Organizing something as complex and involved as the Olympic Games is a task almost beyond comprehension. Not only do the organizers have to be able to provide venues for all the different sports and accommodate the thousands of athletes and associated individuals who will be participating in the games, they have to also consider the impact of hosting the even larger number of people who will be coming to watch the games. As if this wasn’t hard enough, it all has to be done while ensuring they have minimal impact on the daily life of the city hosting the games. On top of all everything there are also the security concerns that are a fact of life in the modern era.
Everything from catering to traffic considerations must be taken care of. The country chosen to host an Olympic Games, especially the hugely popular Summer Olympics, must dedicate its best and brightest minds to the organizational responsibilities. Only those with the ability to cope with the multitude of details needing careful attention in a calm and rational manner will be able to rise to the occasion. At least that’s the impression one has when one looks at the sheer size of the job involved in bringing an Olympic Games off successfully.
BBC America has fully explored this premise in Twenty Twelve: The Complete Series. Originally aired in the U.K. during the two years leading up to the London Summer Olympics last summer, this biting satire goes behind the scenes at the (hopefully) fictional offices of the ineffectual team in charge of “Deliverance”.
Charged with such tasks as ensuring the traffic lights will work in favour of athletes travelling from one venue to the other, what to do with the various venues after the games have ended, co-ordinating various coincidental cultural events and making certain the opening ceremonies’ fireworks don’t trigger surface to air missiles, the men and women of the Deliverance team prove how even the ineffectual and incompetent can occasionally do things right. Even if only by accident.
In spite of the serious tone adopted by the narrator, we realize early on this is going to be an examination of the ridiculous in action. We’re whisked right into the thick of things with quick introductions to the key players as they arrive for their Monday morning planning session. Doing his best to keep this bizarre ship and crew on course is Head of Deliverance Ian Fletcher. Played with beautiful low key understatement by Hugh Bonneville, Fletcher is the epitome of the earnest civil servant trying to come to grips with a job he might be capable of doing if only he had competent help. Unfortunately it soon becomes apparent his people aren’t really sure what they’re doing.
They’re fantastic at coming up with explanations for why things have gone wrong, or why something hasn’t worked out quite as expected, but actually getting things done on schedule and correctly is more a matter of luck than skill. The most commonly heard answer to “Can that be ready for Friday?” is “Oh certainly” (pause) “Do you mean this Friday?”. Even the rather simple task of escorting a visiting delegation from Brazil – Rio De Janeiro is hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics – on a tour of the Olympic Stadium is fraught with difficulties. In a kind of metaphor for Fletcher’s team’s chances of success, the bus driver hired to ferry them all to the stadium gets hopelessly lost and they end up driving aimlessly through the streets of London before finally reaching their desired destination.
While the majority of Deliverance team are career civil servants, the last couple of episodes see them all more concerned with what they’re going to be moving onto next rather than making sure their jobs are completed satisfactorily. They have turned to an outside professional to help with promotional events. Head of Brand Siobhan Sharpe, played with perfect borderline psychosis by the hilarious Jessica Hynes, is responsible for communicating the big picture vis a vis little pictures to the general public. Or something like that anyway. As Sharpe seems incapable of speaking in anything other than partial cliches or meaningless catch phrases, we’re never quite sure either what she is talking about or her actual function.
It might be something to do with publicity. She does have a team of so called creative people at her disposal from the public relations firm Perfect Curve. However they all do such a grand job of giving new meaning to word vague we’re never quite sure if they know what they’re doing. For the grand kickoff marking the two-year countdown until the opening ceremonies, Sharpe commissions a conceptual artist to create a commemorative piece of art. He comes up with a functional wide up clock that runs backwards from the date of the opening ceremonies. Therefore, on the date the Olympics are scheduled to open the clock will read a date and time two years in the past. Forced to try and improvise an explanation for the press as to its significance Fletcher is left gasping out words about marking the journey they’ve all undertaken and similar nonsense.
There are times when watching the series you want to reach into your television and grab people by their throats and shake them. Or simply throttle them; they are that annoying!
On other occasions you’re left stunned by the depth of their ineptitude, and wonder how on earth they could have been entrusted with anything as important as organizing something as major as an Olympic Games. However, it gradually dawns on you over the course of the series, they really aren’t actually responsible for anything too important. As we hear reports on what other committees are working on we realize our team is responsible for doing necessary drudge work nobody else can be bothered with.
While the included special features are limited to interviews with the primary cast and crew, it’s fun to watch the cast talking about their characters and what went into creating the series. Without skillful actors, an intelligent script and tight direction this sort of show could easily have descended into something idiotic and not very funny.
Thankfully by having everybody play their roles completely straight, letting the circumstances and their characters create the comedy, the humour is never forced or dumb. After all, these are serious people doing a serious job who take themselves and what they do very seriously – even if nobody else does. If you like satire and enjoy laughing at hapless civil servants than you’ll love Twenty Twelve: The Complete Series.