Utopia (Australian TV series)
|Directed by||Rob Sitch|
Anthony "Lehmo" Lehmann
Michelle Lim Davidson
|Country of origin||Australia|
|No. of seasons||3|
|No. of episodes||24|
|Executive producer(s)||Michael Hirsh|
|Production location(s)||Melbourne, Victoria, Australia|
|Production company(s)||Working Dog Productions|
|Distributor||Australian Broadcasting Corporation|
|Original release||13 August 2014– 6 September 2017|
Utopia, internationally titled Dreamland, is a Logie Award-winning Australian television comedy series by Working Dog Productions that premiered on the ABC on 13 August 2014. The series follows the working lives of a team in the fictional Nation Building Authority, a newly created government organisation. The Authority is responsible for overseeing major infrastructure projects, from announcement to unveiling. The series explores the collision between bureaucracy and grand ambitions. The second season aired in 2015, beginning with the first episode on 19 August 2015. The third season aired in 2017, beginning with the first episode on 19 July 2017.
The series is set inside the offices of the fictional Nation Building Authority, a newly created government organisation responsible for overseeing major infrastructure projects ranging from new roads and rail lines to airports and high rise urban developments. It follows the working lives of a tight-knit team of bureaucrats in charge of guiding big building schemes from announcement to unveiling. Throughout the series grand projects are frustrated by self-interest, publicity stunts, constant shifts in political priorities and bureaucracy.
The series features a number of recurring themes. The office is continually focused on various fads. In one episode, staff become obsessed with exercise after a visit from a Heart Smart representative, practicing communal yoga in the office at regular intervals. In another episode, Amy (Davidson) hires an indoor plant consultant, making major changes to office air conditioning and lighting, after Tony's (Sitch) plant dies and he asks for a replacement.
Rhonda (Flanagan) frequently attends conferences or workshops on various forms of online media. She returns to the office enthusiastically and doggedly drawing priorities away from important projects to superficial online projects on how to engage more with their relevant "audience".
Utopia is written and produced by three of the founding members of Working Dog Productions: Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner. It is produced by Michael Hirsh, directed by Sitch who also stars as one of the main characters Tony, and casting managed by Jane Kennedy. When casting, Sitch wanted to have actors that possessed a certain acting style, that appeared as if nothing absurd was going on. Sitch described the series as being about "the currency of grand dreams". He described that the idea of the "Nation Building Authority" was to portray it as one of those things that got set up in a bit of a mad rush and that under all the grand dreams there was a white elephant waiting to appear. Utopia continues on the satirical themes of other Working Dog works such as Frontline and The Hollowmen. Sitch also noted that the series was more observational than satirical and that it depicted how organisations may or may not function. When creating the show, Gleisner said the production team spoke to people who worked with government authorities and had experienced for themselves the daily unpredictabilities of working in these environments.
- Tony Woodford (Rob Sitch) is the boss, and is constantly exasperated by his inability to achieve anything other than meetings, studies and reports.
- Jim Gibson (Anthony Lehmann) is the government liaison. He is unceasingly positive about new government projects, while being oblivious to the problems and chaos they cause.
- Nat Russell (Celia Pacquola) is Tony's second in charge. The only other competent person in the office, she is just as frustrated as Tony.
- Scott Byrnes (Dave Lawson) is a nice guy who doesn't actually do much.
- Rhonda Stewart (Kitty Flanagan) is the media manager. She forcefully pushes her narrow agenda, often based on some new fad, ignoring more important priorities.
- Katie Norris (Emma-Louise Wilson) is Tony's personal assistant. She constantly tries to be helpful but is somewhat incompetent.
