In the first episode of the new series of Utopia the team at the Nation Building Authority are back after the holidays…and nothing much has changed. In between, er, something about infrastructure, Tony (Rob Sitch) et al have to deal with new swipe cards which don’t work, a new e-mail system which also doesn’t work, and new Health and Safety rules which make it almost impossible to work. Meanwhile Katie (Emma-Louise Wilson) is selling raffle tickets and a 50 Shades of Grey-inspired calendar to raise money to repair the swimming pool in her small hometown in the Mallee.
But as colleagues lay down their cash for the raffle tickets (the calendar featuring middle-aged rural women in bondage gear proves less popular), Nat (Celia Paquola) has a brainwave: what about a new government fund to help rural communities maintain local sporting facilities. Tony likes it and gives her the greenlight, but suddenly this simple idea takes on a life of its own as Head Department Secretary Jim (Anthony “Lehmo” Lehmann) and PR lady Rhonda (Kitty Flannigan) realise how well it will play externally. Cue a meeting room crammed full of Canberra’s finest all enthusing about the scheme…if a few changes are made, and a promotional video featuring happy, smiling people enjoying sporting facilities in the bush.
In the end, like all good ideas proposed in workplaces, this simple plan to fix one small thing becomes a bloated, PR-led extravaganza so far away from its original intent as to be barely recognisable. Oh, and Katie’s hometown can’t apply for the scheme in the end because it’s suddenly just for new projects. It seems selling raffle tickets to get the pool repaired wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
Anyone who’s worked just about anywhere can laugh bitterly at this. Yet it’s the sub-plots and the asides which raise the big laughs in Utopia, including Tony’s cycling outfit (putting Rob Sitch in something tight, colourful and sporty always equals comedy gold), the over-zealous security guard (Jamie Robertson) who questions Tony about his swipe card, the Health & Safety training session (led by Louise Siversen as trainer Linda) and Amy (Michelle Lim Davidson) and Scott’s (Dave Lawson) disastrous interpretations of it.
As first episodes go “A Fresh Start” is a good, solid one, and with any luck there’ll be more like this to come. As we’ve pointed out before Utopia is formulaic, but as it’s a formula that works that’s fine with us.