Note: This is part of an ongoing series documenting the Sochi Olympics from a TV perspective. Every morning of the Games, we’ll look at a key moment from the previous day that NBC captured, elevated, honored, bungled or otherwise reported in a notable way, as only the most televised event on the planet can be covered.
You could go with David Remnick offering a spin through Russian history and literature.
You could opt for the he-wants-to-say-it-but-he-can’t-say-it plea for “tolerance” from IOC chief Thomas Bach.
You could even choose the little girl floating away on a red balloon to mark the end of communism rule -- a move that managed to reference “Mary Poppins, “M” and the entirety of the Soviet period in one neat, helium-filled gesture.
But for the moment that truly captured the spirit of the Sochi Olympics’ opening ceremony -- and perhaps augured some of the surreal turns that await in the weeks ahead -- there was nothing quite like the sight of members of the Russian Internal Affairs choir singing “Get Lucky” from Daft Punk.
The scene had it all. (If you didn’t catch it during NBC’s Friday night telecast or the local news reairings that followed, you can give a gander here. Update, Saturday 10:22 am: This blogger had been watching a mix of the live stream and the tape-delayed on-ar package, and it turns out the piece aired on the former but not the latter. An NBC representative has explained the on-air absence as a function of the number being part of the pre-show; more on that issue in a separate post.) The stand-on-ceremony formalism of a Russian Games. The fitful attempts at modernization. The sense that this all shouldn’t be taken too seriously, though judging by a few of the non-singers in the frame, they were taking this all very seriously.
You could even read into the song’s title, which maybe captured a little bit how a remote town on Russia’s Black Sea coast ended up hosting one of the world’s grandest events.
Yes, it had it all.
It was even enough to make one forget about the night’s big gaffe, the one where the five Olympic rings became the four Olympic rings, like Mel Brooks turning the Fifteen Commandments into the Ten Commandments after an ill-advised drop.
The opening ceremony poses a strange challenge. It’s the kind of built-for-TV event that requires ever-bigger spectacle to impress us, which means it runs the risk of getting ever-more garish and schmaltzy each Games out if we’re going to take notice.
On top of that, it has to play for the locals. And given the size of and pressure in the host country, Konstanin Ernst, the Russian TV producer in charge of it all (following in the footsteps of directors Zhang Yimou and Danny Boyle at the last two Summer Games) had an even bigger challenge on his hands. Which is why we ended up with a few more ballet and opera scenes than we might have chosen for ourselves.
Still, Ernst did a solid job of mixing in whimsy (the Enchanted Forest images that danced through the proceedings early on), pageantry (those ballet and opera scenes) and even history, with some Russian Revolution and hammer-and-sickle symbolism tossed in. It all made for fun, kitschy, kitchen-sink TV. Made us, basically, want to stay up all night with the sun.