This might surprise you given how bitterly I dislike televised sports and shouty, jingoistic faux-patriotism, but I am absolutely OBSESSED with the Olympics. I BARELY care about sports teams in my own town, but I’ll get up at like six in the morning to watch, like, the Lithuanian ice dancing finalists.
If I had to guess, I would suspect this is because the Olympics is only partly about the actual sports; it’s also about the grand, mythic vision of what the world would be like if every day was like the Olympics. Sure, I love watching people do ice skating or gymnastic routines to cheesy pop songs in spangly outfits, because I AM NOT MADE OF STONE, and I’m easily swept up in crowd excitement, which is how I ended up so dangerously addicted to Michael Phelps the last time. But there’s also all that peace/love/brotherhood/put-aside-our-differences-in-the-spirit-of-friendly-competition thing – which, in my normal mode as a cynical progressive news junkie, leaves me skeptical. But during the Olympics, I totally believe it’s real. I WANT to believe it’s real. I want to believe that the U.S. and North Korea can compete amicably in the synchronized swimming finals or whatever and that for however long that moment lasts, these athletes are just athletes. I remember reading The Iliad in school and being struck by the way the armies would give each other days off to celebrate their religious feasts or bury their dead. Like even in the midst of war they could let themselves just be people. I love that. Underneath my snarky exterior, my darkest secret is that I am deeply and sentimentally patriotic in a fervent I-believe-in-the-promise-of-this-great-nation kind of way . . . the kind of way where you want to believe that underneath all the International Olympic Committee’s corruption scandals and the drama about steroids or underage gymnasts or ludicrous marketing contracts, beneath all the complex mechanics of whose government hates who, these are all just people who are really good at something and want to compete for the chance at greatness. So that is why I will be spending all my free time over the next two weeks watching, reading about, or endlessly blathering on about, things I will not care about again for another four years like archery and pairs diving. And that is why I am committing my evening to the spangliest, tackiest, shiniest, craziest part of this entire shenanigan: the opening ceremonies. So let’s enjoy it together – many, many hours after everyone else in the world has already seen it because I got to it super late.
7:30 – 7:35: Will & Kate kiss and England invented civilization. More stuff happened but that’s all you need to know.
7:36: Bob Costas and Tom Brokaw diss the Mayor of London’s haircut. I LOVE the Olympic rings hanging off London Bridge.
7:37: QUEEN SIGHTING! Girl, you are rocking that hat.
7:42: Americans awkwardly saying “telly” just sound stupid, MATT LAUER.
7:44: Awww. Danny Boyle’s dad died a year ago and today would have been his birthday. You’re doing your dad proud, sir.
7:45: Does Meredith Viera think we don’t know that the U.K. has more than just England in it?
7:46: Ignoring Ryan Seacrest.
7:51: Oooh, Danny Boyle movie time! The Isles of Wonder. Wind In the Willows sighting! There are a lot of geese in this. Are geese usually featured so prominently at the Olympics?
7:52: Cricket! The Eye! Big Ben going crazy! Sex Pistols! Dramatic swooping camera angles! The Tube! “London Calling!” People dressed like milkmaids? Did I hallucinate that?
7:53: And now we’re in the stadium. And it is . . . a giant pasture.
7:54: A skinny ginger rings a giant bell, and then there is singing and frolicking and tossing of apples and more cricket and a pretty killer boy soprano. It is a pastoral clusterfuck.
7:56: Ooooh! THE GIANT’S CAUSEWAY! I’VE TOTALLY BEEN THERE! These singing kids are kind of adorbs, you guys. Ooh, a horse-drawn carriage! COLIN: “This is PAINFULLY British.”
7:57: Did somebody order a Kenneth Branagh dressed like Abe Lincoln doing Shakespeare? Because I know where to find one if you’re missing yours.
8:02: A middle-aged Lady Gaga is drumming aggressively to represent the transition to the Industrial era. Though in fairness, this drum corps is really cool. Colin thinks they got the drummers from every big-time British band because he swears he recognizes several of them.
8:04: There are TEN THOUSAND CREW MEMBERS taking the set down. No, like, that’s the actual number they just gave. LITERALLY ten thousand. Is it hopelessly theatre-geeky that that is the most impressive part by far? CAN YOU GUYS IMAGINE STAGE-MANAGING THIS????
8:05: The break-dancing peasants give me pause. I just . . . I can’t get behind it. But those smokestacks coming up from the ground are pretty cool. I could watch just this set transition all day long.
8:06: WELL DONE, SISTER SUFFRAGETTES!
8:07: Is Kenneth Branagh about to blast off? Because he is standing in what looks VERY MUCH like a time machine.
