London 2012 is about to begin amid guffaws about bus drivers getting lost and indignation over security cock-ups. You couldn’t have made it up. Well, they did actually*. The almost perfect Twenty Twelve is about to conclude on Tuesday. This is my fond farewell.
You arrive, expensive bottle in hand. Your host snatches at your coat removing it to the dark upstairs. You are steered with gentle force to the nibbles and the slightly cheaper wine already opened. Your expensive bottle has disappeared. The party is full of people you don’t know so well. ‘What do I do now? This is meant to be fun right.’
Anyone who has got hold of Olympic tickets has just received an e-mail which outlines that an armed soldier will take your coat; the nibbles are McDonalds only and the crap wine is £7.50 a time and if you’re honest the Olympics is full of sports you don’t know so well. ‘This is meant to be fun, right? That’s what they told us.’
They are the board at the Olympic Deliverance Commission in the BBC mocumentary sitcom Twenty Twelve which depicts, with obvious glee, the neurosis of a nervous party host. You can react to the Olympics in many ways: rejoice, rile, get out the bunting or take the piss. This being Britain we take the piss and in a rather lovely way; unpicking the vanity and limitations of a bunch of individuals trying to make froth solid and control a million variables. They fail of course. To succeed would be neither funny nor British. We’re not all that anymore remember, and this is a sitcom, not a promo ad with an Elbow back drop.
Hugh Bonneville’s, Head of Deliverance, chairs a board which comprises a combination of gruff, bluff, bluster, and bull shit. Together the universally excellent cast depict the panicked desperation that neatly reflects a nation’s – ‘maybe we are not quite up to this after all’. Ah, well, keep calm and carry on, put on some cuff links, stay positive, prepare a PowerPoint and we’ll see where that gets us.
The sharp elbowed jibes and bid lingo within the office is the set up. The punch line is delivered when the main characters exit the office into the harsh, unforgiving outside. The blag is shattered against a wall of uncomprehending frowns and shaking heads. Divided by a common language, the them & us is set up to perfection. Underlining this interaction is the developing and now complete Olympic Park seen through the office windows. As the jesters inside juggle with fold up bikes and demand a Danish, workers in high-viz and athletes in tracksuits break ground and sweat.
It’s a regular trait of Twenty Twelve that when an episode’s farce reaches its apex that the offending character’s eyes flit for a second (see Jessica Hynes here and her wonderfully obtuse acceptance of either the truth or responsibility). In that second doomed ambition is naked. For this second, they are vulnerable – their balance and the shows tested. Thankfully cast and crew remember it’s a sitcom and catchphrase catch-alls reassert a grip. The farce descends. There is nothing to be learned. No rock bottom from which to bounce. Just positives extracted – we are in too deep. The Olympics WILL happen. It has to.
The show has charted the familiar path of well-regarded sitcoms from BBC3 or 4 to BBC2. It has been admired by many journalists and officials close to the preparations enjoying their own reflections, wanting to be in on the joke. Catastrophisation, Jubilympics – are terms coined by the show destined for the dictionary. The former was used by Evan Davis on the Today programme when he interviewed Seb Coe. It is 2012’s ‘omnishambles’ – the Thick of It’s Malcolm Tucker’s phrase now immortalised in Hansard.
Twenty Twelve has reached the great unwashed us with an audience hovering either side of a million.This has been helped of course by the inevitable parallel of the real preparation for London 2012. Between the stadium lease debacle and the G4S calamity, Twenty Twelve has benefited from an audience already primed with a knowing cynicism and ready tut. In this respect, it has been a lucky sitcom as well as a good one.
Twenty Twelve is such a fine piece of comedy because it has presented such a smart take on vanity – a nations and an individuals. Vanity is a desperate condition – to satisfy yourself you need to gratify others – and Twenty Twelve charts this dynamic magnificently. It has achieved a strange thing; it has given credence to the sceptics and at the same time made you want the Olympics to be a success. Somewhere in this healthy nuance is a smidgeon of jingoism. Many countries can host an Olympics, not many would produce a sitcom like Twenty Twelve as its running commentary.
I really think that. I really do.
* Series 1, Episode 2 and Series 2, Episode 5 respectively