Utopia is laugh-out-loud Australian satire at it’s best. Not just because the jokes are witty, the timing sharp and the performances crisp but because, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, “It’s funny because it’s true.”
Working Dog, the creative collaboration responsible for benchmark spoofs like Frontline, The Hollowmen and Audrey’s Kitchen, bring Utopia to the small screen. Rob Sitch stars as Tony, the CEO of the newly created Nation Building Authority. The NBA is responsible for overseeing the sort of major infrastructure projects that politicians like to pass off as ‘nation building’. High-speed rail links, National Broadband Networks, ecologically sensitive urban redevelopments – from the announcement to the unveiling Tony’s tight-knit team take on every planning, publicity and PR mishap in order to produce the most anticipated, well-designed white elephants conceivable.
A send-up like Utopia works because the comedians involved find a special type of craziness that’s just familiar enough to be believable. In the first episode one of the NBA’s over-zealous marketing staffer announces a new high-rise development will include community gardens. The developer is up in arms but Tony’s team doesn’t dare withdraw the suggestion because of the positive PR. Excited marketing director Jim (Anthony Lehmann) tells stunned project manager Nat (Celia Pacquola) he’s on the verge of signing a TV series that features celebrity chefs, young Australians and inner city grown vegetables:
Nat: “Even with site remediation we can’t guarantee anything will be safe for human consumption. They could end up having lead poisoning.”
Jim: “That takes years to show up.”
Nat: “Jim – ”
Jim: “It’s an eight week series – Jamie O-l-i-v-e-r!”
More examples of tail-wagging-the-dog decisions include new ‘active’ logos that result in inactive staff, and working parties so large they leave the office short of chairs. But the real punch line is the assumption that building projects build nations. We realise this as we watch Tony and his team buzz around brave endeavours that will be quietly shifted to the background as priorities change. Glass and steel might come to reflect the values of a people, but they can’t be used to create character. That is the role of righteousness.
The Bible says that it’s not bridges and opera houses that truly define a nation, but its response to God’s word:
“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people.”
We see this truth at work every time we confront the really thorny issues of our age like asylum seekers, peacekeeping and care for the poor. Listen to the talkback airwaves or read the TV Twitter streams. When we fail to respond rightly, we truly feel as though we’ve slipped behind as a country. Sinful selfishness lessens a nation, no matter how much infrastructure it’s accumulated. Utopia does Australians the service of reminding us that our identity will arise from character not concrete.
Release Date: Wednesdays, 8:30 PM