- Ashan De Silva (Dilruk Jayasinha) is a senior project manager at the NBA with degrees in accounting, business administration and engineering. He is yet to master the office coffee machine. (Season 3)
- Courtney Kano (Nina Oyama) is the Executive Assistant and Office Manager, and likes to refer to herself as the NBA's Chief Happiness Officer, after having recently completed an anger management course. (Season 3)
- Beverley Sadler (Rebecca Massey) is the head of the Human Resources Department and an experienced recruiter whose main role is conducting exit interviews with staff members who have quit after three weeks in the job. (Season 2-3)
- Brian Collins (Jamie Robertson) has the official title 'Head of Building Services and Security', but his actual role is to ensure that everyone is wearing the correct lanyard. (Season 3)
- Amy (Michelle Lim Davidson) was the office receptionist, who was always positive and chirpy, but was unable to see the big picture. She departed off-screen between seasons two and three. (Season 1–2)
- Hugh (Luke McGregor) was Nat's personal assistant, and was constantly reminding her of how difficult it was to do things. He departed off-screen between seasons two and three. (Season 1–2)
- Karsten Leith (Toby Truslove) a media and marketing content creator and an ally of Rhonda, who was highly optimistic and always had a grand vision. (Season 1–2; Guest Season 3)
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||8||13 August 2014||1 October 2014|
|2||8||19 August 2015||7 October 2015|
|3||8||19 July 2017||6 September 2017|
Season 1 (2014)
|Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date||Viewers|
|1||1||"Wood for the Trees"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||13 August 2014||778,000|
|Welcome to the Nation Building Authority – where no dream is off the table and no infrastructure project too big...except not really. CEO Tony, 2IC Nat, media manager Rhonda, government liaison Jim, project agents Scotty & Hugh, consultant Karsten and assistants Katie & Amy all make up one of the most dysfunctional workplaces in Australia. Tony's attempts to close a huge international deal are thwarted by Rhonda's insistence on a new logo; Jim's department inadvertently adds a community garden to the list of promises in an urban renewal scheme and asks Nat to intervene.|
|2||2||"Protected Species"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||20 August 2014||597,000|
|A massive new project for the NBA is jeopardised by the discovery of a rare grass on the proposed site; Rhonda decides the NBA website needs a dramatic overhaul, enlisting Karsten and his film crew to do it.|
|3||3||"Very Fast Turnover"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||27 August 2014||663,000|
|Jim pushes Tony into investigating the feasibility of a very fast train connecting Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane despite nearly 50 years of studies positing its lack of viability. Amy audits the office's safety protocols.|
|4||4||"Onwards and Upwards"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||3 September 2014||566,000|
|An in-demand residential developer asks the NBA to step in and help him to add 35 more stories to his proposed apartment building. A new employee asks Nat to conduct a performance review of him, which creates tension between Nat and the human resources department.|
|5||5||"Arts and Minds"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||10 September 2014||614,000|
|A government initiative to commemorate the completion of a new road by installing roadside art creates a host of problems for Nat and Hugh; Tony is asked to visit a local primary school, which somehow puts into motion the possibility of Australia's first space program.|
|6||6||"Then We Can Build It"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||17 September 2014||603,000|
|Jim fields complaints that the Authority's developments have largely ignored Tasmanian interests, so he sends Tony, Katie and Scotty to Tasmania to host a series of community suggestions for a new project. Rhonda and Amy organise an internationally-renowned motivational expert to conduct a week-long incursion at the NBA offices.|
|7||7||"The First Project"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||24 September 2014||620,000|
|Disillusioned by the modus operandi of the NBA – announce big projects and then do nothing to actually complete them – Tony reflects back on his first week on the job: a mess of angry cyclists, teething problems and plumbing issues.|
|8||8||"The Whole Enchilada"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||1 October 2014||620,000|
|The complete and utter failure of the Northern Food Bowl project leads Jim to ask Tony to take a look. Nat deals with delays in a Perth freeway upgrade and the Western Australian public relations departments. Jim announces a big shake-up at the NBA.|
Season 2 (2015)
|Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date||Viewers|
|9||1||"A Fresh Start"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||19 August 2015||779,000|
|Back with a vengeance, Tony is determined to kick off the newly expanded NBA with efficiency, however is foiled at every turn by office distractions, fitness initiatives and tech issues. Nat is touched by Katie's hometown banding together to raise $30,000 to fix their local swimming pool, and vows to help, inadvertently triggering a billion-dollar rural health initiative in the process.|
|10||2||"Shovels Ready"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||26 August 2015||738,000|
|Tony is excited to finally get started on a tunnelling project on the verge of construction, however Rhonda's insistence on a fanciful launch event jeopardises the entire project. Exhausted from constant commuting back and forth from the NBA's Adelaide office, Nat asks the human resources department to hire a colleague as a manager there, but HR have other ideas.|
|11||3||"Keep Out – Public Property"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||2 September 2015||769,000|
