Twenty Twelve, BBC2, Tuesday
The Secret History of Our Streets, BBC2, Wednesday
The Newsroom, Sky Atlantic, Wednesday
The underloved Olympics mockumentary is a one-joke wonder — but what a good joke it's been
Comedy is all about timing, and so – with the Olympics a matter of weeks away – here come the final three episodes of John Morton's strangely underloved Twenty Twelve, a chance for the men and women of the Olympic Deliverance Commission to get ahead of the game, or, as head of deliverance Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville) deadpans, "ahead of the Games".
It is 8 o'clock on Monday morning at the start of another busy week ("32 Days to Go") and our crack team has been assembled for a breakfast meeting. On the agenda, the post-Games plan for the stadium, security, and public transport. But first there are the pastry options (muffins, croissants, "those Portuguese custard tart things, I'm not sure what they're called …") and, once that's settled, the endless order for "double-decaf skinny soy macchiatos".
The long-suffering Fletcher sits through it all. Perhaps he knows, as we do, that when the meeting does get under way, the air will be heated with words only because that's what people are supposed to do in meetings. "I should say," offers head of legacy Fi Healey, "that in sustainability terms we've always had the stadium down very clearly as a legacy commitment first rather than a sustainability issue second." Eh?
With its "catastrophisation feedback", "pre-conversationals" and "preliminals" gobbledegook, Twenty Twelve could be accused of being a one-joke wonder. But what a glorious joke it is. And while we've seen this sort of thing many times before (the aloof voiceover, the fly-on-the-wall camerawork, the tumbleweed script), there is something uniquely British about admitting that the people who run things are as incompetent as the likes of you and me. If The Thick of It is a savage Yes, Prime Minister for the age of spin, Twenty Twelve is Dad's Army scripted by Joseph Heller, and I for one will be sad to see it go.
But all good things come to an end, and last week also saw the final episode of The Secret History of Our Streets, the riveting BBC series that took Charles Booth's Victorian-era maps as the starting point for six programmes charting the social changes in various parts of London.
Under the spotlight this time was Arnold Circus, Britain's first council estate, built in the 1890s on the site of the Friars Mount slum in east London. But while the town planners believed that the slum's residents would provide the five-floor mansion flats with inhabitants, in reality, the poorest people simply found new slums to move on to, allowing first Jewish and then Bengali immigrants a foot on the property ladder.
As usual, this was a story about flesh and blood rather than bricks and mortar. Researchers tracked down 80-year-old Minnie Finkelstein, the granddaughter of two of Arnold Circus's original inhabitants, and allowed her back in to the apartment she had known as a child. Where once there had been a functioning hovel with only cold water, there was now a high-spec yuppie flat that led Minnie to exclaim, "Oh, haven't they made a good job of it."
It was a conclusion that could equally be drawn about the series. Here was a belt-and-braces British history lesson with the ability to make us see the world around us in a new light, and, as far as this reviewer is concerned, the programme-makers should work their way slowly through the entire A-Z.
In contrast, the week's all-guns-blazing new series was Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom, which was critically hammered in the US, where Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network) could previously do little wrong.
Whether you have access to Sky Atlantic or not, the chances are you will have seen or heard about The Newsroom's opening scene by now. In it, Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), the anchor of the fictional news programme News Night, is hitting the students at a university debate over the head with a monologue.
In a rant that has widely (though mistakenly) been said to recall Peter Finch's "I'm mad as hell …" spiel from Network, McAvoy tells the room why America is not the greatest country in the world any more.
"We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defence spending, where we spend more than the next 25 countries combined …. The first step to solving any problem is recognising there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world any more." And that, last week at least, appeared to be true in the world of television.
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