Well, it’s Easter and that means the TV schedulers go on some kind of drug-fuelled retreat until September, leaving us with repeats of The Fantastic Four, Tomb Raider, and Roger Moore-flavoured Bond films to see us through the summer. For some reason it’s apparently believed that the viewing public only watch TV in January and February, and so the first two months of the year are an embarrassment of riches on the entertainment front. Barely have we recovered from the generous overdose of celebreality TV (CBB, Media Ho to Opera Luvvy, Prancing on Ice, Celeb Come Dine with Me to name but a few) it’s the most starlet-heavy fashion weeks and ‘awards season’. In amongst this it’s no wonder that the poor Winter Olympics – suddenly thrust upon an unsuspecting world with only some inscrutable BBC cartoons for warning – charted somewhere alongside the Hurt Lockers rather than the Avatars. Chris Evans can’t say much right at the moment, at least not before 10 in the morning, but he did have one point: We love the Winter Olympics, but we only realise it’s actually showing just in time for the closing ceremony. What the Winter Olympics needs is better trailers.
The Beeb took a kicking for the fact they’d sent more people to present and commentate than GB and NI sent to compete, but in reality it was more of a rather light-hearted triple-hander between Graham Bell, Ed Leigh, and Clare Balding, with the other 70 people apparently being CGI-d in afterwards (badly, in the case of Alain Baxter, who also suffered from the scriptwriter only using the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’).
With Ed and Graham getting up to all kinds of hijinks while Clare tried to pull it all together, this was a standard romcom with a snowy Brokeback Mountain twist. Sample line: Ed (to Graham) “This is the happiest I’ve ever seen you in the morning.” The Beeb is also a bit heavy on the unwanted sequels. We all enjoyed previous showings of Curling (Gold 2002) and Skeleton (Silver 2006), but this doesn’t mean we wish to be punished in future years with blanket coverage of the slaughtering of the women’s curling team by countries that didn’t know about the existence of ice-rinks and can only practice when their rivers freeze over.
Amy Williams’ moment in the spotlight was somewhat over-shadowed by some poor story choices. Firstly, we were expecting Shelley Rudman to grab gold in Skeleton anyway. Shelley, Amy, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, who really cares. Secondly, the IOC in their wisdom introduced the sport of Ski Cross, a kind of Grand National without horses on skis. As well as jumps (‘kickers’ in the parlance) there are large bumps in the course (‘wutangs’ for first half an hour of watching, ‘woots’ after the viewer has watched three races and is therefore a world expert). These obviously provide plenty of opportunity for mid-air crashes, botched landings, and general unscripted in-flight malco-ordination.
These opportunities, it should be said, are wholeheartedly seized upon by the competitors, who seem to regard a race in which everyone actually finishes to be a wasted journey. Skiers ‘are allowed to protect their line’, which in practice means giving a forceful shove to anyone who comes within bitch-slapping distance. However, the sheer brilliance of ski-cross lies in the fact that the governing body of four pissed-up blokes doing vodka luges in a Jacuzzi in Val D’Isere decided there would be none of those annoying ’skiers have to be on skis when they cross the line’ type rules. Not even, in fact, skiers have to be standing up when they cross the line. This led to some poor woman crossing the line sans skis, sans poles, and on her tummy. Such are the odds of reaching the finish line at all, however, that she slid over the line in a manner that could only be described as triumphant. Walrus-like, but triumphant.
The Wacky Races of Ski Cross set the tone for much of the rest of the games, whose narrative arc seemed to have been dreamt up by Adam Sandler having a go at writing National Lampoon: Winter Olympics.
“Hey, Rob, we should set it at a Winter Olympics – without any snow!”
“I love it, Adam. Let’s call it, ‘Deuce Bigalow, No-Snow Gigolo.”
Movie opens with hilarious montage of the Canadian Olympic Committee desperately trying to get snow to Cypress Mountain via truck, train, hot air balloon, bicycle, submarine, carrier pigeon, in Rob Schneider’s butt cheeks, etc. Gut-busting laughs ensue as a figure skating team turn up Sacha Baron Cohen-esque Aboriginal costumes and have to be asked to tone them down by a flustered organising committee. A German skater called into his team at the last minute is out partying and misses the phone call telling him he’s made the team (those Germans and their lager, that’ll have the audiences wetting themselves!) Add in the side-splittingly funny show-down between the speed skater who is disqualified for crossing into the wrong lane and his coach who mistakenly told him to do so (what a comedy of errors) and this stuff is writing itself.
