Thwarting the BBC (or, how to watch Utopia)

This time, when an English friend reminded me that Season 2 of Utopia was starting, I didn’t panic.

"Utopia" image courtesy of BBC Channel 4.

"Utopia" image courtesy of BBC Channel 4.

If you’re Stateside, you’ve likely never heard of this dystopian marvel. And that hurts. It hurts deeply because if you’re like any of the geeks in my inner sanctum, the TV show has everything that hits you on a very real, and incredibly deep, nerdy level. The premise: group nerds getting pulled into a deep governmental conspiracy, involving an underground comic telling a story about a scientist who makes a deal with the devil:

Basically, it’s X-Files with intelligent screen writing, actors who look like real people, and incredible color schemes. Which means it’s nothing at all like X-Files.

I was hooked on Utopia about three sentences into my English friend’s description. Problem was, after Goggling the hell out of it, I found out the harsh facts of life: Utopia, is virtually impossible to get your hands on, State-side.

Which made me panic. On a very real, and incredibly deep, nerdy level.

You might accuse me of not trying hard enough. What about Netflix? Surely Netflix has it. No and again I say … no. Sure it has movies by Laurel and Hardy, as well as Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. But not the one I wanted.

Someone might want to gently suggest I stream it. I tried. Going the British side of the Internet also hits roadblocks. Sure, I could stream it, if only I lived in the UK. Little things called copyright laws prevent me from doing so. Black screens and polite explanations greet me when I try, saying UK copyright laws don’t cover my nerd experience in the US. Thank you and goodbye.

Here's where, with mounting panic, I briefly considered buying a plane ticket to England. That's right. Just to watch Utopia. The last time I felt such anxiety was horrible years between 1980—release date of Empire Strikes Back—and 1983—release date of Return of the Jedi. Three unbearably long years of my brother and I asking each other relentlessly, “Will Han Solo survive carbon freezing?” I felt childhood angst returning, realizing Utopia could have an even longer wait, without resolution.

Don't remind me. Please just don't remind me about this horrible event.

Don't remind me. Please just don't remind me about this horrible event.

Resolution came when I ordered the Season 1 DVDs off Amazon. Not the US site—it also shrugs and walks away when I ask about Utopia—but off of Amazon.co.uk. Based on all the previous roadblocks, was surprised they let me order it. Someone is going to remind me that Amazon is evil. I understand. Go ahead and flog me. Sometimes you have to just pander to the beast to get your heart’s desire.

As I waited for Utopia's arrival, started pondering another problem: not owning a universal DVD player. See, different regions in the world produce media in different formats. Which means if I popped my US Lord of the Rings DVDs into a Scottish DVD player, the DVD player would scratch its head, throw up its hands, give me a blank screen, and say it had no idea how to play the movie. A universal DVD player, on the other hand, thumbs its nose at convention and plays DVDs, regardless of format. 

I could have bought a universal. But. They’re freakishly expensive. And I’m as cheap as Scotsman. So, while I waited for Utopia to arrive, spent some time soul-searching. Asking myself if I was willing to blow some serious change for the sake of only playing one TV series.

What I discovered: Fret not. There are ways around this dilemma. After Utopia arrived, I took a deep breath and dropped the first disc into my Macintosh. Turns out, a Mac’s DVD player is universal. I blissfully watched Season 1 from an incredibly small screen.

I also promptly got nightmares. I kept watching.

When Season 2 came out, I discovered how to thwart copyright roadblocks, and stream it. It’s through this thing called a VPN, short for Virtual Private Network. It’s an added layer of security for your Internet experience, especially if you tend to use public wi-fi. A VPN bounces your signal off a server in a remote location on the globe. Making it look like you’re located in Singapore instead of your home location in, say, Ohio. 

If you connect to VPN servers in the UK, the BBC thinks you’re in London. The copyright gatekeepers raise the drawbridge, and you’re safely inside. Keep in mind, though, that buffering is a complete bitch. There’s an art to figuring out when the UK servers aren’t overloaded. For mine, if I login early enough on the weekend, it takes about two hours to watch 50 minutes. Which is short compared to other times during the week. But, compared to not being able to watch it at all, a little inconvenience is tolerable. In fact, it's worth it. So worth it.

Sure, buffering is a pain. Toughen up! Image courtesy of "Utopia," BBC Channel 4.

Sure, buffering is a pain. Toughen up! Image courtesy of "Utopia," BBC Channel 4.