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ABC public sector-set farce no utopian vision of satire

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You’re the boss of a major federal government agency. Do you hang up on a minister? Do you get locked in endless meetings about changing the department’s logo? And why aren’t you wearing a tie?

Welcome to the National Building Authority, an agency that sounds real in name if not in practice. It’s an invention of veteran funny-people troupe Working Dog, whose public sector-set farce Utopia premiered on the ABC last night.

Tony, played by writer/director Rob Sitch, is the straight-man boss surrounded by incompetency. With a development derailed and the media on their backs, tradies shut down the floor to paint a new logo — which looks suspiciously like a famed Pink Floyd album.

It raises some chuckles. But, like Working Dog’s celebrated newsroom satire Frontline and (less successful) political saga The Hollowmen, does it cut anywhere near the bone?

Well, we struggled to find a public servant who watched it — though a few vowed to find it on iView later. The ratings were OK: the 778,000 viewers improved on Aunty’s usual fare, but couldn’t match reality TV elsewhere.

The one former senior Commonwealth worker we found who tuned in, Paddy Gourley, was less than impressed by the “unsubtle” gags and “completely implausible” situation.

“I found its fast-paced attempt to grind out a laugh every 15 seconds or so ended up making nothing funny. The actors did their best with the script and direction but in the end their efforts couldn’t redeem the show,” he told The Mandarin.

Judge for yourselves: it returns to screens next Wednesday at 8.30pm.

Did you watch Utopia? Let us know what you thought in the comments below …

Author Bio

Jason Whittaker

Jason Whittaker is managing editor of The Mandarin based in Melbourne. He has written for and edited political, business and culture publications for a decade. He spent two years as editor of sister Private Media publication Crikey.