From the ridiculous to the sublime, Johnny Weir is possibly the only member of an Olympic team who is visually likely to inspire Tim Burton to consider making an Edward Scissorhands sequel, Johnny Bladefoot. However, his storyline during Vancouver will probably be left on the cutting room floor, given its lack of gothic themes and the fact no-one really gets stirred up about placing sixth.
If you’re unfamiliar with the work of La Weir, he is a fey little thing, a massive performer, precise and fast over the ice. His 2010 exhibition program is the video Lady Gaga should have made for Poker Face.
As one of the YouTube comments points out “I think the Olympic judges would have a heart attack if he pulled this shit out there.” Johnny’s big rival in the US skating world is Evan Lycasek, with whom he refused to room. Somehow, through the kind of tortured machinations that only script writers can manage to produce, the only other person without a room was Evan’s ex-girlfriend, Tanith. It seems that absolutely no-one else was prepared to shift around, so…Johnny and Tanith had to bunk in together, hilarity and confusion ensuing. Tanith was, naturally , thrilled, as instead of sharing a room with sweaty boots and industrial cans of hairspray, apparently it’s all gently perfumed room sprays and Audrey Hepburn posters round Johnny’s.
This fact, combined with Johnny’s general inability to tip the scales at 100lbs, led that bastion of manliness and machismo, a French-Canadian figure-skating commenting double-team, to suggest that Johnny undergo a gender test, brilliantly knocking the predictable convention of ’she’s really a man’ on its head. The writers of Mrs Doubtfire never thought of this! Inspired!
If general events had the makings of a lame comedy, then the story of Canadian skater Joannie Rochette wrote its own ‘Lifetime: Television for Women’ original afternoon movie script. In ‘My Medal for My Mother: The Joannie Rochette Story’, a young blonde girl from a small Quebecois village overcomes apparently insuperable challenges (such as coming from a small Quebecois village) to become Canada’s number one ice-dancer. Accompanied by her family (because she’s very naive, coming from a small Quebecois village) she travels to Vancouver for the biggest moment of her life, representing Canada in the Olympics on Canadian soil (albeit in British-Columbia, not Quebec.) On the eve of her big moment, her mother tragically dies of a heart attack. What will Joannie do? Can she go on? And what about the big show down with Kim Yuna, the Korean number one and Joannie’s long time rival? (This is not strictly true. Kim’s rival is the Japanese Mao Asada, but this doesn’t work very well for our narrative in hand.)
Supported by the head of one of Canada’s elite sporting groups (whose father died while he was in training for the 1972 Olympics) and the athletes village officer (whose boyfriend committed suicide on the day before her Olympic event, probably rather too many bit characters with a similar backstory) Joannie decides to take part in the competition of her life. Yuna goes first in the short programme – and sets a world record score. What can Joannie do? Is her grief too much? Stepping onto the ice, a global audience simultaneously holds its breath, crosses its fingers and has a jolly old weep. Joannie under-rotates an early jump! She can’t hold it together…can she? She does it! She gets through, and though she doesn’t beat Yuna, she’s in the medal rankings. The global audience bawls its eyes out and makes a mental note to check their cholesterol levels.
But the long programme is 2 days away, and Joannie’s got to hold it together. With some wise words from the sporting head and athletes officer (probably) she’s ready to step on the ice for her most important skate ever. Once again, Yuna goes first – and she’s got a world record score overall! There’s no beating her now. But the audience is audibly willing Joannie to succeed, and Robin Cousins (playing himself) in the BBC Commentary box is practically coaching her through the whole thing, sequence by sequence. Once again she makes an early error, but then the years of training take over. “Just land this jump, Joannie,” encourages Robin. “Good girl!” A final spin and it’s all over. Tears come to Joannie’s eyes. She’s done her best. The audience at the rink are on their feet. They love her. The global audience is still bawling its eyes out as the scores come in – she’s got the bronze medal! Everybody, including Robin Cousins, howls with joy and sympathy.
You can give me Colin Firth looking insanely hot in period Tom Ford. You can give me a virtually all-Brit cast finally making Tolstoy alluring. You can even give me Ms Point Break finally getting the recognition she has so richly deserved since first pairing Keanu Reeves with some sex wax and Patrick Swayze with that one who isn’t Nick Nolte. But best original story? Always, always the Olympics. Roll on 2012.