The title is ironic

To make a high school debating start to this post, the word “utopia” is defined as…

an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect.

…and, obviously, in the case of new ABC/Working Dog sitcom Utopia that’s not quite how things are for the main protagonists.

Tony (Rob Sitch) oversees the Nation Building Authority (NBA), a government department which manages major infrastructure projects. In the first episode we see him deal with the fallout from a logo redesign, while second-in-command Nat (Celia Pacquola) has to find room for a community garden in a major residential development. Subsequent episodes follow in a similar vein as the team – which includes Kitty Flanagan as PR woman Rhonda, Luke McGregor as Project Manager Hugh, and Toby Truslove as Marketing Guru Karsten – deal with crisis upon nation building crisis, all under the watchful eyes of the nation’s media.

Some of the themes of a previous Working Dog sitcom, the weirdly unfunny The Hollowmen, are explored again in Utopia, except it has the good sense to adopt the comedic stylings of the even older Working Dog sitcom Frontline. This means we get a sharp satire on the world of politics and PR but also a re-hash of some characters types. The ditzy receptionist, the unhelpful PA, the over-enthusiastic PR lady and the wanky marketing guy…these are very familiar from Frontline, albeit instantly recognisable and well played by the cast.

Utopia is one of those shows that will amuse its intended audience from the get-go and has the potential to run for several series or more. And if you image a state of sitcoms in which everything is perfect, those are just some of the characteristics of a new comedy series.

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  • EvilCommieDictator says:

    But I don’t know what’s going on.

    Who is Rob? Why is he doing these things? I know cause I’ve researched, but imagine The Games without understanding the link between Nicholas and The Games – why is there difference and antagonism? Why does Kitty Flanagan wield such authority?


  • Andrew says:

    I thought Utopia was disappointing. I mean, ditzy PA, wow who’da thunk it? They might as well have dug out Betty from Hey Dad.

    At least they didn’t make her blonde, that would have just completed the stereotype.

    Overall, the concept is there. The cast is fine and do a great job with what they’re given.
    But the whole thing is just missing something… decent writing perhaps…

    I think I’d prefer watch reruns of The Hollowmen or Frontline.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    To be fair, Nat did explain what the NBA does: government comes up with ideas, they come up with different ideas, they go to the developers and together they all nut something out. Rob was clearly “the boss”, so he was… the boss? It was a little fuzzy, but presumably they felt they’d told us all we needed for the jokes to land.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    It did seem a little lightweight at times, but it may settle in over time. The Hollowmen took an entire season to find its feet, and WD’s recent play The Speechmaker suffered from the same (dare we say “hollow”) feel. For guys that really want to make this kind of show, it doesn’t always feel like a natural fit for them.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    This was shite. We weren’t treated to a second rate ‘homage’ of a superior overseas comedy-we were treated to a second rate ‘homage’ of an earlier Working Dog comedy. Utterly predictable. Also as someone who worked in the civil service it made no sense. Why would a national body give a shit about launching one community garden in Melbourne? Even state governments try to do the city, suburbs and rural thing.

  • dfd says:

    “The sad reality is that without Clarke and Dawe there would be no regular political satire on the ABC. That’s right, there is no satirical commentary on the goings on in Canberra on radio or on television except for John Clarke and Bryan Dawe.

    Their two and a half minutes each Thursday before the 7pm news is the only satirical offering with an ongoing life, a regular place where we can find comic criticism of our elected representatives and their antics. ”

    Sucks to be The Roast.

  • Tony Coca-Cola says:

    Is it some sort of charity outreach program that helps to place stand-up comedians in dramatic roles?
    Such strange casting; so one-note. EVERYBODY’S a comedian.
    Feels like it needs at least ONE strong, dramatic performer (like Frontline’s Alison Whyte or Lawrence/Wilson/Bisley) to anchor it and help sell the wackiness more convincingly.
    It was okay. Nothing new, nothing special, as yet.

  • Billy C says:

    Don’t underestimate the ability to sell a joke. Ever seen a dramatic actor try and do comedy and not be able to? I’d rather see some poor drama at times from the comics than poor comedy from the dramatic actors.

  • Tony Coca-Cola says:

    I agree that dramatic actors doing comedy can often be disastrous.
    But come on – Lehmo? Luke McGregor?
    As (most recently) Die On Your Feet confirmed – being a great stand-up does not equal great comic acting (or even passable comic acting.)
    Shows like this need an anchor, to sell the reality.
    That’s why you have Lawrence opposite Sitch, or Offerman opposite Ansari, Baldwin opposite Morgan, even Alexander opposite Seinfeld.
    Who’s the straight man in this show – Pacquola?
    You need a Kat Stewart or a Jane Harber in that role; they would’ve smashed it.
    Not convinced stacking the deck with ALL comic performers is a winning formula.
    I guess time will tell.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Even The Hollowmen arguably had Lachy Hulme as the “serious” guy grounding the goings-on. Reportedly WD wanted to go for a lighter, sillier feel with this one, but if that just means leaving out the straight man delivering the home truths that underlie the satire, it’s probably not a great move.

  • dfd says:

    Unsure about Rob Sitch as the put-upon straight man.
    He’s okay playing straight, but masterful at dumb.

  • saucy gibbon says:

    Has AT read the Green Guide piece “The most powerful people in Australian TV”? Stuff like “Rick Halowski, head of comedy, ABC. Bringing edge back to Aunty’s comedy slate, from Wednesday Night Fever to Please Like Me and This is Littleton” “Chris Lilley, actor/writer/producer. Extraordinary mimic who parlayed his hit Summer Heights High into two more series – Ja’mie: Private School Girl and Jonah From Tonga”.

  • Billy C says:

    Well I watched it. Hollowman reminded me of watered down The Thick Of It. This reminded me quite a bit of Absolute Power. Some problem that needs to be solved by spin with a thumping beat between scenes with some shots of the city to try and get some energy into a show about a bunch of people sitting about a lot. It’s fine, at least it has jokes, but I feel like I’ve seen it all before a number of times.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    We’ve got it here somewhere. The days of our furious anger being directed at the Green Guide have passed a little – it’s now what, four pages of TV coverage wrapped around a wedge of camera ads? – but we probably should get around to pointing out how idiotic this article is at some stage