Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Swifter, higher, stronger? Not these incompetents

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If ineptitude were an event, the organizers of London's 2012 Olympic Games -- at least, the make-believe ones in the BBC comedy series Twenty Twelve -- would win the gold medal in a meandering, aimless, hopelessly misguided walk.

This faux-documentary-style series, which has its Canadian premiere on Sunday at 11 p.m. on the Comedy network, takes the notion of institutional cluelessness that made The Office an international hit and uses it to apply a fictional spin on an actual event.

And while it lacks the level of casting brilliance that made the original Brit version of The Office a comedy masterpiece that has been replicated worldwide, Twenty Twelve is still a rather amusing glimpse at what a major sports-event organizing effort would look like if it was being conducted by a crew of complete idiots.

Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) leads the cast as Ian Fletcher, the hyper-efficient (but not nearly as effective) head of the Olympic Deliverance Commission, the behind-the-scenes body whose sole goal is to ensure that the 2012 Games are delivered on time and on budget.

(It should be noted here that Season 1 of Twenty Twelve premiered on BBC more than a year ago, which would have made its countdown-to-the-Games conceit feel a bit more timely than having it air mere weeks before London 2012's real-world opening ceremony).

Fletcher heads up a small but feisty team that includes head of contracts Nick Jowett (Vincent Franklin), head of sustainability Kay Hope (Amelia Bullmore), head of infrastructure Graham Hitchins (Karl Theobald), head of brand Siobhan Sharpe (Jessica Hynes) and administrative assistant Sally Owen (Olivia Colman).

They are all, in their own unique and special ways, completely terrible at what they've been hired to do.

Graham is a socially maladjusted techie whose traffic-light synchronization software trials are capable of bringing entire sectors of London to a grinding halt; Nick is a legalese-spouting old-schooler who's intimidated by the prospect of working with women; Siobhan is a concept-spinning PR type whose airy-fairy ideas have no roots in reality; and Kay, who is charged with finding post-Games uses for Olympics facilities, clearly has absolutely no understanding of sports.

In the series opener (which begins with Nat King Cole crooning "There may be trouble ahead," the first line of the delightfully apt theme-song choice, Let's Face the Music and Dance), Ian and his team are gearing up for a major milestone -- the unveiling of the 1,000-days-to-go countdown clock, an event that has been organized by underqualified PR maven Siobhan.

She has hired a prickly, avante-garde artist to design the clock, and rather than creating a forward-thinking, backward-counting digital display, he has opted for a giant version of an old-fashioned analog alarm clock, complete with bells and a clapper on top and a wind-up key in the back (the expectation is that members of the public will crank the clock's spring daily).

It occurs to Ian that neither Siobhan nor the artist understands the concept of a countdown clock, but with 1,000 Days Day just a day away, there's no time to pursue a more workable prototype. As it turns out, there isn't much chance that the kooky clock will ruin the media event, because Graham has planned a traffic-light test for the same morning as the big announcement, which means all the key players in the 1,000 Days Day ceremony will be stuck in a giant traffic jam and won't make it to the venue.

It's funny stuff, mostly in that slightly uncomfortable, Office-y way that mockumentary efforts such as this tend to favour.

Not all of the jokes hit their mark, but there are enough genuinely funny bits in Twenty Twelve's opener to leave one thinking that this show could contend for a podium spot in summertime's off-season comedy scramble.


Twenty Twelve

Starring Hugh Bonneville, Jessica Hynes, Karl Theobald, Amelia Bullmore, Vincent Franklin and Olivia Colman

Sunday at 11 p.m.


3 1/2 stars out of 5

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 16, 2012 G6

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