What if the denizens of The Office's Dunder Mifflin outfit—or, more specifically, of the British Office's Wernham Hogg—were put in charge of the world's biggest sporting event? Such is the simple pitch of Twenty Twelve, a consistently amusing British sitcom (which had its U.S. premiere on BBC America last Thursday) about a small, out-of-its-depth unit responsible for preparing London to host this summer's Olympic Games.
Comparisons with The Office are inevitable, both series being workplace mockumentaries. Here we have Ian Fletcher, boss of the Olympic Deliverance Commission, navigating through impenetrable bureaucracy and clueless underlings. Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville plays Fletcher (right) as a generally competent leader—more of a straight man than The Office's Michael Scott/David Brent. Seemingly that's out of necessity, as here the stakes are higher than the production of paper, a fact painfully underlined when Fletcher and his head of infrastructure, Graham Hitchins (Karl Theobald), scheme to address London's brutal traffic. "It's like flying an airplane," says Hitchins. "You get this right, no one's going to notice. You get this wrong, everyone's going to notice.... Well, first they notice, yeah—and then they die."
This is what Fletcher deals with: employees who seem to know only a small fraction about how to do their jobs. "That's just, like, spelling," says a designer who has created a website devoted to the olypmics. "We can change that whenever you like."
Some of Twenty Twelve's jokes may not hit home on these shores, such as those about people who hail from Yorkshire. (They do not, it turns out, tolerate nonsense.) But the vast majority translate nicely. The ODC struggles with plans for what should become of Olympic facilities once the Games are over, and considerations for the taekwondo arena include a national donkey sanctuary and a multiethnic skateboarding experience.
So brutal, so real. In actuality, before these 2012 Games, London organizers saw a countdown clock go kaput after just one day, and they witnessed one Olympic torch accidentally extinguished and lost in the same week.
The real life opening ceremony is just three weeks away, and it will likely be slick and seamless. Twenty Twelve is a droll reminder of what might lie beneath.