Sunday, August 19, 2012

How to make the Olympics even more fabulous

Well, that was fun, wasn't it?  But anything can be improved, and we have a few suggestions:

1.  Re-organize the preliminary whatever, so that we never again have a disgraceful display like the two badminton teams trying to throw their match in order to face a weaker opponent.  Not only did they defraud the tens of people who care passionately about women's badminton -- they also torpedoed the myth that the games are about the purity of sport.  Obviously they're about taking home a medal by any means necessary, even if it means mugging Michael Phelps at the airport.

2.  Stop fetishizing the Flame.  Yes, it's kindled by the sun on Mount Olympus, or some such.  No doubt this was thrilling in 1896, when all the participants were well-bred young men with classical educations.  That generation is one with Nineveh and Tyre.  As it wends its interminable way across the world, up hill and down dale, the torch is frequently extinguished, and then somebody takes out a Zippo and lights it again.  It's not magic fire.  Beholding it with your own eyes won't cure you of Queen Anne's Revenge.  Light the damn cauldron and be done with it.

3.  Retire Bob Costas.  (Obviously I'm talking to NBC now.)  He did a good job for a long time, but he's just too solemn and impressed with himself.  He thinks he broke the Jerry Sandusky case, and when he got to London he began to sound like Murrow on the Air Ministry roof.  It's sport.  It's frivolous and entertaining and it's often silly.  Real life is happening elsewhere.  There must be someone who knows about sport but also has a sense of proportion. 

4.  Eliminate the sports that already have a professional presence in the world:  basketball, soccer, boxing and tennis.  Look at tennis:  Barely a week after Wimbledon, Roger Federer and Andy Murray were back at Centre Court, only this time Murray won and he got a gold medal instead of a gaudy serving tray.  As Jimmy Durante used to say, "And what did that accomplish?"  Basketball is even sillier -- a bunch of Spanish guys playing against LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.  It's like asking your Little League team to bat against Sandy Koufax,  You'd have to pay for pizza AND ice cream, and probably years of therapy.

5.  Closing night.  Oh dear, oh dear.  Scraps and leavings, wasn't it?  Part industrial show, part runway show, part reminder of how bad most British music is.  Plus Eric Idle.  I could have sworn it was the work of the Olympic Deliverance Commission.

The ODC is the organization whose exploits are followed by the brilliant comedy series Twenty Twelve, about a  group of civil servants charged with realizing the grandiose plans of the Olympic organizers.  John Morton, the writer and director, has the finest ear for governmental gibberish since Yes, Minister, and has created a new word to describe solving an insoluble problem by not solving it:  catastrophisation.  I expect to use it a lot.

For those who know him only as the master of Downton Abbey, Hugh Bonneville is a comic revelation as Ian Fletcher, head of deliverance.  He comes to this job from years at the National Disasters Executive (if it doesn't exist, it should) and has to cope with people even less prepared to do the impossible, like Graham Hitchens of infrastructure, who manages with a few keystrokes to bring all London traffic to a standstill and devise a security system that locks Ian out of his own office.  The show aired last year on BBC, and it's so well done that you often can't tell it from Olympic reality twelve months later.  A private security force was recruited and trained, and then failed to show up for work -- fiction or real?  To further blur the line, Sebastian Coe ("Seb") makes an appearance as himself.  Boris Johnson does not appear as himself, and is treated without mercy.  When the "real" Boris got hung up on a zipline last week, it may have been the only indignity Morton did not envision for him.  Ian's marriage implodes, he's shot with a starter's pistol, and he doesn't get the post-Olympic job he hopes for, and through it all, he copes with serene confidence masking a deep hostility he does not dare express ("My default setting is pretty positive").  All his exasperatingly inconclusive meetings conclude with "So that's all good then."  Watch it on-demand if you can, and keep your finger on the rewind button -- the dialogue goes by faster than Usain Bolt and you won't want to miss a word.