It’s probably fair to say that Working Dog has mined all that it can from the infrastructure comedy seam. We certainly didn’t find the first episode of the new series of Utopia a huge cack.
Partly this was because we had in our minds the actual real problem this country has when it comes to infrastructure planning:
Joining calls from the Reserve Bank governor for the Coalition to prioritise spending on infrastructure, the head of Infrastructure Australia, Romilly Madew, says an audit undertaken by her agency has highlighted the need for significant government investment.
“On the infrastructure priority list there are already 103 initiatives sitting there that have been identified by the states and territories, and that means there is a pipeline of infrastructure that has been identified that could go,” Madew said.
But mainly it’s because this series is coming at it from completely the wrong angle.
Utopia has set itself up as a nice show about likeable people who are just trying to get things done but keep hitting pointless roadblocks. And to be fair, this is an actual problem that’s preventing bodies like Infrastructure Australia from building the infrastructure the country needs. Except that Utopia always seems to go way too soft on those who prevent the likeable characters at the fictional NBA (Nation Building Authority) from getting things done. Instead, we get jokes about how many mugs spruiking cancelled infrastructure projects are in the NBA’s storeroom.
[Yeah, we get it, it’s the comedy of escalation. It starts with some mugs, then you end up with a series of increasingly ridiculous giant props. Ha ha.]
The only part of the show that started to get to the real point was the cameo from Dr Chris Brown, who kept pointing out that the team were getting their facts wrong – and by extension were deceiving the public. It was well done but not nearly hard-hitting enough.
This show would be so much better as a piece of satire if it was more like The Games, really getting to the bottom of who stops initiatives, why public money is wasted or and how the system enables big business to make massive tax-free profits. Instead, any such commentary that Utopia does present comes across as light-touch and lightweight, wielding all the power of a bag of cotton wool. It’s a show that lacks rage.
And this was a perfectly reasonable approach to take when the show was Frontline and the topic was tabloid current affairs. Tabloid current affairs is tacky, awful and presents a warped view of society – to say the least – but at least it doesn’t really matter. It’s entertainment in much the same was as The Bachelor is. But when the topic of the show is our money, our lives and our future, you need to take less of a small-L liberal approach to your satire and more of a big-L Liberal bashing approach to your satire. Or what’s the point?
I really liked the jokes about the temp receptionist, I mean, when you talk about big government, infrastructure and complex offshore entities, I think a series of jokes about the temp who has a list of things to do and doesn’t deviate from them really puts your other jokes into focus.
Utopia is halfway there… but lose the obsessively polite office humour. Office humour needs to get dark or it sounds like theatregames … also, the CEO of a government agency just learns of tax evasion ? Such a CEO has worked for one of the big accounting firms, or banks, or corporate law, or political parties, and knows all there is to know about ‘managing tax’… apart from that it is mildly amusing. Prop gags are great in moderation. Personal foibles can be splashed about… Utopia just feels too cosy though.