8:08: Moment of silence for the soldiers who fought in World War I. Hats off. Poppies. I’M NOT CRYING I JUST HAVE SOMETHING IN MY EYE, DANNY BOYLE.
8:09: Colin and I can’t get past the weird choreography, especially as delivered by a vast corps of gentlemen in frock coats and top hats.
8:11: SERGEANT PEPPER! Retired adorable British military generals! A working foundry with a river of lava! People in sequined outfits who are not explained! These costumes are bananas. They ironworkers onstage are forging a giant ring, and even though we know this is the Olympics, Colin and I both went directly to “OMG A TOLKIEN REFERENCE!” Nerds watching sports, you guys.
8:16: THE RINGS ARE TOTALLY RAINING FIRE! And Kenneth Branagh is still milking this for all it’s worth.
8:17: And, SCENE. Verdict: Well, it’s no twelve million Chinese extras dancing in boxes, and it featured more top hats and geese than you usually see in a big-budget event spectacular, but still. Nice work, Boyle.
8:20: OH MY GOD YOU GUYS IT’S JAMES BOND AND THE QUEEN! Just kicking it in the royal helicopter LIKE YOU DO. How bad do I want them to be best friends in real life?? I am dying from how much I love this. I want an Olympic opening ceremonies spinoff buddy cop movie! And the random waving Brits are kind of adorbs.
8:24: THEY JUMPED OUT OF THE HELICOPTER TO THE SOUND OF THE JAMES BOND THEME SONG. YOU GUYS. I CANNOT EVEN HANDLE IT.
8:26: The Union Jack going up to Glastonbury Tor, carried by retired members of every military branch as children from a deaf school in pajamas sing/sign “God Save the Queen” and the queen gets misty-eyed? If you don’t tear up even a tiny bit, you may be dead inside.
8:33: Interesting – they’re doing a whole song and dance about their National Health Service. I wonder which nation THAT is an unsubtle dig at?
8:35: The dancing nurses are losing me. It’s just . . . I can’t . . . there’s not . . . But the little kids are cute.
8:37: JK Rowling reading from “Peter Pan.” AWESOME.
8:39: HOLY SHIT THOSE GIANT INFLATABLE CHILDREN’S BOOK VILLAINS ARE FUCKING TERRIFYING. “Voldemort is 100 feet tall,” says Meredith Viera a little too calmly. She is speaking with the benefit of of having probably watched a rehearsal so she knew what was happening, whereas Colin and I just saw giant nightmarish misshapen evil heads slowly inflating like something from deep within the bowels of hell.
8:40: I might have just cheered aloud at the fleet of Mary Poppinses that just descended from the sky? And now all the doctors and nurses are dancing to “Good Christian Men Rejoice” and the kids are jumping on the beds? Did I fall down and hit my head on something? This whole thing is much more impressive when you remember that those costumed doctors and nurses are ACTUAL doctors and nurses, not trained performers. Let’s give credit where credit is due.
8:43: A GIANT BABY HEAD. Matt Lauer: “I don’t know whether that’s cute or creepy.” Matt, you speak for us all.
8:46: Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra are about to rock “Chariots of Fire.” And someone invited Rowan Atkinson. And he’s kind of making us laugh.
8:54: This is apparently like a sketch about living in the digital age and I am not feeling any of it. There are teenagers? And a mob with iPhones? And glow-in-the-dark pool noodles? And text messages flashing onscreen? This is like a bad drug trip.
8:58: It is impossible to overstate how disdainful Colin is of this soundtrack. But he didn’t recognize that hook from “Wonderful Tonight” AND he didn’t know that Clapton is British so – hang on, I’ve lost my train of thought, because black-and-white lampshade people are dancing to “Satisfaction” and I feel like I am slowly losing my mind watching this. The costumes for the 70’s segment here are off-the-charts crazy. I bet all those guys in sequined bell-bottom unitards are really pissed that they didn’t get to be top-hatted gents in the first act.
9:02: David Bowie! Queen! Now Colin is back on board with the music.
9:06: Frankie says RELAX.
9:07: EURYTHMICS WHAT UP. Annie Lennox, I hope you’re here.
9:08: Now the teenagers are kissing in front of a kissing montage. (Awww, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.) I bet if I believed their teen romance at ALL, I might care more, but I really don’t.
9:09: HAHAHA! Colin had no idea that this show was this long. “I thought it was just, like, half an hour of dancing and fireworks.” Ohhh, sweetie.
9:10: CLAIRE: “I can’t believe they did a whole pop music montage and omitted the Spice Girls.” COLIN: “Um, yeah, how about the fact that they left out the entire British punk movement?” CLAIRE: “Yeah, and that.”
9:11: Amy Winehouse! I love that song! Oh Amy, you should be here.
9:12: A house levitates to reveal the man who invented the internet. It’s like some geeky reverse Wizard of Oz.
