In a nutshell: Buttock-clenching realism played for laughs

Popcorn rating: 5/5

The mockumentary format can be tough to get right. Fortunately Twenty Twelve is more akin to The Office’s gently-paced realism than Come Fly With Me’s funny voices and fat-suits.

Writer-director John Morton has form when it comes to documentary-style comedies, having previously penned the excellent People Like Us. People Like Us starred Chris Langham – and is consequently unlikely to appear on your screens again in the wake of his prison sentence for downloading child porn, betraying aggrieved Guardian readers in the same way that legions of Sun-buyers felt cheated by The People’s Paedophile, Gary Glitter. Lucky for us, then, that Twenty Twelve is such a brilliantly-observed little treat of a satire that it more than makes up for it.

Set in the fictional Olympic Deliverance Commission, Twenty Twelve follows a team of public sector senior managers, who behave… well, like public sector senior managers. If you don’t think that would provide endless scope for absurd awkwardness, Kafkaesque dialogue and beautifully-timed farce, you’ve clearly never worked in the public sector. And now you don’t need to. Just watch Twenty Twelve instead. There’s no difference.

The meetings with blindly confident ‘Head of Brand’ Siobhan Sharpe (Jessica Hynes), in which everyone fiddles with their BlackBerry and accomplishes nothing, are devastatingly accurate vignettes of office life, as are the small failures that seem to conspire to ruin day after day for Head of Deliverance Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville). A temperamental swipe-card reader denies him entry to his own office. Some unearthed bones could mean abandoning the much-hyped ‘urban water hole’ showpiece of the Olympic Aquatic Centre, already behind schedule, if they prove to be Roman remains. ‘Let’s hope it just turns out be a murder or something,’ Ian says cheerfully on his way to meet the archaeologist.

Head of Sustainability Kay Hope (Amelia Bullmore) is a particular delight as she tries unsuccessfully to explain what sustainability actually means, in between desperately begging Stratford youth groups to find a post-Olympic use for the white elephant Tae Kwondo Centre. So is Head of Infrastructure Graham Hitchins (Karl Theobald), who with only a year to go, still hasn’t worked out how London’s packed transport network will handle the Olympic traffic. Perhaps that’s why Graham rarely seems to go home – or maybe it’s just because when asked where he lives, his only response is ‘It’s got its own bathroom’.

I have just two complaints about Twenty Twelve. One is that it’s so accurate that I sometimes get confused while watching and think I’m at work. The other is that it’s shoved away on BBC4 at 10pm. This is a sharp, well-made comedy that deserves better – 9 o’clock on BBC2 for the repeat, perhaps?

Reviewer: JoSheppard

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