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The Games – Series 1 Episode 8, Rural and Environment (1998)


The Games charts the progress of the fictitious Logistics and Liaison Division of SOCOG (the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games), the real-life authority charged with staging the Games of the XXVII Olympiad in Sydney in 2000. John Clarke, Gina Riley and Brian Dawe form the nucleus of the LLD responding to everything from ambush marketing by non-sponsor brands to demands from international human rights organisations for John Howard to make a public apology to Indigenous Australians. The group is answerable only to the unseen and unnamed Minister for the Olympics, through his assistant Nicholas Bell.

In this episode John, Gina and Brian have to deal with an incipient rebellion among the swimmers over their proposed schedule; a demand from the Spanish athletes’ rep for indemnification against the cancerous effects of the hole in the ozone layer; and a presentation from the representatives of the Federation for Rural Progress who are bidding for the honour of staging the Opening Ceremony, in ignorance of the fact that the contract has already been awarded to the German company 'Einfarht’.

Curator’s notes

The Games gets funnier the more you watch it. Writers John Clarke and Ross Stevenson deconstruct the juggernaut that is the modern Olympics and examine its parts using a variety of comedic styles. Many a sequence extrapolates on a single comic thought-line, a technique that underpins most stand-up and sketch comedy; the argument in clip one surrounding the hole in the ozone layer is an example. There are also moments of pure slapstick, as witnessed in clip two. Along the way we are treated to satire in abundance and frequent doses of the surreal. On the whole, it would be fair to describe the show as a gleeful celebration of the absurd.

The Games taps into a belief that bodies like SOCOG exist in a parallel universe that has little to do with us common mortals. The fact that all of the main cast and most of their guests appear under their own names is our ticket of entry into this other world. Particularly successful is the casting of Gina Riley, Brian Dawe and John Clarke as themselves, but not really themselves. The skill with which they handle their roles gives plausibility to bizarre situations. The appearance of familiar personalities like Maxine McKew (in clip one), Barry Cassidy, John Farnham and Sam Neill, among others, blurs the boundaries between fiction and reality all the more. Even those characters who remain unseen like 'Richo’, the giant, off-screen presence constantly deferred to as the final resort and authority on all things Olympic, would have been instantly recognisable to the average viewer at the time as Labor Party number cruncher and king-maker Graham Richardson. Officially retired from politics in 1994, Graham Richardson had a seat on SOCOG and was the chair of the Olympic ticketing operations and Mayor of the Olympic village.

With references like these, and so much else that was topical in the series, one might expect The Games to appear somewhat dated a decade hence. The décor certainly is, with its bold colours and all that was hip about corporate interiors of the day in evidence on walls and desks and floors. It is a credit to the design team of Steven Crosby and Murray Kelly that their work is now a frozen moment in time, the epitome of millennium chic.

The humour has not dated in the same way. As a comment on SOCOG with its vast brief, the show’s targets were widely scattered across government and media, corporate sponsors and sporting bodies with the result that, while some of the references are attached to a bygone era, there is still a great deal that is relevant today. This episode, with its emphasis on environmental issues, has particular resonance. In Sydney 2000 the concern, apparently, was whether the athletes could drink the water; in Beijing 2008 it was whether they could breathe the air.

Absurd humour embraces the idea that anything can happen to anyone at any time and there is no meaning in life other than the meaning we give to it. Thus it seems natural to look for solutions using the same faulty logic on which the original problems are based. Given this, the proposal to tow the hole in the ozone layer out to sea 'just for a couple of weeks’ until the games are over (clip one) and the question of how many live bees might be required to form the yellow Olympic circle so that it is visible from the air (clip two) start to sound like subjects for serious discussion. The plausibility however, depends on discipline and conviction in both writing and performance; it is not the random result of a couple of bizarre ideas. The quality of both in The Games is such that incidental stories take on an unexpected depth, while some mental images can haunt the viewer for a long time. The rings on the Olympic flag, for example, will never seem quite the same after viewing this episode … and where is the white one, anyway?

The Games is a television series shot in mockumentary style. It was first aired on the ABC in August 1998 in a season of 13 half-hour episodes. While it was well received at the time it was the second series, aired in 2000, that captured the general public’s enthusiasm, coinciding as it did with the lead-up to the Olympic Games held in Sydney that year. The final episode of season two (also 13 episodes) went to air on 11 September 2000, just a few days before the opening ceremony on the 15th.

Awards won by The Games include a Logie for the Most Outstanding Comedy Program in 2001 and an AFI award in the same year for John Clarke and Ross Stevenson for Best Screenplay in a Television Drama Series.