As is traditional (hey, it happened a couple of times, possibly three, we live in a postmodern world) this episode begins with a quick joke about Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London. Charismatic political “character” to his supporters, over-privileged buffoonish self-caricature to his detractors, Johnson inspires in both sides a faint but unmistakeable sense that he doesn’t really exist, not in the same way that other people do. The messy hair, the stumbling conversation peppered with upper-class mumbling and Classical references, the general impression that one is looking at a joint project between P.G. Wodehouse and J.K Rowling. But this is the source of Boris’ power (the power pertaining to Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, and I’m not making that up) – he offers a powerfully atavistic image of a long-disappeared England for people to either adore or loathe. He may look like a teddy bear that’s been stuffed into a suit and told to ring the bell at the NASDAQ, but he managed to win the Presidency of the Oxford Union, achieve the editorship of The Spectator and win a million votes in the London mayoral elections, so this shtick is really working for him. This is why the jokes aimed at him by Twenty Twelve don’t so much miss their target as actually decorate its surface. Saying his shirt is always untucked, or he left a message on their voicemail in Latin, just contributes to the mythos. It’s not satire, it’s PR for the guy.
That grumbled, this episode brings Darren Boyd into Twenty Twelve, which is always good for a laugh. Deeply pleasing character actor, whom I last saw as the trendy evangelical preacher in Rev (see that show, please see it), and one who is very good at producing a large but slightly hollow stage presence. As the ex-Olympic athlete Dave Wellbeck (whose career, David Tennant tell us cattily, was “gradually cut short”) Boyd gives a great turn: energised, positive and dynamic to absolutely no purpose whatsoever. He’s the chosen face of the “Raising the Bar” initiative to get more young people involved in sports, a role he’s very excited about: “You might be switching on some kid out there, whereby you completely change the course of his future…future”. Strongly reminiscent of every teacher and sports captain who used “good skills, guys” and “OK, great stuff” as verbal punctuation whilst putting on their shoes or taking the register. He’s also awful at it, an exceptionally poor maker of speeches and a guy who couldn’t inspire one of those paper party squeakers. Boyd brings a little cringe comedy with him into the show, explaining his jokes and leaving the pauses just long enough to start making us uncomfortable.
Back at the office, an argument is going on about the wind turbine planned for one of the sites, as a beacon of sustainability. Presumably actual beacons, as seen during Lord of the Rings, attacks by the Spanish Armada, and loopy Jubilee celebrations, could not be beacons of sustainability, involving as they do a great deal of burning hydrocarbons and possessing the ability to sustain themselves only insofar as you keep cutting down trees and feeding them into the fire. So a wind turbine it is. Or isn’t, since the heads of Contracts and Infrastructure want to abandon the plan. But Amelia Bullmore’s head of Sustainability appeals to them: without it, what is the Olympics even about? Well, sport, suggests one. Sport, and stuff like archery and er…diversity proposes the other. But they all come to an agreement, forming a consensus around the notion that this is a problem. Meanwhile, in the emotional centre of the show, Olivia Colman’s character is now fielding calls from her boss’ wife, to protect him from having to deal with his own life.
Off Dave Wellback is sent to a performance coach called Jason Topper (Paul Hilton). The show’s continual concern with pointing out when people are talking nonsense which even they probably don’t understand takes another run round the block – entertaining and gives Boyd more chance to do his stuff. The argument over the wind turbine continues, with High Bonneville’s character coming up with a brilliant solution: a wind turbine that functions as a beacon, but doesn’t actually function as a turbine. Build the thing, embody the meaning, but the blades don’t actually have to rotate. Or even have them rotate, by running some power into the mock-turbine. I think this is the best symbol the show has come up with so far.
Out in the schools of the nation, it turns out the performance coaching has only made Dave Wellbeck more…well, more Dave Wellbeck. See him go. Indeed, he will have to go, but they can’t sack him so in order to put someone else into the job they invent a scheme to motivate and inspire people who aren’t so young as the young people. Who are, in fact, old people. This last development is either using the idea that older people’s lives have value as a punchline, or asking us to wonder why it is that government initiatives so rarely address that idea.
Dr. Jem Bloomfield studied at the universities of Oxford and Exeter and is currently an Associate Lecturer in Drama at Oxford Brookes. His research covers the performance of Early Modern drama and the various ways it has been adapted and co-opted throughout the centuries. His own plays include “Bewick Gaudy”, which won the Cameron Mackintosh Award for New Writing, and he is working on a version of Oliver Goldsmith’s comedy “She Stoops To Conquer”. His writing on arts, culture, and politics have appeared in “California Literary Review”, “Strand Magazine” and “Liberal Conspiracy”. He blogs at “Quite Irregular” and can be found on Twitter @jembloomfield