The second season of Utopia saw it evolve from a sitcom which was mainly about how difficult it is to build infrastructure in this country, to a sitcom about an office in which people find it difficult to build infrastructure in this country…hey check out that subplot about the overzealous plant hire guy!
This change of emphasis has been a largely positive move as far as we’re concerned because, well, the infrastructure project management woes have always been the least funny parts of this show. But plots about how an office becomes Chaos Central when someone tries to fix the air-con, or when it’s Heart Week? We can all laugh at that.
(By series three [we’re assuming there’ll be one] Utopia may well be what was once the Holy Grail of Australian sitcom: a local version of The Office. A show where it doesn’t matter what business the characters are supposed to be engaged in, it’s all about how the characters inter-relate and the stupid things that happen to them.)
With this narrower focus, watching Utopia has felt a bit repetitive – every week Tony will try to get something happening and fail, Rhonda and Jim will put up barriers or move the goal posts to make Tony’s job even harder, Nat will be dealing with something annoying that isn’t related to the project, and Amy will be ring-leading some initiative that distracts everyone who isn’t already distracted from the task at hand – but that hasn’t stopped it from being funny. Far from it.
On the one hand this is great – laughs is often something Australian sitcoms fail to raise – but it is kind of a shame that the political satire elements of the series are taking more of a backseat. There probably is a reasonable amount of funny you can get from infrastructure, but only if you’re John Clarke. He’s really good at picking apart ridiculous political situations; Working Dog, less so. They’re more about everyday characters and the minutiae of situations, so it makes sense for them to get their laughs out of subplots about coffee machines.
But if there is another series we’re going to need more from this show. We’re going to need a reason for the characters’ tales to be told. A denouement, perhaps? Where the National Building Authority or Nation Building Australia, or whatever they’re called this week, pull off a project successfully? Now that really would be hilarious!