Like the preconception that all movies from France will be good and that all Swedish music will be catchy, during the last few decades we’ve come to assume that most TV from England will be fantastic. After all, the British have created some of the most iconic television shows in contemporary history and have perfected genres like the sitcom (especially the one filtered through the sardonic eye of the mockumentary). Shows like Extras and The Thick of It, which navigate in the muddy waters of show business and politics, have reminded audiences all over the world that the best humor is often found in the darkest of places.
On the surface, Twenty Twelve seemed poised to being yet another hit in a long tradition which also included The Office. The comedy concentrates on the trials and tribulations of the Olympic Deliverance Commission (ODC), a fictional organization whose mission is to put together the 2012 London Olympic Games. As with other shows in the workplace genre, the members of ODC have to deal with the misfortunes brought along by bureaucracy and issues outside of their control like infrastructural failures and an assortment of troubles.
Featuring an all-star cast headlined by Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville, Twenty Twelve hits all the right spots in terms of quality and technical prowess. The cast is remarkable, with Bonneville bringing his aristocratic charms to the part of Ian Fletcher, the head of the ODC, who more often than not finds himself trying to justify the inefficiency of his crew and the plans around them.
On the very first episode, we see how a countdown clock designed by a famous, but painfully idiosyncratic, artist is unveiled right in front of the Tate Modern with dismal results. The camera captures Bonneville’s disapproval and we can’t help but feel that he is too serene for the chaos that unfolds. Unlike an actor like Steve Carell, Bonneville seems unable to look pathetic. There is always a sense of utter calm to him that avoids Ian from giving completely into the madness of the situations he’s put in.
Bonneville’s line delivery is absolutely flawless of course, but the insanity around him is always a step ahead of his elegance. He does achieve wonderful synergy with the incomparable Jessica Hynes, who plays Siobhan Sharpe, the ODC Head of Brand who is always trying and failing to take the games—and London—into groundbreaking territory. During a hilarious episode in the second season, she and her team devise a strategy to remind audience members about the benefits of safe sex. The resulting campaign, including a ridiculous theme song, elicit the kind of reactions that should have audience members blushing and sharing the characters’ embarrassment, yet as it seems to occur with almost every joke in this show, the actors are always left suggesting the punchline, instead of working it.
There are several scenes where you can almost see the actors trying to find a smile of recognition from the people watching. Perhaps the actors were aware that the show lacked a little bit of oomph to achieve complete brilliance. The feeling of lack might probably be explained in the idea that the writers were stuck somewhere between satire and trying not to boycott the serious spirit of the Olympic Games. You can almost feel that the writers had the material to be completely transgressive and hilarious, but in doing so they might’ve been offensive to the point where they could get in trouble.
The fact that the show doesn’t seem to have enough jokes, but never digs deep into dramatic territory, either (we never really know these characters outside their work environment and personas) leaves it stuck somewhere between an incomplete drama and a mildly funny comedy. Even when the show has the potential to be completely subversive, it shies away at the very last second.
On the second episode there is an appearance by, athlete turned politician, Sebastian Coe (who became the Chairman of the Olympic British Association) and just when the show seems like it’s about to mock his fame, it suddenly stops, as if unaware that for a real person to even accept being in a comedy show, they must have be aware on some level about the fact that they might be ridiculed. The show aired in the UK during the two summers preceding the actual Olympic Games and it seems like it would’ve been a great companion piece to what resulted truly wonderful games, but the show fails precisely in showing any of the gumption required to be part of a competition.
This DVD set includes both seasons of Twenty Twelve and a limited amount of extras consisting of a few interviews with the cast and crew. Based on its bonus features, the set leaves a bit to be desired.