9:13: Is that, by any chance, a smirking David Beckham on a speedboat going under London Bridge with a crapload of fireworks? I THINK IT IS!
9:23: We skipped past Ryan Seacrest being a dork at Michael Phelps because it is time for MY FAVORITE PART: the Parade of Nations!
9:25: The girls holding the country names are wearing dresses made of faces. What. The. Hell.
9:26: American Samoa wins for first really cool outfits.
9:27: Colin thinks the Andorran flag carrier looks like Karl Marx. Sorry Angola, you look like you’re wearing tablecloths stolen from a family-style Italian restaurant.
9:29: Team Australia, you look like flight attendants. This is true of you EVERY YEAR.
9:33: Go Bangladesh! Their team has one woman, and she gets to wear a fabulous red dress while the dudes are in gray suits.
9:34: COLIN: “What the hell is Benin?” Benin was TOTALLY news to us.
9:35: Bermuda, just because the shorts are named after you doesn’t make them flattering.
9:42: CAMEROON FOR THE WIN. Let’s get some pattern up in here! Nice outfits, peeps.
9:43: Why isn’t the flag for the Cayman Islands being carried by its most famous resident, Mitt Romney’s bank account OH SNAP I TOTALLY WENT THERE.
9:45: China,your neckwear is positively retina-searing. MORE LIKE “THE TIES THAT BLIND” AM I RIGHT? But they’re waving British flags too and that’s super cute.
9:49: Colin and I are kind of embarrassed at how many countries we’ve never heard of.
9:51: Potshots at Kim Jong-Il = ALWAYS FUNNY. Matt Lauer and Bob Costas FTW.
9:54: Some of the Egyptian athletes were among the protestors in Cairo during the Mubarak revolution. Beatiful. See, THIS IS WHY I LOVE THE OLYMPICS.
9:55: Were they playing “Staying Alive” this whole time and I just noticed it, or did they just turn it on for Finland for some reason? Because all of a sudden I just noticed it and now I can’t un-notice it and it is making me crazy.
10:00: Georgia, those are some foxy dresses.
10:01: OMG, Germany. The girls are wearing baby pink and the guys are wearing baby blue. They look like a Babies R Us.
10:05: Ladies of Guam, I would totally wear that maxidress.
10:06: Hong Kong, you are just one giant barbershop quartet with those straw hats.
10:08: LEARNING IS FUN! Colin and I didn’t know that “Independent Olympic Athletes” were a thing. Three are from a recently-dissolved country and one is from the Sudan but refuses to compete for them since the government killed so many of his family. All four of them look like they’re already new best friends, and I already want the Sudanese guy to win something dramatic.
10:10: YESSSS THE ISRAELI FLAG-BEARER HAS A STAR OF DAVID SHAVED INTO HIS HEAD. And I feel like it’s a little dickish that the IOC refused to acknowledge the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre.
10:14: USAIN BOLT IN THE HOUSE!
10:15: Seriously, there are SO MANY countries I’ve never heard of. This is humiliating. I went to very good schools.
10:20: If we were playing “Take a shot every time a team comes out dressed like flight attendants,” I would be dead now.
10:21: SING IT LIBERIA. You are WEARING THE SHIT out of those giant flag robes.
10:22: Lithuania’s yellow and green collars are decidedly Sprite-esque. And the women from the Maldives are wearing TIGER-PRINT DRESSES.
10:24: GET IT MEXICO. We have our first sequin sighting! I would wear every one of those glitter ponchos.
10:28: OMG, this one lady on Team Namibia is wearing the most awesomely fierce outfit – cardigan over a sheath dress, belted with a giant studded belt, and then a huge turban. Everyone else looks like the Boy Scouts because they’re all in beige, and she is just KILLING IT.
10:30: Nigeria! The green-and-white embroidered dresses and turbans are SO WORKING.
10:31: Bob Costas just reminded us that these drummers have been playing THE ENTIRE TIME. Do THEY get an Olympic medal, because holy crap. I’M tired already, and all I’m doing is sitting here on the couch in my pajamas.
10:37: I’m calling it right now, Romania’s flag-bearer is the best-looking man in this room. (Sorry Kenneth Branagh.)
10:41: San Marino, rocking some khaki sheath dresses.
10:42: The best part of this whole thing is seeing the people who are just CRAPPING THEIR PANTS WITH EXCITEMENT that they’re at the Olympics. I’m looking at you, awesome dude from Senegal waving at the crowd with both hands and grinning like a crazy person. You are what this whole circus is about. I wish very much to hug you.
10:46: Spain. I love you. You’re so fun. You’re all so pretty. But that color combination makes you all look like the ketchup-and-mustard bottle holder in a truck stop diner. Yes, even you, Man In Pink Wig. You cannot pull that off. No one can.
