The Games: articles

Australian humour eludes Canadian viewer

The Games, a 10-episode [sic] Australian satire of the antics of fictional organizers of the Sydney 2000 Olympics, which begins Monday at 9:30 p.m. on CBC TV (Channel 11, Cable 12) tries to put a humorous spin on the problems of putting an immense event like the Games together.

Unfortunately, the two episodes I saw reminded me of the old line after a joke falls flat: I guess you had to be there at the time because this Australian Broadcasting Corporation program seems to be a one-joke premise that loses its punch after about five minutes.

It makes fun of the fact that English spoken here, in Britain and in Australia, is sometimes as foreign as another language. That joke sums up what is the major problem with this series. It was made for Australians and, unless you are up on the sports and politics of that country, much of the humour is going to be missed.

And without that bite, the program, regrettably, just seems to drag as three people—John Clarke, who along with Ross Stevenson, dreamed up and created the series, Gina Riley and Bryan Dawe—agonize and argue over the fictional preparations.

For example, the opening episode deals with a press conference held by the Logistics and Liaison Division, of which these three represent, and the trio's rehashing of what went wrong. We never actually see the press people, just hear them. (There is a subtle reference to the lack of expertise in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, as they wait for its technician to get his microphone working.)

That's the whole episode, 30 minutes of watching three people, who are joined by a political consultant, talking about this press conference and why it had gone wrong.

The trio blames a handbook for the Olympics, which is full of errors. Again, this must be an inside joke that Australians may appreciate but which eludes a Canadian viewer. It's almost as bad as watching an actual press conference, since the humour cannot be appreciated.

An example of this problem is the joke that the press release points to. One of the errors in the handbook refers to Cindy 2000. Unless you knew that from the release, you would not have caught it from the program. The joke being that the trio tried suggesting that Cindy is not far wrong from the spelling of Sydney.

A reference about the deputy prime minister's name which is apparently misspelled is lost on us because we don't know that name quoted is not that of the deputy prime minister at all but that of some official in the Liberal party. Not knowing Australian politics, whatever the joke was, it is lost on us.

The second episode, dealing with actual events at the Olympics, has a few funny moments but that was because the trio were quarrelling over the movie, Chariots of Fire, which, at least, international viewers can relate to.

This is not the fault of The Games, since it wasn't made for a Canadian audience. It is like Wedlocked and Mother and Son, two other Australian imports which recently have surfaced on Canadian television. Though these two series dealt with family problems which transcend international borders, there were jokes in both series which were difficult to understand based on local situations.

Ten episodes of insider humour will be a little hard for Canadians to follow. We would have been better served if the cameras had been left running in CBC board meetings this past spring. The anxious debate about the future of this corporation would probably provide more laughs of despair than this parody.

Had the CBC wanted to acquaint Canadians with Australian television, it would have been better served to have followed the lead of Showcase, which runs a series of excellent dramas—Water Rats, Adrenalin Junkies and Halifax, PI [sic] are examples. The universality of crime and mental sickness transcends the barriers a common language has created.

By Wayne Roberts
The Saskatoon StarPheonix (Saskatchewan, Canada)
Friday, June 16, 2000

Too much truth in Olympics spoof

The preparations for the Sydney Olympics in September have been a long and often controversial process.

From being hailed as heroes when the Sydney bid was successful, the organising committee have seen a series of public relations disasters take their toll, so now they are ridiculed and satirised.

A successful TV show has even been sending up the organisation—but the truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

Over the last few weeks, Australia's national broadcaster, ABC television, has been screening the second series of one of the most popular home-produced comedies of recent years.

"The Games" is a television satire which pokes fun at the organising of the Sydney Olympics: the scheming, the backbiting, the logistical disasters, the scandals.

There is the minister in charge who deals with press criticism in that robust manner that only an Australian politician can.

The administrators meanwhile find themselves facing a range of unexpected problems—a 100-metre track that is too short, an International Olympic Committee delegate dying in a Sydney hotel room in unfortunate circumstances.

Then there was the question: Should they call on golfer Greg Norman to light the Olympic cauldron by hitting a flaming golf ball?

"The Games" is produced out of Melbourne, and there is no doubt that it is a great opportunity to feed the fierce rivalry that exists between cities, as "The Games" producer Mark Ruse admitted.

'Easy target'

However, the show's co-writer Ross Stevenson says that SOCOG, the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, has proved an easy target.

"The Games themselves are going to be fantastic," he says.

"The actual putting-on of an athletic event where people run and throw things is going to be fantastic, because it's fantastic every time it happens."

"The things that are easiest to satirise are when slobs in suits try to organise it and organise it very badly."

A part of each show is shot close to broadcast, so it can stay topical.

However, even the show's creators have been amazed at how events in real life have mirrored the fictional ones they have come up with.

Catalogue of disasters

It has been a catalogue of public relations disasters.

In the last few weeks, a row flared over the fact that the daughter of a senior SOCOG board member was to carry the Olympic flame rather than a local schoolgirl, leading to allegations of nepotism.

There have been other issues such as protests over the safety and positioning of the Bondi Beach Volleyball stadium; serious problems with the rail link out to the Olympic Park; and the price and availability of tickets.

The swimmer Ian Thorpe also had to defend his reputation against inaccurate remarks that he was using banned growth hormone drugs. The evidence, it was suggested, was that his hands were unusually large .

For Ross Stevenson, it's all been good material for the show.

"I think there's always been some longstanding cynicism about the IOC, and that has devolved down to a local level, and that's what has really got up people's noses I think."

Life imitates art

To show just how close the programme has come to mirroring reality, some working inside SOCOG believe that the writers are being fed some of their best lines by staff working inside the Sydney headquarters.

Certainly some of the characters on the show are said to mirror very closely senior SOCOG personnel.

There is one worst-case scenario that has not yet made it onto the screen that some fear more than anything.

One of the opening shots for television for the Olympics will be competitors in the triathlon swimming across Sydney harbour, with the iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge as a stunning visual backdrop.

What the organisers are all praying we do not see is an elite athlete suddenly disappearing from view, should one of the sharks that have been spotted in the harbour in recent months decide to take a very public snack.

Now that really would be stranger than fiction.

By Dominic Hughes
August 08, 2000
BBC News