Utopia Series 2 Episode 6: “Starting the Conversation”

Bravo, Utopia. I asked you to give me an office storyline that I couldn’t nitpick, and the social media one felt very true, and I don’t yet know enough about indoor plants to nitpick that one either. This week on Utopia, everything felt connected thematically, even though Nat and Tony were, as usual, dealing with completely separate projects. Nat only became involved in a project because of Rhonda’s decision to get the NBA involved on social media. Environmental groups were outraged about a highway in Queensland going through a rainforest (what Nat referred to as scrub), while Tony was trying to convince Jim that he couldn’t interfere with State planning regulations, which is true.

I majored in geography at university, so “Starting the Conversation” felt a little bit like my life at times. Green wedges! Rainforests! Urban planning! Roundtables! And the title “Starting the Conversation” was brilliant, because Tony was trying to have a conversation with Jim and some sort of developers consortium about why he can’t interfere in State planning issues, and Rhonda was trying to ‘start the conversation’ by getting the office involved in social media, which went exactly how you’d expect.

I’m going to use this space (it’s my blog after all) to talk about the Green Wedges, which were described as ‘buffer zones’ from urban growth in the episode. When Steve Bracks was Premier of Victoria he implemented an urban growth boundary for the city of Melbourne to manage urban sprawl. The Australian Dream is a quarter-acre block with a house and a backyard, and that’s all well and good until our housing encroaches on agricultural land, which then has to expand into designated wildlife areas. The Green Wedges were specifically designed to prevent that from happening.

Every once in a while there’s talk of expanding the urban growth boundary, because the developers throw a lot of money at the government to do so. This is why we see Jim enthusiastic for meetings. Tony goes to the Grand Prix and Shannon Bennett’s restaurant Vue du Monde, and declines an invitation to meet a coal lobby group at the Australian Open. These people (and Jim) are trying to wine and dine Tony so that he’ll somehow overturn State implemented planning zones, which he can’t do, because it’s a State government issue. Tony just keeps telling Jim that they should talk to the Planning Minister, and they decline. It’s nice to see Tony win this week, as he suggests that if Jim really wants to start a conversation they should have a roundtable with all sorts of interest groups involved, including those that want to keep the Green Wedges. Jim passes this to the developers and they decided to talk to the Planning Minister instead. Tony had a pretty good week – he got a bottle of Grange out of it too.

Meanwhile, Rhonda has been to a conference, so she’s developed another scheme that ends up involving the whole office. She’s decided that they need to become more involved in social media, so the entire office becomes obsessed with the number of followers they have (the Treasurer followed them! But is it Joe Hockey or Scott Morrison?), which makes the office less efficient on the whole. Hugh reports to Nat that there was a lot of buzz around one of their projects in North Queensland, and then it started. There was buzz, but it was environmental groups (or vigilantes, some might say) protesting the development. Nat decided to engage with them (never a good idea) and suddenly she was being compared to Goebbels and Pol Pot. She suddenly has interview requests, and really Rhonda is just thrilled, because all of this put them over 50,000 followers.

Meanwhile, the plant in Tony’s office has died, and they call a hotline to see what can be done about it, and suddenly there are many requirements for keeping the plants alive. First they put dark tints on the windows so there was too much sunlight, but then they died from not enough. Tony’s spray-on deodorant was poisoning the plants and apparently they needed to be rotated. It was a funny runner, but I did wonder why they didn’t just get succulents. Does anyone ever really take care of office plants? This wasn’t the funniest episode of Utopia (the performance review one is still one of the best things I’ve ever seen), but it was well structured, which is good to see.

Other thoughts:

  • Onto nitpicking: I get that Nat has her job and she would get frustrated at environmental “vigilantes” complaining about her project, but scrub is just as important as rainforest! Grasslands are a really important part of Australia’s landscape, although probably less so in Queensland. Then again that’s probably the one part of rainforest in Queensland that isn’t protected, so it should be fine. And access really is an issue out there. It’s all about balance.
  • As Rhonda tells Nat, Joseph Goebbels wasn’t the worst Nazi.
  • Nice cameo from Colin Lane as the CEO of the developing company.
  • Tony and Scott travelled to the proposed housing development by helicopter, which is a great unintentional joke after the Bronwyn Bishop scandal. It was obviously a private helicopter so there was no misuse of public funds, but it’s a happy coincidence to hear an exchange about how a place is 90 minutes from Melbourne, but it didn’t take long to get there because they travelled by helicopter. This episode was almost certainly written and filmed before the Bronwyn Bishop thing happened, and even if it was inspired by Bishop, I’m going to keep pretending it was a happy coincidence.
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