One of the exciting parts about the early episodes of Twenty Twelve is the way those half-hours emphasize the qualifications of the show’s protagonists. As a style of film and television, the mockumentary is great at portraying the multiple faces of a character, but those frequently break down into a single divide: Calm, collected, and professional when a character knows they’re being filmed—complete human disaster when they forget about the cameras. It’s become a cliché of the form, so it’s refreshing to watch the members of the Olympic Deliverance Commission actually succeed in the high-stakes jobs they’ve been hired to do during Twenty Twelve’s first season. Personally, they’re each their own kind of mess—Ian’s standing idly by while his home life collapses; Siobhan’s completely lost in her own world of buzzwords; though Kay preaches a policy of “sustainability,” that policy doesn’t extend to her relationship with her son—but professionally, they’re killing it. They’re responsible for the Olympics, goddamnit—is that the sort of job you’d trust to the David Brents and Nigel Tufnels of the world?
Nonetheless, it’s important to acknowledge that these characters are also human, so it’s crucial that the “Boycott” two-parter allows the deliverance commission to inch toward the edge of failure before an 11th-hour architectural revelation saves the London games. The news reports framing the episode express a degree of skepticism about the Algerian boycott’s disastrous implications (and whether or not meeting their demands will trigger other nations pull out of the Olympics), but there’s a legitimate sense at the end of “Boycott - Part 2” that, if a solution isn’t found, the commission will be up shit creek. Thankfully, the qualified people have hired other qualified people, and “emergency architect” Mike Whitaker (“there has to be a TV show in that, right?” asks Whitaker’s performer, a perpetually bug-eyed Neil Edmond) contributes to a brilliant, last-minute fix that meets the requirements of all the faiths looking to share the shared faith center. It comes perilously close to establishing a “introduce crisis, escalate crisis, solve crisis at last minute” formula for Twenty Twelve—one that’s echoed in the events of “Clarence House”—but no one’s expecting the Olympics to be shut down two episodes into the seven-episode second season.
Poking further holes in the protagonists’ façades is “Clarence House,” which argues that Siobhan and Kay’s strengths may be working against them. In Kay’s case, it’s a logical extension of her mistrust toward Head of Legacy Fi Healey, pitted as the two are in a philosophical and practical contest over the future use of the Olympic Stadium. This goes beyond which football club should be the stadium’s eventual owner—this is a battle of legacy versus sustainability. Competitors with whom, Siobhan is right to point out, no one can take sides, as neither side is particularly well-defined. In the world of the show and the world of the people watching the show, no one can tell the difference between legacy and sustainability.
Introduced as a way to irritate the easily irritated Kay, the legacy/sustainability debate has turned into one of Twenty Twelve’s sharpest satirical tools, a device for prodding at the vestigial organs that grow within organizations responsible for an event of Olympic scale. It’s a great joke on the part of bureaucracy, made all the better by the fact that it’s such a sticking point for one of the show’s principals. And, yet, she’d be hard-pressed to define what a “sustainability point of view” represents. Near as I can tell, “legacy” is an issue of what the 2012 Summer Olympics will leave behind, whereas sustainability is about making sure those remnants justify their existence in the present as well as the future. It’s an issue of semantics—thus setting it aside from “multiculturality,” according to a Sebastian Coe soundbite in “Boycott - Part 2”—but it’s not a detail so piddling that it can’t be the source of humor. In light of how the scraps of past Olympics fell into disrepair, it’s a legitimately big deal. Kay should be working under Fi’s umbrella, even if other people weren’t so quick to accidentally put her there in the first place.
Siobhan reduces “legacy” and “sustainability” to buzzwords in “Clarence House,” a sharp observation from the show’s most frequent buzzword abuser. The way Siobhan is written in these episodes, she’s in danger of being reduced to a cipher—she’s relying heavily on her staff for ideas that will integrate the Olympics and Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, and her lines are all jumbled versions of “Way cool, totally, sure.” Yet Jessica Hynes is so invested in hitting the exact, robotic rise and fall of those lines that she saves the character from being worthless to the show as well as the deliverance commission. Perfect Curve’s single pitch to the representatives of the monarchy—the horrifying-yet-versatile portmanteau “Jubilympics”—is rejected, and it falls to Ian to salvage the outreach effort, one that the BBC eventually folds into the drama over the bids for the Olympic Stadium, a suggesting there are people pulling the strings of the London games several levels above even Sebastian Coe. And even the Prince of Wales has no control over what teams play in the English Premier League in a given season.
Like David Tennant’s narration, the postscript of each Twenty Twelve episode provides an additional avenue for tying up loose ends or illuminating plot points and character notes that the viewer may have missed over the course of the half-hour. Before “Clarence House,” this white text on a black screen was the major source for professional defeat for the members of the Olympic Deliverance Commission. (Personal defeat plays out in clear view constantly. Case in point: Sally’s departure in the space between this week’s episodes.) Yet the failure of the deal to sell the Olympic Stadium doesn’t sting as much as Ian sequestering Kay in order to head to Clarence House with Fi, or the panic hiding behind Siobhan’s pursed-lip scowl as she’s outpaced by her underlings (with the exception of Karl Marx) in the “Jubilympics” game. There’s no need to save the losses until the end of “Boycott - Part 2” or “Clarence House,” because it’s important to see these characters lose. It doesn’t make them any less qualified for their jobs; it just makes them human. And we’ll need to be able to empathize with them, because they’re stuck with a whole new buzzword at the end of “Clarence House”: inheritance. Like the number of tasks the deliverance commission must complete while the green clock winds up, those meaningless words (in which people are nonetheless invested) just keep on piling on top of one another.
“Boycott — Part 2”: A-
“Clarence House”: B
- At this point, I can comfortably say that Graham is my favorite character on the show. Karl Theobald is on fire in this week’s episodes, especially in his “Clarence House” scenes with Vincent Franklin, where Graham takes every one of Nick’s prompt 100 percent literally. They have a bit of a “Pinky And The Brain” dynamic going on here, and it’s highly entertaining.