Mostly in Utopia, there is double-speak and gobbledy-gook. This Nation Building Authority is defiantly much ado about nothing, falling over itself to rise to its own title.
Overseeing all manner of grandiose projects is Tony (Rob Sitch), an unflappable leader trying to chart a course in the face of vacuous bureaucrats including the public relations manager Rhonda (Kitty Flanagan) and government liaison Jim (Anthony ‘Lehmo’ Lehmann).
His team includes 2IC Nat (Celia Pacquola), Project Manager Hugh (Luke McGregor) and CEO Assistant Scott (Dave Lawson).
Somewhere in the ‘muddle’ of it all there is work to be done ….when everybody isn’t busy maintaining the appearance of work being done. It’s so much easier to be distracted by employee farewells, film crews for web content and dodging the local parking officers.
If you think this sounds like an office you’ve worked in, that’s what Working Dog will be hoping for.
Here, futility and ineptness are magnified and the humour is nestled between the cracks. It should also be compulsory to wear a lanyard while watching this.
Utopia is a stone’s throw from The Hollowmen, continuing Sitch’s fondness for semantics and language. There is less sting than the curtain-raising Frontline, but the irony of minute arguments in the shadow of grand projects is a clever contrast. If life was like this at the NBN it’s no wonder the thing has never been completed.
Baby-boomer Sitch is without his familiar sidekicks Tom Gleisner and Santo Cilauro on-screen (they remain co-creators), but serves as a comedic godfather to a fresh cast of Gen X and Gen Y performers. Celia Pacquola becomes the ‘straight man’ running the office, while Luke McGregor is pitch perfect as a meticulous, dedicated public servant.
‘Lehmo’ steamrolls his scenes with gusto and a smile to boot, while big-haired Kitty Flanagan is practically terrifying in her self-serving determination to make impact. Toby Truslove adds plenty of colour as a graphic designer with big ideas. We feel for Tony soldiering on in the face of such daily toil.
Brightly filmed in a high-level office in East Melbourne, Utopia also benefits from a city backdrop that hasn’t been utilised before. It gives the series a fresh, contemporary feel and is accompanied by a driving percussion soundtrack and cityscape montages (including Sydney).
Parallels with The Office will likely be forthcoming, given inter-office relationships fuel this comedy. But Utopia probably owes more to Yes, Minister, albeit without the theatrics of a 3 camera sitcom and laugh-track.
If you’re looking for a return to Frontline this isn’t it (I’m not sure it can ever be surpassed), but if comedy works best when it situations are familiar then you will recognise much of the office-works here and take comfort that yours is hopefully far more adept.
Utopia airs 8:30pm Wednesday ABC.