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EntertainmentTVReality TV

'Utopia' review: Big brother? Big deal

A scene from the new Fox reality TV

A scene from the new Fox reality TV series, "Utopia." Credit: AP

THE SHOW "Utopia"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. on Fox/5

WHAT IT'S ABOUT One hundred thirty cameras. Five acres (in Santa Clarita). Fifteen castmates. And (ugh) no electricity or (really ugh) toilet paper. But the people are all here, they say, on this modest little patch of earth to create a utopia.

Here they will stay for a year, and you -- for a small price ($4.99 a month) -- can watch it all, day and night, unfold on the Web, at UtopiaTv.com. (There also is a free portal, with two live feeds.)

"We don't know where this is going to end," producer Conrad Green, formerly of "Dancing With the Stars," said earlier this summer. "We don't have a fixed point that we want this to reach. We hope that when 15 people eventually go into the compound of Utopia and spend this year, we'll develop something generally interesting. That's all we really are after."

MY SAY "Utopia" feels a little bit like football's fabled long ball, but thrown about 10 years too late. Interesting -- undeniably -- and potentially a game-changer, but also tossed well past that moment when something like "Big Brother" wasn't just a must-see novelty but a glimpse into the dark new art of TV voyeurism. (Yeah, there was a lot of hand-wringing back in those innocent days, wasn't there?) "The Truman Show," released in 1998, even seemed to anticipate our supposed deep-seated voyeuristic tendencies, abetted by that new thing called the World Wide Web.

But that was then, and this is now and . . . YAWNNNN . . . do we really care all that much about this kind of stuff anymore?

Certainly some of us do. "Brother" is a summer staple, while "Survivor" keeps chugging along. But they're also highly stylized, intensely produced and remorselessly manipulative. That is to say, they're TV shows. "Utopia," by contrast, is a TV beast. It even sprawls beyond the set to the Web, where insuperable hours of bleary-eyed boredom now stretch before us, on to the horizon. You want boring? Try watching a cast mate milk a cow or chase a chicken. Try listening to them talk -- prattle is the better word -- about mulching.

But you also may be certain that Fox has thought this out, and -- because this is Fox, after all -- has a few little tricks up its sleeve, too. The network is grandly calling this a "social experiment," but hookups, fights, back-stabbing and maybe even a rampaging cow or two could quickly turn "Utopia" into "Dystopia." At least that would be more entertaining.

BOTTOM LINE Nothing to see yet, other than endless Internet webcam live feeds, which, so far, hint at torpor.

GRADE Incomplete.

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