New to DVD: John Clarke’s shrewd Olympic Games satire.
As many of you will remember, Sydney hosted the Olympic Games in 2000. What you may not remember is that there was a TV show, The Games, which followed some of the personnel organising the 27th Olympiad. The first series broadcast in 1998, and concentrated on the pre-Games logistical issues—budgets, bureaucracy, and balls-ups. Series Two screened in the immediate run up to the opening ceremony on September 15, 2000, and has recently received an Australasian DVD release.
Some have commented that The Games was an influence on The Office; both recognised as ‘documentary’ series concerned with the daily comings and goings of office workers. But when the organising team consists of John Clarke (Head of Administration and Logistics), Bryan Dawe (Manager Accounts, Budgeting and Finance) and Gina Riley (Manager Marketing and Liaison) playing themselves, playing Olympic organisers, it’s apparent from the outset that this is no ordinary fly-on-the-wall mockumentary.
Series One began slowly, but as it progressed things got more ridiculous and a whole lot funnier. It is beautifully satirical in the best tradition of our dear Mr Clarke, and pokes fun at numerous targets as the crew deal with issues involving construction, transport infrastructure, drug testing, conflicts of interest, foreign delegates, and other challenges. Clarke’s good friend, Sam Neill, even pops in to play an incompetent business mogul.
Series Two is where The Games team really hit their straps. It starts with a 60 Minutes-style segment called ‘In The Public Interest’. To be able to take the piss as shrewdly as these guys do requires real talent. But we’ve always known Clarke has long had a touch of brilliance about him. Episode Two features a nice post-modern, self-referential discussion of Series One and whether there would be a second series—“If it was a joke and people were laughing at us, surely we would be back on TV tonight”—and finishes with a great justification for Series Two. Bloody clever.
The Games may well have been the first Reality TV satire, though this central conceit is primarily the vehicle on which the satirical ideas ride, and any pretence of real documentary is quickly dispensed with. While The Office was wonderfully perplexing in its fake realness largely due to the cast of unknowns and that it was built on an awkward, uncomfortable humour, the strength of The Games is that it is classically humorous storytelling.
John Clarke does what he does best in this environment, aided and abetted by a great team. The fact that the comedy and the storylines still hold up long after the original context has become distant memory proves the class of everyone involved. Each episode is a self-contained entity with storylines rarely cropping up again in later shows. It means that each installment finds a different target to skewer, whether it’s the media, construction crews, IOC officials, or whatever.
And you know there are going to be some great jokes. Like the interview between a journalist and a ‘Bulgarian’ defector, with Clarke acting as translator:
Journalist: You mean to say that you are no longer seeking to stay in this country?
Clarke: Yevgeny Kafelnikov?
Bulgarian: Billy Connolly.
Journalist: You’re absolutely sure?
Clarke: Sigmund Freud.
Clarke: Sorry, Josef Stalin.
Bulgarian: No worries, Robbie Burns.
Clarke: Quite sure.
It might not sound so funny in print, but the entire scene (of which this is the end) is classic Clarke: witty, smartarse, and politically sharp.
Continuing the self-referential postmodernism, Fred Dagg’s “We Don’t Know How Lucky You Are” sneaks in as a possible soundtrack for a TV campaign: “That tune is absolutely fantastic… you’ve got my permission to play that at my funeral.” As the series unfolds, there are also numerous references to the fact that they are appearing on a ‘fictional’ programme: “I’ve no time to deal with that, Brian, look… the program’s finishing.”
Coincidentally, I recently purchased all three seasons of Arrested Development, another show engaged with ‘reality’. John Clarke, Ricky Gervais, and Mitchell Hurwitz all approach the concept from different sides. The Games is clearly satire, The Office really suggests reality, and Arrested Development evolves from a fairly standard family comedy/drama into something quite nuts. Ironically, each of these fictional shows is much more interesting than anything Reality TV could offer.
I can’t remember if I caught all of The Games when it screened here a decade ago, but I’m sure glad we’ve all got the chance to catch them anew.