|Faced with questions about why a new parkland project has no parkland, Tony and the Authority have no answers. Nat is desperate to receive contracts from Adelaide, but the NBA's new courier isn't as efficient as she would have hoped. Healthy Heart Week hits the office.|
|12||4||"Dot Dot Dot"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||9 September 2015||845,000|
|After the Prime Minister foolishly promises an 'Education Nation' initiative to the media, Jim asks Tony to create one for him. Nat receives a Freedom of Information request, and goes to Rhonda and Hugh for help.|
|13||5||"Terminal Problems"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||16 September 2015||797,000|
|After conducting over six months' work on a proposal for Sydney's second airport, Jim asks Tony to find a way to kill the project due to electoral pressure on the Prime Minister. Rhonda nominates Nat as the keynote speaker for a Women In Power conference, and enlists Karsten to 'improve' Nat's story.|
|14||6||"Starting the Conversation"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||23 September 2015||803,000|
|Jim is pressured by a band of housing developers to rezone large swaths of farmland – a request he palms off to Tony. Rhonda's recent attendance at a conference on social media engagement creates a bit of a distraction for the NBA employees.|
|15||7||"Reporting for Duty"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||30 September 2015||866,000|
|Tony and the team work to somehow justify a cross-city tunnelling project that all experts agree is not viable. Angered by the incompetence of an employee, Nat attempts to fire her. Amy becomes the barista of the office.|
|16||8||"Summit Attempt"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||7 October 2015||756,000|
|Tony is determined to take his vacation, but is consistently thwarted by a host of problems in the office. An infrastructure conference is coming up, but Karsten and Rhonda's involvement causes complications.|
Season 3 (2017)
|Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date||Viewers|
|17||1||"Blue Sky Thinking"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||19 July 2017||842,000|
|Jim and Rhonda force Tony to help step in and save a flawed government scheme. Nat is driven mad by a local council worried about a proposed development's artist impression. The staff of the NBA also run a local talent contest.|
|18||2||"Smart Cities"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||26 July 2017||647,000|
|Rhonda forces Tony to be keynote speaker at the Smart Cities conference. Nat is looking set for a promotion until Beverley from HR decides to step in. The arrival of a new couch has unintended consequences.|
|19||3||"Nation Shapers"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||2 August 2017||674,000|
|Nat is asked to help out the Minister with a problem-plagued I.T. project. Meanwhile, a poor radio interview sees Tony forced to undertake media training.|
|20||4||"Clause For Concern"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||9 August 2017||721,000|
|The NBA team is asked to help out with the sale of a port, Rhonda decides it is time for a digital upgrade and Tony is forced to spend a night outdoors in the name of charity.|
|21||5||"Start Up"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||16 August 2017||684,000|
|Fresh from a trip to Silicon Valley, Jim asks Tony for help getting the Government involved in the world of start-ups. Meanwhile, a complaint from an ex-employee sees Nat accused of bullying.|
|22||6||"Snouts In The Trough"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||23 August 2017||702,000|
|Jim and Rhonda ask Tony for help building a new airport rail link, but Tony's proposal shocks them both. Meanwhile, Nat has her entire week derailed by a tweet.|
|23||7||"On The Defence"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||30 August 2017||744,000|
|With a major defence white paper about to be launched Jim and Rhonda ask Tony for help. Meanwhile Nat is summoned to Canberra for an exciting new job. Back at the office it is time for a Risk and Safety audit.|
|24||8||"Independence Day"||Rob Sitch||Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner||6 September 2017||739,000|
|After threatening to resign Tony is offered his own independent infrastructure board but Jim has his own ideas about the word "independent". Rhonda & Beverley decide it's time for a new office reporting structure.|
Anne Pender from The Conversation described Utopia as "light – but sharp and witty" political satire. She praised the talents of the writers and the cast of "exceptional actors". She also noted that it was an improvement from The Speechmaker, a stage show that Sitch and Working Dog Productions put together earlier in 2014. David Knox from TV Tonight noted the show's similarity to Sitch's previous work, The Hollowmen. In addition to praising the performances of cast members, he opined that the city backdrop of East Melbourne gave the series a "fresh, contemporary feel" accompanied by a "driving percussion soundtrack" and "cityscape montages". Ahmad Kahn from The Huffington Post drew comparisons with the earlier and more cynical seasons of American workplace comedies The Office and Parks and Recreation, as well as saying that Utopia offers a "painfully funny satire that focuses on the interaction between the media and press friendly projects wanted by government administrations and the disparities it presents to those in the agency who would prefer practicality."
Awards and nominations
|Year||Award||Category||Recipients and nominees||Result|
|2015||4th AACTA Awards||Best Television Comedy Series||Utopia||Won|
|Best Performance in a Television Comedy||Celia Pacquola||Nominated|
|Logie Awards||Most Outstanding Comedy Program||Utopia||Won|
|5th AACTA Awards||Best Television Comedy Series||Utopia||Nominated|
|Best Performance in a Television Comedy||Celia Pacquola||Won|
|2016||Logie Awards||Most Outstanding Comedy Program||Utopia||Nominated|
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