Olympic Humor: BBC America’s Twenty Twelve

25 June 2012


As BBC AMERICA warms up for next month’s Olympics, the actors and creators of some of Britain?s most iconic comedies–including Absolutely Fabulous and The Office–bring us a new tongue-in-cheek parody. Twenty Twelve follows a team of mismatched professionals charged with delivering the biggest show on earth: the London Olympics.

You expect the London 2012 Olympic Games to make you gasp, cheer, weep, and swoon with admiration. But do you also expect them to make you snicker, chuckle and maybe even laugh out loud?

That’s the recipe–and the goal–for BBC America’s latest import: Twenty Twelve, premiering this Thursday, June 28 at 9 p.m. Eastern Time. But you won’t believe who’s running the show. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HU7pdR3waPU Yes, that is Lord Grantham from Downton Abbey. Actor Hugh Bonneville has turned in his stiff upper lip, family pride, devotion to tradition and even his beloved Labrador Retriever. He’s now Ian Fletcher, a confused but undaunted contemporary professional adrift on the 30th or so floor of a London skyscraper with only his secret cigarettes, cell phone, a daily cinnamon danish and a too-devoted personal assistant to keep him anchored as he attempts to fulfill his obligations as Director of Deliverance for the London 2012 Olympics. The new show centers around the team of underperforming and illusive experts charged with planning and executing the Games. Each of the cast is more dysfunctional than the next, and it’s Ian’s job to keep them focused on actually producing things like stadiums, traffic flow plans, blogs, and even a sustainable legacy for having hosted a “green” Olympic Games.

Twenty Twelve is filmed in the “mockumentary” style that outdoes Ricky Gervais’s original British show, The Office, and shares, in fact, that show’s executive producer, Jon Plowman, who also produced Absolutely Fabulous.

The premise–and the vehicle–for the show: For some reason, the Olympic committee has agreed that a documentary filmmaker should be allowed in the midst of the deliverance team to record for all posterity exactly how the Games came to be. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NeVcz6bi90Y

Will American audiences give Twenty Twelve a gold medal?

This show has many things going against it: Like actors who sometimes mumble, or whose British accents and slang may be very foreign to Americans. Like scripts that reference the names of London landmarks, British government agencies and Euro celebrities who will be virtually unknown here. There’s no laugh track to tell you when to laugh, so you’re on your own to wonder if you were the only person who thought that line was hilarious. What Twenty Twelve does do, besides offer quick-witted, off-the-cuff, and oh-so-dry British humor, is develop the characters so that viewers will transit from wondering “What an idiot, how did she ever get that job?” to making them endearing in their hapless ineptitude. If you have ever worked in a corporate culture that believes that a meeting will solve everything (but never does), you’ll find your face forming a wry smile. If you’ve ever worked with people who are perennially?late for meetings, people who answer questions with questions, and people who boldly state their rock-hard refusal to play well with others, this show will hit home. You’ll be wondering how on earth the Games will ever come off. Strangely enough, life is imitating the art of Twenty Twelve, making some of the jokes very funny in hindsight. A scene where the “brilliant” web designer misspells “Olympics” and corrects it with a different misspelling of the same word will make critics of Mitt Romney’s “Amercia” spelling error–and even the Ralfalca misspelling on her dressage bumper sticker–seem absolutely prophetic. Does the show feature the equestrian events? Of course; Episode Six focuses solely on Greenwich Park. But you’ll have to hold your ears, since the spokesman for the anti-equine league of Greenwich has some very choice words to describe people who own and ride horses. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8SxT-WXxN0 This week, the show premieres on Thursday at 9 p.m. Eastern Time with a triple-header of episodes. Here’s a synopsis: With the clock ticking inexorably down, the marketing team has commissioned a huge clock, to be designed by a very trendy British artist; the final piece will be unveiled in a ceremony performed by both Lord Sebastian Coe and London?s Mayor Boris Johnson. The clock was conceived to count down towards the start of the Olympic Games. The only problem is that the clock has a potentially disastrous design flaw which no one seems to have noticed until it’s too late. And no one dares challenge the esteemed (and grumpy) artist, whose glare tells you that if you have to ask him to explain his art, you just don’t belong around an art museum or a genius like him. Meanwhile, back at the office, the process of deciding which public figures should be approached to carry the Olympic Torch on its journey around Britain has begun. The team decides that they should put aside the idea of British heroes and go instead for people that the public will actually come out to see carry a torch. But first they must meet a delegation of Brazilian planners for the 2016 Olympics and show them the stadium-in-progress. Unfortunately the luxurious tour bus chartered to take them there is both lost and stuck in traffic.?For the team, it’s a lesson in the importance of staying positive and focused even when you are travelling in completely the wrong direction, literally. Part three will have your architect friends rolling on the floor.?Roman remains of potentially national significance have been discovered on the site of the aquatics center, forcing the planners to contemplate radical last-minute modifications to the design of the building. It’s a matter of asking: What would happen if the diving pool was shallower? Will it matter if athletes go through the cafeteria to get from the changing rooms to the pool? The team sits around the architect’s model, moving parts of the building complex like chess pieces, as if there is an answer to this latest dilemma. (Note: an archeologist was called in to the site of the equestrian events in Greenwich Park when artifacts were dug up. So this storyline is another that ended up more or less coming true.) To keep things from getting too tense, viewers are able to eavesdrop on?Head of Infrastructure Graham Hitchins devouring potato chips as he stares into his computer monitors lit up with flight paths into Heathrow Airport, and Head of Sustainability Kay Hope rehearsing to record her new video blog. The first episodes introduce the characters, with an especially appealing bow to Siobhan Sharpe of Perfect Curve public relations agency, played extremely well by actress?Jessica Hynes. Nothing will stop her from enthusing about her agency’s supreme “coolness” that won them the prize of?creating the brand for the London Olympics…whatever that is. Siobhan just knows it will be cool, hip and beyond brilliantly creative, just because she has something to do with it. At the head of the conference table sits someone you knew until Thursday as Lord Grantham. Hugh Bonneville’s comic capabilities allow him to play a character who bikes to work between bomblasts of a life, a job and a marriage that are out of sync and out of control–but not half as out of control as they will be by the time the Games actually begin. As far as he’s concerned, everything is “all good”. All the time. No matter what you ask him. Or when. And that’s “all good” for us, particularly with the episode on Greenwich Park and the anti-equine league set to air on Saturday night. If London’s real-life planners are thinking, the Games will have an Olympic podium for parody, atop which you’ll find this team, standing tall. And that’s all good for BBC America!

Jessica Hynes and Hugh Bonneville play two Olympic organizers whose ineptitude may be the undoing of the Olympic Games…and the reputation of the city of London. But in the meantime, it’s “all good”. (BBC America photo)
Warning: this man hates horses and the people who ride them. He also has some very choice words to describe any fans who would come to the Olympics to see them. Can the Games go on with Greenwich’s Anti-Equine League dumping horse manure on Olympic planners’ doorsteps? ?(BBC America photo)

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