10:48: COLIN: “Oh my God, oh my God, the Swedes.” They are like the United Militia of Old Navy in those striped rugby shirts and khakis. Just . . . just BLINDING.
10:49: Jen Forsman wants to know what the kids next to the flag holders are carrying. I am trying my damndest to figure that out and I could not tell me if you held a gun to my head. They look like giant abstract metal vessels with nothing in them. Maybe later they will all explode?
10:53: Chinese Taipei rocking the pinstripes!
10:55: Bob Costas has been waiting four years to make that “Up a creek without a paddle” joke about the flag-bearer from Togo. You can just FEEL his glee.
10:56: And now we’re listening to U2. And Turkey’s flag-bearer is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my life. And the overhead views of the whole crowd in the arena are not NOT making me tear up. And Turkmenistan IS TOTALLY ROCKING BLUE VELOUR SUITS.
11:02: USA! USA! Michelle Obama in the house! Women outnumber men on the team! Sassy berets! Ralph Lauren being an idiot and having the uniforms made in China! Kobe! LeBron! The Romneys! AMERICA! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
11:07: You guys, every time I think about Yemen (which is not often) I think about the episode of Friends where Chandler tells Janice that’s where he’s moving because he’s too chicken to break up with her. “I’ll write to you every day! 15 Yemen Road, Yemen.”
11:08: GREAT BRITAIN! Entering to David Bowie! That gold lame took me a little by surprise. They look like sassy astronauts. I can’t say I’m a fan. Why didn’t they get Stella McCartney on that shit? I like how everyone’s like “The queen is cheering” and she is just deadpan and exhausted and a little glare-y; is that Queen for “I’m so excited and I just can’t hide it?” Because she does not seem like she’s having a ball. Kate’s the only one who looks super stoked. OOOOH CONFETTI CANNONS! This must be so exciting for the British audience. I can’t even imagine how cool that would be.
11:13: All the flags on Fake Glastonbury Tor look pretty awesome.
11:17: Arctic Monkeys singing “Come Together” while light-up bird-cyclists ride around the arena? UM, YES PLEASE. I agree with Matt and Bob – this is a REALLY GOOD cover of this song.
11:19: Wait, E.T. is here?
11:21: SPEECHES. “I have never been so proud to be British as I am on this day, at this moment.” Awww. Fast-forward through the French guy. Colin is running out of steam and I want to get to Paul McCartney.
11:26: THE QUEEN DECLARES THE GAMES OPEN! It is ON! God, she’s adorable.
11:27: Here comes the flag, carried by a whole roster of fairly epic humanitarians including Ban Ki Moon and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. OMG, Daniel Beramboim. He’s a conductor who brings together Arab and Israeli musicians to play together throughout the Middle East. TEARS. See, THIS IS WHY I LOVE THE OLYMPICS.
11:29: I cannot see Muhammad Ali without tearing up. He is eminently huggable.
11:30: Olympic anthem! The flag is being marched up Fake Glastonbury Tor AND I AM NOT CRYING. God, I bet this never gets old no matter how many times you’re there. We sit here on our couches and make fun of people’s outfits, but I bet if you’re actually in that room it’s freaking MAGIC.
11:33: Becks passes the torch. He’s totally having emotions, you guys. And he is ROCKING that suit.
11:36: 12,800 miles later, the torch is back in the house. Ohh, and the people in hard hats who buil5 the arena are all standing there and they’re all crying. That’s super sweet. And they’ve got a group of teen athletes carrying the torch through the arena to celebrate the next generation of athletics. Which is adorbs.
11:39: And now there’s a crowd of 260 former British Olympians who won medals going back as far as 1948. And they are all tearing up, and now so am I.
11:42: Ohhhhh, I get it. The random metal things every country was carrying are part of the torch lighting. Oooooh, this is cool. The Olympic cauldron is made up of copper leaves from every country. BAD. ASS.
11:44: OH MY GOD THIS IS THE MOST EPIC FIREWORKS DISPLAY I HAVE EVER SEEN.
11:46: Paul McCartney! “And in the end, the love you take/ Is equal to the love you make.” Oh my God you guys, everyone is holding hands and swaying to “Hey Jude” and singing along. Can you IMAGINE how much it would rock to be, like, the table tennis champ from some tiny Baltic nation no one’s ever heard of, and you’re dancing along to Paul McCartney in the same room as you? Come on, that is pretty AMAZING.
11:52: Paul has just the men, and then just the women, do the “na na na na” part, and everyone’s swaying and singing along and dancing and it is an AWESOME moment.
11:53: AND SCENE. Goodnight London, you’ve been a great audience. Don’t forget to tip your waitresses!