Olympic satire ‘Twenty Twelve’ hits close to home

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LONDON (AP) - The broken clock had perfect timing.

“Twenty Twelve,” a satirical BBC sitcom about the London Olympics, kicked off last month with an episode that saw organizers unveil a baffling backwards-running clock counting down to the start of the games.

Life soon imitated art.

A real clock installed in London’s Trafalgar Square _ hours before the show’s launch _ to tick down the 500 days to the opening ceremony stopped dead the very next day. It was several hours before engineers got it going again.

For Olympics planners, it was an embarrassment. But it was priceless free publicity for the BBC’s “Twenty Twelve,” which has become must-watch television for those involved with organizing the games _ and anyone who has ever wondered whether London’s creaky infrastructure can cope with an Olympic-sized challenge.

“It was delicious,” the show’s writer and director, John Morton, said of the timing. “Like so many things in broadcasting, it was a complete accident.”

“Twenty Twelve” has had luck going for it, as well as considerable charm.

In the mock-documentary format pioneered by comedies like “The Office,” the show goes behind the scenes at the fictional Olympic Deliverance Commission, run by long-suffering “Head of Deliverance” Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville, recently seen as aristocratic Lord Grantham in costume drama “Downton Abbey”).

Each week is an exercise in Murphy’s Law: An athlete hired to help whip up excitement about the games turns out to be phenomenally boring. London’s traffic chaos plays havoc with plans to give Brazilian delegates a tour of the Olympic site. Roman remains are found under the diving pool _ an echo of a real-life incident, in which the remains of an Iron Age settlement were discovered on the aquatic center site in 2007.

Each indignity is endured by a team of well-meaning but befuddled managers and a perky “Head of Brand” (Jessica Hynes), who spouts a torrent of PR bafflegab: “Here’s where we ramp up the public interest and take it to the next level … go viral and launch 2012 2.0.”

Looming offscreen are the real-life presences of London Mayor Boris Johnson _ depicted as a wildly talkative bumbler usually found on a bicycle _ and London organizing committee chairman Sebastian Coe, the best-known public face of the games.

Coe even makes a cameo appearance in the second episode _ though he’s modest about his acting impact.

“I don’t expect to be seeing a BAFTA (British Academy Award) heading my way anytime soon,” Coe said.

Like Coe, other Olympic insiders seem good natured about being sent up on prime time TV.

The London organizing committee, known by the acronym LOCOG, said the show was “becoming compulsory viewing for the staff every week.”

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