Summer is often a slow time when it comes to quality television programming. The silver screen has all but ceded the season to the film industry which has made an annual tradition of filling the time period with Hollywood blockbusters, tent-pole studio films, and as of late, comic book films.
Yet, this summer has been something awful to behold given many of the most anticipated and largest films are caught between production cycles (though 2017 and 2018 film prospects look wonderful). Minus the upcoming release of Star Trek and the anticipated release of Suicide Squad, the past two months have been one of the least interesting in recent memory.
So, it seems as good a time as any to make proper use of a Netflix subscription.
And no, that doesn’t mean go catch up on this that or the other popular series you haven’t seen yet so that you might be able to join in on the pop culture dialogue. It means to comb through the streaming service’s vast library, with an open mind, with the hope of discovering a hidden gem that might not have found its way in front of your eyes in most any other situation.
And when I recently practiced what I’m preaching above, my discovery yielded quite a wonderful a hidden gem in the form of one of the smartest and sharpest comedy show’s I’ve seen in quite a while. .
The show in question? Dreamland.
The series, which goes by the title Utopia in it’s native Australia, first aired on ABC1 in 2014. The show’s original title was changed to Dreamland for the US and UK markets following Netflix’s purchase of streaming rights in the two countries in order to avoid confusion with a British drama series of the same name. Dreamland is a workplace satire that introduces viewers to the employees of the fictional Australian government agency, the Nation Building Authority (NBA), as they hopelessly attempt to oversee and solve Australia’s infrastructure problems
As for comparisons to similar show, Dreamland is a great watch for fans of the early seasons of The Office and Parks and Recreation. However, it’s comparison to Parks is more founded in the particularly frustrating and cynical first season of the show, a version that lasted all of six episodes and has since been collectively washed from memory following the show’s purposeful decision to pivot away from cynicism and embrace a tone of optimism and sunshine.
In Dreamland, the workplace frustrations are not magically resolved by a coincidentally ideal solution. Instead, at the NBA, Agency Head Tony (Rob Sitch) and the department’s main project manager, Nat (Celia Pacquola), find themselves the two sane individuals amongst a group of young, enthusiastic and well-meaning, but particularly dimwitted co-workers, inadvertently make their lives hell. The incompetency of the bureaucracy and the everyday workplace frustrations simply reflect the realities of real life. The show also has the unique distinction of not having a romantic will they or won’t they subplot, and is served all the better for it. simply delves into the agony of governmental incompetence and the existential challenges that one lives with when working as a piece of a bureaucratic machine upon which they have no control.
It also aims its biting humor at the business jargon and design-talk that has become so common place in the series. As in the case of the series Pilot, where Tony deals with the frustrations of a new logo, that must “speak” to what the NBA does. Or, it deals with the publicist’s alpha personality and weird ideas, often frustrating the execution of plans in order so that the project’s serve a media function as will as a practical one.
“What’s the point of community consultation if we’re not going to listen to the community?”
“Ohhh. I thought we wanted to appear consultative.”
It’s 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. As Tony’s conversations with utterly cheerful and clueless governmental liaison, JOHN, proving to be one of the show’s major highlights. There’s few things more entertaining than seeing the frustration of Tony as he tries to deal with the utterly ridiculous demands and ideas of the Prime Minister. And though Dreamland satirizes the political motivations of governments when it comes to public works projects, the focus remains on the frustrations that are a consequence of that type of thinking, rather than any specific ideology. It’s a wonderfully apolitical tone that focuses on finding humor in the character’s interactions and the battle between policy and politics, and much like HBO’s Veep strays away from making any pronounced ideological statements.
With Hollywood failing to offer any significant films thus far into the season, and with networks leaving the months to re-runs as well, Dreamland is by one of the funniest and sharpest satires you’ll see.
And now that Netflix has given the small series an opportunity to reach an international market, it seems a matter of time until this brilliant comedy find legs outside it’s birth place and gains a large following. The first two seasons, consisting of sixteen episodes, are available to stream on Netflix. Though there’s yet to be an announcement on the third series premiere, there’s little doubt the award-winning series should find its way back onto screens in the near future.
But, in the meantime, if you’re in the market for a smart comedy and want to give something new a watch, be sure to take a look at Dreamland.