Have you ever had a vegemite sandwich? OMG, me neither!
But Tom Gleisner has. You know…Tom Gleisner? Award-winning writer and producer of Dreamland? You know, the Australian TV show, Dreamland? Used to be called Utopia? Until it got super famous and transported to the UK and the US? You know…the US? Used to be called No-Man’s Land (or whatever the people before us called it)? And then Christopher Columbus discovered it? And then he didn’t? You know, Christopher Columbus? The one we made a national holiday for because he didn’t discover America?
Well anyway, I had the opportunity to interview Tom because I’m awesome, and he’s awesome, and whenever you have two awesome people one must interview the other. And when he declined to interview me (I’m still embarrassed about all the begging) I had to interview him. Er, I mean, I had the opportunity to interview him.
Tom and Working Dog Productions created Utopia, then changed it to Dreamland (because Americans can’t handle the truth!), then Netflix bought it and launched it in December, which means it’s available for streaming RIGHT NOW! Dreamland is a bit like The Office without the documentary interview bits. The New York Post called it “one of five Australian TV shows to binge watch.”
It’s a comedy series set within the Nation Building Authority, a fictitious government organization responsible for overseeing major infrastructure projects. The series explores the collision between bureaucracy and grand ambitions. It’s not as excruciatingly boring as I just made it sound. In fact, it’s painfully funny.
And thanks to Tom’s good sportsmanship and put-up-with-me-ness, he answered my ridiculous questions. Let’s say we were lounging on leopard sofas sipping Cool Ranch Dorito Mai Tais on a sun-drenched veranda somewhere in tropical Papua New Guinea (because he had a meeting to get to, so I got stuck with all the traveling.)
. . .
NGIP: So, Tom…can I call you Chuck?
Tom: Sure, but I can’t guarantee that I’ll answer to it.
NGIP: Thanks, Chuck. So, Chuck, Utopia/Dreamland is a Logie Award-winning Australian television series. Logie sounds like something that would fall out of your nose. Unless it rhymes with “emoji”, in which case, it just sounds like something Olympic. Regardless, are your Logie awards equivalent to our Emmy awards here in the U.S.? Because we have Emmys falling out of our noses like mad over here.
Chuck (formerly known as Tom): Our television awards, the Logies, were apparently named after one of the inventors of TV, a Scottish engineer by the name of John Logie Baird. There’s a fact you’ll never need to draw on again. There’s actually quite a strong U.S. connection with the Logies because, over the years, we have invited numerous American stars to attend our awards ceremony as guest presenters. Of course, when I say “stars”, these have tended to be of the slightly B-list variety. Think someone who played the butler on The Nanny. Or Lee Majors from The 6 Million Dollar Man – several years after the series was axed. That said, we have had some genuinely big names present awards, including Michael Cole from Mod Squad who, in 1973, became the first person to say “shit” on Australian TV. The high-point of U.S.- Australian relationships came in 1979 when Muhammed Ali (yes, the boxer) somehow agreed to present a Logie. Things went well until the host (inadvertently) referred to him as “boy”. And somehow lived to host the telecast the following year. The major difference between our Logies and your Emmys, apart from the quality of the gift bags, would have to be credibility. The Emmys are peer voted. The Logies are decided by readers of TV Week magazine. I think you get the idea.
NGIP: Why did we (the U.S.) get Dreamland instead of Utopia? I feel like America got screwed by the UK here, Chuck. Am I wrong?
Chuck: I think there were two other “Utopias” going round. One is (or was) a UK science fiction series. And then didn’t you guys make a short-lived reality TV a few years back called Utopia? 15 people were sent to a remote location (Iowa from memory) where they had to form a society. Don’t think it lasted long – but I guess Netflix wanted to avoid any potential confusion. Hence Dreamland – which was always one of our alternative titles anyway.
NGIP: I was a government employee myself for several years and can appreciate the observational humor here. In fact, Chuck, it’s almost too painful to watch it hits so close to home. Did you write this from personal experience?
Chuck: Neither Rob, Santo nor myself have ever worked in a government office but we know enough people who have. The levels of bureaucracy are insane, everyone seems to have a job title that means nothing (“Head of Deliverance”?) and everything that is designed to make the work day more efficient seems to involve the exact opposite. It’s a hell of an environment to work in – but pure gold for comedy writers.
NGIP: As you know, we Americans are gun-toting, xenophobic right-wingnuts. Why would we be interested some foreign import such as Dreamland? Is it anything like Crocodile Dundee? Because I think that’s the last thing we watched over here and we liked that one.
Chuck: I’m afraid the series is genuinely lacking in terms of traditional Australian elements. There are no kangeroos, crocodiles or members of the Hemsworth family to be seen. But hopefully the humour is universal. And the frustrations of office life seem to know no borders.
NGIP: My “Netflix Streaming” queue is at something like 350. Where would you put Dreamland in that lineup if you were I?
Chuck: I would definitely move it into the top ten, somewhere between House of Cards and the last Republican Presidential debate.
NGIP: I’m only halfway through Season 1. When do the goats show up? I was told there’d be goats.
Chuck: May have been a typo. Or false advertising. I’m pretty certain we do have a frog in series one but I realize that’s small comfort.
NGIP: I have this great idea for a Utopia/Dreamland episode for next season: This crazy woman in a goat costume arrives at the offices of the Nation Building Authority with a really bad Australian accent, greeting everyone with “G’day Mate” and loudly craving “Shrimp on the Barbie”. Tony and Nat hate her because she is clearly not an Aussie and she’s horribly offensive about Australian stereotypes, but everyone else in the office, including Rhonda and Jim, love the idea of a goat-themed campaign for the next “project” and start broadcasting a name-the-goat contest. On the day of the contest the goat dies in a freak accident on live TV and the Prime Minister (played by one of the Hemsworth brothers, now that you mention them) tearfully declares it a national mourning holiday. What do you think?
Chuck: It’s definitely got potential. The struggle will be finding a goat capable of doing an Australian accent. There’s probably an animal casting agency out there somewhere, but I’d have to check.
NGIP: Speaking of animals, how many pet koalas do you have?
Chuck: I hate to burst your bubble but koalas are actually the worst pet in the world. Despite their cute and cuddly demeanour they bite, scratch and pee on everything. And, to really top things off, 90% of Australian koalas suffer from chlamydia. Enough said.
NGIP: Speaking of next season, will there be a Season 3?
Chuck: We are currently tossing ideas around. Which is a writers’ expression meaning “to procrastinate over lunch”. But we have loved writing Dreamland and would enjoy the chance to keep the series going.
NGIP: When was the last time you ate a vegemite sandwich?
Chuck: A few weeks ago. You know, I reckon every nationality is entitled to one seriously weird foodstuff. The Scots have haggis, the French snails, you guys eat whipped cream from a can… Is a sour, black, yeasty sandwich spread really all that bad?
. . .
And then his phone rang and he jumped up and ran out the door. That silly Chuck, such a busy man. Feeling lucky for getting even those ten minutes with him, I ordered another Mai Tai (Nacho Cheese this time) before the plane ride home.
I want to thank Chuck for taking time out to speak with me about Dreamland. And if they go back to calling it Utopia, I’ll go back to calling him Tom.
If you have Netflix streaming, check out Dreamland. I don’t mean to sound philosophical, but searching for Utopia will get you nowhere.
Here’s a clip: