Television review: We will rock you — or else

Madness performs at the London 2012 Olympics closing ceremony at Olympic Stadium.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

As a great, global ritual in which the nations of the world beat their swords into javelins and pole-vault poles, sublimating national rivalries, religious differences and warlike spirits into friendly athletic competition, the Olympic Games demand to end not with a whimper but a bang. It is not enough to leave a note asking the last one out of the stadium to please turn off the flame.

Titled “A Symphony of British Music,” Sunday night’s closing ceremony-cum-dance-party was a color-coordinated parade of illustrated pop songs, some that will have been less than familiar to foreign listeners, some worldwide hits, but most of them so deeply ingrained into the modern British consciousness as to be extricable only by surgery.

There was a lot of singalong potential in the programming, which included performances by Madness, the Pet Shop Boys, Annie Lennox, George Michael, Gallagher brother Liam, the reunited Spice Girls, Jessie J. and One Direction. Young Scots singer Emeli Sandé made multiple appearances, as if to compensate for NBC cutting her from its American broadcast and avoid its happening again. (The network, responding to earlier consumer protests, and avoiding more, live-streamed the ceremony, which contained several acts that didn’t make it into the prime-time telecast.)


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Choral and orchestral support lent the occasion a sense of occasion.

Set on a series of gangways criss-crossed like the stripes of a Union Jack and decorated at first with miniature representations of London landmarks, it began with a segment meant to represent “A Day in the Life of the City” (Beatles reference clearly intentional) with “newspaper taxis” (and trucks and bicycles) and the stage floor itself covered in headlines pulled from British literature. (Oddly morbid, if not inappropriate choices included “To die will be an awfully big adventure,” “The rest is silence” and “This is the way world ends.”)

Winston Churchill (in the person of Timothy Spall) popped from the top of Big Ben to deliver the same speech from “The Tempest” that Kenneth Branagh delivered near the start of Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony.

If it lacked the energy and audaciousness and personal touch that Boyle brought to the opening — Sunday’s show, directed by Kim Gavin, who specializes in staging big pop concerts in big places, was more like three hours of MTV, and just as good and bad as that might sound — it had its odd moments of oddity, including Russell Brand emerging from a psychedelic bus to sing, or appear to sing, “I Am the Walrus,” from which bus then emerged a giant octopus with Norman “Fatboy Slim” Cook at its center.

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John Lennon’s peace anthem “Imagine” got another airing, making me wonder whether anyone actually listens to its lyrics, which desire the end of nations, religion and possessions.

Brazil, host of the next summer Olympics, got a long segment of its own, topped by the appearance of soccer god Pele.

And so to bed.


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