Twenty Twelve, Series Two, DVD review

Review by James Lachno for The Telegraph

17th August 2012

James Lachno enjoys the second series of Twenty Twelve, the BBC’s hilarious comedy satire on the organisation of the Olympic Games

We’ve much to thank the London 2012 Olympics for, from a pirate’s bounty of gold medals to seeing Boris Johnson suspended above Victoria Park on a zipwire, legs peddling thin air wildly like a giant bleached-blond baby. And, of course, Twenty Twelve, the BBC’s hilarious comedy satire on the organisation of the Games.

Strong ratings meant this second series was promoted from BBC Four to a prime-time BBC Two slot – and with good reason. Twenty Twelve isThe Thick of It’s Olympics cousin, almost as smart and human, and certainly as razor-sharp. Mockumentary specialist John Morton wrote and directed the series, conjuring the familiar queasy character stand-offs and cough-and-you’ll-miss-it wordplay typical of the genre.

The second series picks up with the Olympics looming. Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville), the “Head of Deliverance” for the fictional Olympic Deliverance Commission, spends most of his day like an impartial father placating squabbling children – his support staff – at the dinner table as each fights to preserve their own acre of Olympics influence. Jessica Hynes’s (Spaced) moronic, capricious Head of Brand and Karl Theobald’s (Green Wing) nerdy Head of Infrastructure again prove themselves the least manageable, and the best acted.

Beyond his staff, Fletcher wearily pacifies a grotesque revolving cast of lesser characters, including his over-familiar PA, a borderline-suicidal architect, and a coterie of ridiculously named East Londonite PR goons. Games problems, from a proposed Algerian boycott to starter pistols firing live rounds, mount each week; that he remains sane is a miracle. Bonneville is masterful as Fletcher, portraying him with a mixture of fire-fighting authority, exasperation and bemusement.

Will the Olympics be delivered? This, and other loose ends, such as whether Clarence House will allow a ‘Jubilympic’ slogan, or Fletcher and his doting PA (Olivia Colman) -“you are wonderwoman without the lycra, and I mean that in a tasteful way” – will end up together, are tied up as the series progresses.

Occasionally, Twenty Twelve is too arch for its own good. Every last detail is played for laughs – not least the obsession with political correctness, which is rammed down our throats with buzzwords like “multiculturality” (“it isn’t about semantics”) and “shared belief centre”. Moments of slapstick, such as Fletcher being shot in the foot, can be welcome respite from wave upon wave of knowing quips.

Still, for the most part, the series is carefully constructed and very funny. It plays on topical details, such as the proposed sale of the Olympic stadium or the Olympic Torch route, and uses BBC News mock-ups and Seb Coe cameos to ground the humour in reality.

But there’s another reason why Twenty Twelve remains essential viewing. In the past, these snarky send-ups have played upon the Great British blend of cynicism and pathos, an intrinsic belief that catastrophic decision-making, unfathomable incompetence, or plain bad luck will collude to ensure our failure to organise the proverbial drinking session in a brewery. From The Office to The Thick of It, we’ve sniggered and snorted along with “mockumentaries” highlighting our own ability to be rubbish.

The triggers are there in Twenty Twelve – the Millennium Dome lurches ominously into view out of windows of the Deliverance Team’s high-rise windows, for instance. But this time, we did it. The Olympics were a triumph, the best show on earth. When we hoot with laughter at Twenty Twelve, it’s at the bumbling fools who didn’t get it right, not with them. “So that’s all good then”, as Fletcher might say…

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