I thought the Opening Ceremonies were a bit underwhelming. Elegantly done with great grace, though overwrought with special effects and very disjointed without much of a sense of structure or story, just random images of "And here are circles which are very important in Korea to suggest wholeness." But of course, whatever story is going to be told, it Must Be Told with Little Children, because this is the Olympics, after all, and it's all about innocence, wonderment and hope for the future. Or something like that. However, it was comforting to know that wherever you go in the world, child actors are pretty much the same when trying to force innocence. One odd artistic choice: when showing off your culture, how strange to have four of your nation's singers performing "Imagine." And yes, Mr. Togo, we get it, you had a lot of attention in the Summer Games two years ago for carrying your country's flag shirtless and smearing yourself in baby oil, so let's go for the sequel -- though it's impressive he trained for a new sport, seemingly just so he could do it again.
I like Mike Torico as a play-by-play announcer. But he struck me as very flat compared to Bob Costas over the years who is a walking encyclopedia of sports and history. Torico was personable but perfunctory, and my hope is that that's mainly because the competition hasn't started yet and once there's more to talk about, he will. We'll see.
By the way, if you watched the broadcast from the start, you saw a couple of interviews. One, a short one at the stadium with speedskater Maame Biney who may be the most enthusiastic, happy, grateful, and adorable athlete in the world. The other was in-studio with 22-year-old skiier Mikaela Shiffrin along with her coach, who's also her mother. It was very enjoyable, and they handled the convoluted aspects of their relationship exceedingly well. Mikaela especially came across as wonderfully charming. But I bring this up mostly because when I was checking some information in what I wrote four years ago about something else entirely, my eye caught this passage that I wrote about an in-studio interview that Bob Costas did with the young woman who had just won the Gold Medal in women's slalom...Mikaela Shiffrin. I wrote --
"Bob Costas had the wonderful 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin in studio as a guest on late night. She came across very interestingly -- charming and open, but surprisingly sophisticated for her years and even more confident, just on the good side of arrogant. When Costas asked her about the 2018 Olympics, and if she might be competing in all five disciplines, and not just the two she did this year, she said that that was the goal -- and joked with Costas about his question on winning everything, saying how, yes, she wanted to win everything, and than ran off a string of events which had nothing to do with skiing that she wanted to win -- checkers, hopscotch, everything she competed in. All with a smile and a laugh, but she looked like she meant it. It was notable that at the start of the interview when Costas mentioned that she was the youngest woman ever to win an Alpine skiing event and asked if she knew that, she said she did, that someone had told her earlier. Then, Costas laughed, 'Ah, I thought I'd surprise you.' To which he answered quietly, and I'm not even sure Costas heard because he was on to his next question, 'I don't get surprised.'"
This morning I got up early to catch the competition first on NBCsports and then later switching between that and the NBC mothership of the Many Networks of NBC. One of the best things about watching on NBCsports is that they cover events more extensively than on NBC, especially the primetime broadcast, and you get to see more of the offbeat, or "lesser" events, along with international competitors. In fact, when the woman from Sweden won the skiathalon (which is basically a marathon-like event for skiing), they actually showed her medal ceremony and Swedish national anthem.
When discussing one of the luge competitors, the analyst commented about some mistakes the athlete had made in his practice run by taking risks, adding that when it came to the official race, "Let's hope he doesn't cash his chips in" and has a cleaner run. I get his point, but what an awkward turn of the phrase for an event where the athlete is flying around the wildly-curved track on his back at 85 MPH, and you've overlooked that "cashing in your chips" is usually a euphemism for...er, dying.
They also had early rounds of speedskating, which I enjoy but I do wish they'd figure out a way to show it differently. Basically the camera focuses on one skater or the other, zipping around and around the oval. They've got to come up with a way to show perspective better. Perhaps an overhead shot. Same thing with the luge. The track is just a concoction of turns as a single athlete flies around, the camera cutting to the next curve around waiting for the luge to enter the frame. I'd love to see more of a sense of the track which always has struck me as half the fun of the event. But there's no context to where the luge is. It's just a sled zipping around a curve.
There was also some early competition in the "freestyle" (read, hot dog) competition, which I've noted is not one of my favorite areas. But, it was limited and fine.
The only quibble with these smaller events is they don’t have the depth of announcers to draw on as analysts, and as a result we usually gets REALLY LOUD CHEERLEADERS who have recently competed in the sports themselves and tend to be close friends with all the U.S. competitors and feel that they have to be supportive of their buddies and promote the sport, so they get “OH, MY GOD, WHAT BIG AIR!!!” and "OH, MY GOD, WHAT A GREAT MOVE AROUND THE CURVE" overly-excited about everything. Thus far, I was pleased that most of the analysts were actually okay, but we still have a lot of these and especially the freestyle sports to come when medals are actually at stake…
Lots more tonight, including ice dancing in the team competition, which is I will not be watching. I have my standards, after all. And the required cha-cha doesn't cut it. Yes, I'll watch curling, and I'll watch the biathalon, cross-country skiing and even 10,000 meter speedskating with two people going around and around in circles for a half-hour, and I'll even find it in me to watch some of the silly freestyle hotdog skiing, but one of the lines I draw is at ice dancing. ("But it's sooo pretty!!" So is the waltz, but we don't have Olympic ballroom dancing.) And tomorrow's TV schedule will be jam-packed, though for a personal reason I have my teeth gnashed about that. As I've noted, it’s usually impossible to get me out of my house during any Olympics. And when I do have to go out, it’s as briefly as possible. Alas, when I got theater tickets many months ago for an upcoming show far in the future, I totally forgot that there were Winter Olympics coming, so (ack!) I’m quite annoyed that I didn’t get the seats for two weeks later in the run, rather than tomorrow. So, I'm going to miss about five hours of coverage, with with travel and making sure I'm there early. Happily, that's why God created the DVR and I'll be able to record some of it, but with so much new competition always flowing along there's a limit to what you can catch up with after the fact. Still, if I’m going to miss so much, I’m glad it’s for Candide put on by the L.A. Opera with multiple-Tony-winner Christine Ebersol (as the Old Woman) and Kelsey Grammar (as Dr. Pangloss), in supporting roles. Looking forward to it. Just wish it was another day…
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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