Sometimes, the feeling a drama gives you – the vibe of it – is everything. Some shows can look like they are shot on VHS and be full of ugly people standing still and talking, yet still carry you with them because of what, exactly, those people are saying. Others can have you on side with the way they look, the way they carry themselves, before you've worked out who they are or what they want.
Utopia (Tuesdays C4) is the second kind. Its first episode sat down, stared you out, blew smoke in your face, pushed all its chips into the middle. It opened with a multiple murder in a comics shop, a strangely pristine place full of high-contrast colours, where the killings were done with choreographed élan. Two of the victims semi-willingly pressed their faces into an oxygen mask that was not producing oxygen, so overawed were they (and we) by the bad guys: a cool one in a quiff and electric blue suit, and a shambling, sweaty one repeating "Where is Jessica Hyde?" like a fool.
We learned about the high nastiness threshold when we realised the last victim would be a small boy, although it was arguably worse seeing the cool killer tread his white leather shoe deliberately in a pool of blood. Utopia had a way with a casually disturbing image.
Soon it became clear – well, clear-ish – that the baddies were slaughtering anyone between them and the unpublished sequel to a cult graphic novel, which supposedly formed a coded manual to a deadly man-made disease. The shop had sold the manuscript to a bloke who, by visiting a web forum and inviting four posters there to view book two, put them in danger and gave us our main characters: young, resourceful, curious, lonely people, now thrown together. Some kind of global genetic-warfare conspiracy is going down; these guys are the bees who have got trapped in the car.
A subplot about a health department civil servant being blackmailed gave us Stephen Rea as a shady lobbyist, conjuring fear just by squeaking his overstuffed leather chair. Rea was a direct link to BBC2's majestic Shadow Line, the series Utopia's stylised confidence and complexity most calls to mind.
The Shadow Line's first episode was so assured, so startlingly different, you knew it knew what it was doing. Utopia hasn't quite achieved that – the cards it's holding might still be junk – but it's got the same gift for horribly memorable moments. An intruder stalking through a flat, played out in dead silence; a fantastic bad-sex encounter (creator Dennis Kelly's previous TV hit was Pulling); and the instantly notorious torture scene all left a stamp on the screen. The torture – "Chillies. Sand. Bleach. A spoon" – was so unpleasant, imaginative and brutal, you had to laugh.