The United Kingdom recently took a big wallow in pomp and pageantry for Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, but there’s something mischievous in the British national character that loves nothing more than puncturing targets that have gotten a little full of themselves.
That probably explains “Twenty Twelve,” the gleeful new BBC America sitcom premiering Thursday, June 28, that casts Hugh Bonneville (“Downton Abbey”) as Ian Fletcher, the hapless manager entrusted with coordinating the run-up to the Olympic Summer Games. Left to his own devices, Ian probably would be a charismatic, competent boss, but this current gig forces him to deal constantly with idiots such as “director of branding” Siobhan Sharp (Jessica Hynes, “Spaced”), who babbles endlessly in PR-speak, and Graham Hitchens (Karl Theobald), who is in charge of coordinating logistics yet incapable of understanding why Ian has qualms about his plan to route all Olympic flights through the airspace above U.K nuclear reactors.
Filmed mockumentary style like “The Office,” “Twenty Twelve” follows Ian and his incompetent staff as they confront increasingly difficult hurdles as the official Olympic clock counts down to the Games – or, rather, counts up, since Siobhan inadvertently has had the thing programmed to count in the wrong direction.
Bonneville, known to zillions worldwide as Robert, Earl of Grantham, in “Downton Abbey,” clearly is having a grand romp in this contemporary comedy, and he is confident it will resonant with most viewers.
“While [the show] is lampooning the possible pitfalls of organizing something like the Olympics, it’s really about management,” the actor tells Zap2it. “Anyone who has sat on a school fundraiser or a church hall committee will recognize the dynamics in those groups of people who say they are going to do something by Friday but clearly aren’t, and how you can actually try and engineer a team to make something with a deadline involved. When you magnify that to the scale of the Olympics, those problems become massive, and the potential disasters are just around the corner. So it’s about how we, particularly in Britain, are able to mismanage ourself into a corner.”
The series films its office scenes in the same building where the actual Olympic organizing group does its work, so Bonneville and his colleagues often share elevators with their real-life counterparts.
“A couple of them we’ve talked to have said they enjoy our show, but it cuts painfully close to the bone,” Bonneville says, laughing. “I ran into one guy the other day who said to me, ‘I just want to tell you how much we enjoy your show, even though we have to watch it through our fingers.'”
While Brits take the brunt of the show’s satiric slings and arrows, the show finds time to aim a few at one of England’s former colonies later in the series, Bonneville reveals.
“One of the final episodes concentrates on Americans coming over from the White House to make sure they are happy with the security arrangements, because the Americans … want to have a special dedicated road lane to make sure that all the American officials can get to the Games,” he says. “And if you know London, our streets are not exactly freeways.”