Blightyvision: “Twenty Twelve”

Written and directed by John Morton
Starring Hugh Bonneville, Amelia Bullmore, Olivia Colman, Jessica Hynes, and Karl Theobald
Narrated by David Tennant

One thing I heard a lot about while I was overseas in March was the encroaching 2012 Olympic games — specifically, just how over the whole thing everyone is already.  I’ve yet to hear from any Londoner who’s particularly happy at having the games hosted in their backyard.  Though even if I hadn’t heard that sentiment fairly far and wide, I would have gotten the picture with “Twenty Twelve.”

Rather dissimilar to the American habit of making mockumentaries focused on niche hobbies or fictional “celebrity nobodies,” UK entertainment tends to dig into whatever is mainstream trendy and overall unlikable.  With “Twenty Twelve,” we’re given a look at the corporate side of things, as the fictional Olympic Deliverance Commission attempts to make the games trendy, topical, lucrative, and, if not non-invasive, then at least invasive in a way that people won’t raise too much of a fuss over.

The group is headed up by Ian Fletcher (Bonneville), the Head of Deliverance, attempting to balance the concerns of the Heads of Sustainability, Infrastructure, Contracts, and Brand.  A fair bit of the early “action” takes place during a meeting called to discuss how to properly commemorate the landmark thousand days to opening ceremonies — or, for short, “Thousand Day Day Day.”  As the six-episode series goes on, we witness attempts at hiring to fill quotas, figuring out excuses to erect buildings and sites that may or may not serve any purpose after the games, and dealing with artists and designers whose visions are too high-flown even for a full-of-themselves focus group.

The concept of “Twenty Twelve” is rather neat and (obviously) incredibly timely.  And it captured the documentary feel, right down to the nearly-non-disinterested overly-professional narration by David Tennant — well-handled delivery on his part.  The main problem here, though, is that it really didn’t need to be a series.  We aren’t particularly meant to care about the characters; they’re cookie-cutter corporate types that we can giggle at because they’re so predictable.  But then we get five more episodes of predictability, and there’s only so long the “Oh, I can tell where this is going” element can carry on before it just becomes stale.

It’s a bit of a pity, actually.  As a 45-minute one-shot, the format could have run its course beginning to end and tied itself up neatly pretty well without exception.  It would have been more enjoyable and far more memorable.  But six episodes, even short episodes, is too much.  The closest we get to any sort of human interest is a distant glimpse at Fletcher’s rubbish marriage and the attempts of his personal assistant Sally to take care of him when things go awry.  I actually cared about this to a degree, but that’s the one angle we never really get a good look at.

A second series was commissioned last month, but I can’t see a point.  The joke’s been done, and the characters and scenarios don’t lend themselves to any real extension.  The cast is all sorts of great — a good variety of both comedic and dramatic actors — and while a mockumentary can be a good showcase for an actor’s ability to be truly “natural,” you just know the cast as a whole could be doing more.

If you can get hold of it, watch the first episode, and that should be more than enough.  You’ll get a few giggles, and if you stop there, you won’t have a chance to grow as apathetic to the series as you may well be toward what it’s parodying.

“Twenty Twelve” has received criticism for allegedly plagiarizing the Australian series “The Games,” though if they really are that alike, I’m not sure I feel like watching the latter all the way through to find out.