in similar shows. Sadly the rest of the cast is severely underutilized and seemingly out of place to the point where you may wonder why an actor such as Pryce, or even Gatiss for that matter, bothered with such a show. I didn’t hate Clone, but I can see the spark it holds, the potential to be great show that was ultimately wasted for an audience that probably wouldn’t even like the show.

Mark Gatiss in Clone, a BBC3 comedy

Utopia: Episode 2 (2013)

Spoilers and speculation ahead:

 

At the end of episode one, our recurring question of “Who is Jessica Hyde?” seemed to finally be more clear, but we don’t get to that right away. Episode two of Utopia starts in the same shocking fashion as the previous episode. Just in case we all forgot the crux of all the show’s intrigue, a sought after manuscript for a second volume of an infamous graphic novel called the “Utopia Experiments” makes another appearance. If you recall, the book was written by a man who supposedly not only predicted the future, but went crazy and killed himself because of the first volume. Could it be a coincidence, or is the group of assassins seeking the book a dead giveaway that the pages of loose paper are more than they seem? This time we see a man looking at a hidden copy he has stored in his cellar, away from the prying eyes of a nondescript vagrant rummaging through trash nearby. After pulling up boards from a secret walled stash, the man wraps his find, places it in a post box, and nonchalantly jumps in from of a large truck on a highway.

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One of my biggest unanswered questions from episode one was the relationship between the health civil servant storyline and the graphic novel. I assumed we would have to wait weeks to find this out, but luckily this was explained (somewhat) within the first ten minutes. It seems that an organization was created in the 1970’s to stop bio-terrorism from the Soviet Union. Dubbed “The Network”, this organization answered to no nation and was left to get their job done by any means necessary. We can surmise that the graphic novel somehow predicted something to do with the network since we learn of the author’s connections to the organization. In the previous episode, we also found out that Becky’s dad died of a manmade disease called DEALS and the genetic code for DEALS was imprinted into the pages of the book. We find out that the two unconventional assassins that have followed around the main characters are in some way associated with “The Network” – we finally have a sliver of a clue what the over-all plot of this story is!

The cinematography is strong in this episode as well as the first, and even the small touches like a yellow camera filter used on most outdoor scenes, gives the show an otherworldly, almost unsettling, feeling. The saturation doesn’t make the show look purposefully old, like some other productions try to do with yellow filters, but it makes grass greener than normal, the sky brighter, and anything yellow REALLY stand out. I’m not sure if this is just a nod to the fact that the show’s logo is a simple yellow title card, or if there is some other meaning hiding in the background. General color theory holds that yellow is the color of sunshine. It’s associated with joy, happiness, intellect, and energy. This seems in stark contrast with the themes of the show other than the name “Utopia”, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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The inclusion of Fiona O’Shaughnessy as Jessica Hyde is a welcome addition to the cast as her robotic, distant, and unfeeling nature really helps to offset the eccentricities of the rest of the cast. She’s like a cross between La Femme Nikita and Linda Hamilton’s character from Terminator. You can tell that she’s been out there running from “The Network” for years and has become a master manipulator in the race to stay alive. She hardened, has little empathy, and trusts few people. Her character has a mysterious past we learn a little about involving her father’s position in all of this. You see, Jessica’s father was originally named Philip Carvel – the man who originally helped start “The Network”. Carvel ended up in a psychiatric ward where he was given a new name – Mark Deyn – and started drawing as part of his art therapy. I bet you can see where this is headed: Deyn was the man who created “The Utopia Expiriments”!

Episode two of Utopia seems to have all the answers, but I wonder if we can take the Wilson Wilson view in all of this: This all seems well and good, but what if the whole thing isn’t this simple, I bet this is merely a cover for the real conspiracy within. Aside from that, they did tease us with another whopper of a question – Who does Becky work for? She’s been at odds with Jessica since day one, and for the most of the program I assumed it was just catty girls being catty girls as usual. Towards the end of the episode we see her slip into a payphone and inform someone that she has Grant and he knows where the manuscript is…..dum….dum…DUM!

 

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Onward to episode three!