If the aura of “Downton Abbey” is destined to follow Hugh Bonneville around for awhile, perceptions of him as a stiff-upper-lipped British lord well serves “Twenty Twelve,” a decidedly modern, dry-as-a-shaken-martini BBC mockumentary about the organizing committee for this summer’s Olympics in London. Exec produced by Jon Plowman (whose credits include the original “The Office”), the show comes close to that tone, and in many ways feels like what HBO’s “Veep” should have been. While light on laugh-out-loud moments, this clever half-hour earns the gold in the category of “wry and bemused.”
Bonneville plays Ian Fletcher, the harried Head of Deliverance for the 2012 Games — a guy so well versed in corporate-speak he can put a positive spin on virtually any terrible situation, including his unhappy marriage. And in his new position, there’s a whole lot of awful to go around, what with all the pressure to deliver an Olympics that fulfills buzzwords like “sustainability,” creating such dilemmas as what one does with a purpose-built Tae Kwon Do arena.
Written and directed by John Morton, the series doubtless contains elements likely to resonate more deeply among Londoners, but much of it should be relatable to anyone in a big city, including a meeting to discuss traffic concerns where, naturally, someone arrives late because of the bloody traffic.
Fletcher’s staff is equally quirky, addressing the camera in awkward interviews, where what they’re saying often sounds at odds with what we’re seeing or hearing from the unseen narrator (David Tennant). That includes Ian’s double-talking PR chief (Jessica Hynes) and assistant Sally (Olivia Colman), who keeps trying to feed him, in a manner that suggests either unspoken love or food-based pathology.
The first couple of episodes are the strongest, including a meeting with an international contingent that goes awry (what does one bring to an exchange of gifts, anyway?), and a traffic nightmare where Ian’s bus ends up caught inside a tunnel. Running horribly late for an important event, he looks on the bright side by deadpanning, “If we do ever get out of here, we’re virtually there.”
Not everything works over the course of the six episodes (a second season will immediately follow), but the underlying theme of a workplace facing one absurd crisis after another proves consistently fun.
In an unorthodox bit of scheduling, BBC America will air three episodes back to back to introduce the series (with ads inserted, each runs about 40 minutes), which then moves to Saturdays at midnight.
Frankly, that pattern makes about as much sense as most of what transpires in “Twenty Twelve,” which shouldn’t detract from the show’s ascent to the droll-medal stand.