Review of "Dreamland" (US title) / "Utopia" (original Australian title)

Brian Gongol

Detailed review


The obvious comparison is something like "The Office" or "Parks and Recreation", but the truth is that "Dreamland" is better than "The Office" and it's closer to "Arrested Development" than it is to "Parks and Recreation".

"Dreamland" skips the pointless and self-limiting office-romance angle that took over "The Office" and simply lets men and women work side-by-side in an office minus the tiresome Jim-and-Pam overtones. And good for them -- it permits the writers to sharpen what makes the main storyline funny.

And it's closer to "Arrested Development" than to "Parks and Recreation" not because of the setting (obviously), but because the writing is much denser -- layered with callbacks and perfectly lean dialogue that tell the story without relying upon the mock-documentary tactics like breaking the fourth wall. We see the lead characters get exasperated in their natural environment, rather than in one that involves the characters appearing to be aware that they are being watched. And by skipping the tropes of the mockumentary, "Dreamland" can be (and is) written as tight as a drum. One can watch it over and over and still be discovering new jokes on the third viewing that buzzed past the first two times. It's just that good.

Moreover, "Parks and Rec" depended upon the foibles of an earnest-but-competent main character who is frustrated that other people don't share her vision and enthusiasm. It's a very funny show, and Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman are both brilliant comedic actors surrounded by a lot of very funny secondary characters. But "Arrested Development" was the story of one competent man (Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth) surrounded by (mostly) well-meaning idiots. In the case of "Dreamland", we get a government-type setting, but we also get two competent main characters surrounded by many well-meaning idiots -- and the idiots are mostly just as earnest as Leslie Knope, but frequently as incompetent and un-self-aware as Tobias Funke.


The timing is impeccable and the delivery is reminscent of "The West Wing" at its best -- too perfect to be real, but exactly right for the screen.

Production value

Clean and bright. Pleasant to the eye -- all of the dreariness is saved for the situations themselves, which are Kafkaesque in their brutality to the heroic main characters.

One-sentence summary

"Dreamland" is one of the sharpest-written shows ever to have graced the screen, giving the brilliant "Arrested Development" a run for the money.