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A scene from the new BBC show “Twenty Twelve”
A scene from the new BBC show “Twenty Twelve”

TELEVISION

Let the games begin: BBC comedy mocks London Olympics Add to ...

In a glaring oversight, the mosque at the “Shared Belief Centre” at the Summer Olympic Games in London does not face Mecca, which has members of the Algerian Olympic Team threatening to boycott the event.

So the Olympic Deliverance Committee offers to construct a separate mosque – which immediately has the French Olympic contingent threatening to pull out of the Games. And while the ODC dithers, the whole world’s watching.

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At least on TV.

Long before the torch is lit for next month’s Summer Games in London, the BBC is predicting the worst to full comedic effect in the series Twenty Twelve, now airing in Canada.

Although entirely fictional, the situations and characters in the series feel very real, and carry on the venerable British comedy tradition of “taking the piss” out of all things great and small.

Broadcast without laugh track and with sombre narration by Doctor Who star David Tennant, Twenty Twelve takes place primarily within the corridors of the fictional ODC, a government-funded body handed the mammoth task of organizing the London Summer Games.

Naturally, everyone on the ODC team holds a lofty title. At the top is head of deliverance Ian Fletcher, played with eerie calm by Hugh Bonneville of Downton Abbey renown. Ian’s well-intentioned charges include head of contracts Nick (Vincent Franklin), head of sustainability Kay (Amelia Bullmore), head of infrastructure Graham and head of brand Siobhan (Jessica Hynes). All those heads and barely an original idea among them.

As on The Office, each staffer is uniquely bumbling in his or her own special way. Ian’s initial attempts to exude managerial confidence to his staff is immediately undone by his inability to properly fold up the portable mini-bike he rides to the ODC office each morning.

Likewise, Graham is a sputtering techie tasked to synchronize London’s traffic-light system during the Games; Nick is an officious city planner incapable of working with women. Kay is clueless in regard to the actual Olympic events. In the opener, Kay is unsure about what to do with the taekwondo venue after the Games (or exactly what taekwondo is).

The live wire in the ODC group is Siobhan, the vacuous marketing whiz who begins most sentences with, “Here’s the thing....”

Of course, in this scenario every logistic associated with planning the Games turns into last-minute chaos. The ODC team is unable to prevent a countdown-clock debacle because they’re seeing the clock for the first time the day before the unveiling ceremony. As it turns out, Graham has arranged a London-wide traffic-light test that same morning, so most people are trapped in gridlock and unable to make it to the ceremony anyway. Problem created, and solved.

While the show’s cynical style isn’t likely to heighten anticipation for the 2012 London Summer Games – or help the show’s makers obtain tickets to Olympic events – Twenty Twelve continues to gain traction with viewers in Britain.

The first six-part season debuted on BBC4 last year to sweeping critical acclaim, where TV reviewers certainly seem to fear the worst for the upcoming Games. “It could win a gold medal for prescience,” wrote James Rampton of The Independent. “Twenty Twelve is funny, but the real Olympics is funnier,” added The Guardian’s TV critic Sam Wollaston.

And the tone of Twenty Twelve only gets sharper in the second season (still to air in Canada) as the countdown to the Games bears down on the witless organizers. (In addition to offending the French and the Algerians, Siobhan angers Catholic athletes with her sexual-health campaign rap song, “Get It On.”)

Even a broad comedy of errors, it seems, is not beyond the Olympic credo – faster, higher, stronger.

Twenty Twelve airs Sundays at 9 and 9:45 p.m. ET/PT on The Comedy Network.

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