The best Olympic show is Peacock’s chaotic ‘Tokyo Tonight’


Looking at 2020 Tokyo Olimpic games it is a strange experience. It’s been more than seven months in 2021, and seeing the logo seems like you’re living in a time bend. Pandemic precautions mean that there are very few people in the stands, so every event seems to take place in a post-apocalypse. Nor do time zones do a service to North American viewers. Tokyo is 13 to 16 hours ahead of the US, so watching any competition in real time means staying up late or awfully getting up early.

Then there is the question how to watch games in the first place. NBC likes to advertise its broadcast service as a “place to catch” all the action, but navigating the app is so confusing that they’ve already spawned headlines like “Why is it so hard to use NBC’s Peacock to watch the Olympics?” It also makes watching any single event entirely a bit of a nightmare. Peacock, however, has one program that brings all the oddities of the 2020 Games into a kind of focus: Tokyo Tonight.

Live broadcast from the unusually purple set at NBC Sports headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut, Tokyo Tonight especially not in Tokyo. Unable to report on the spot, hosts Kenny Mayne and Cari Champion fill their impressively long run time from 7:30 pm to midnight alien time with banter and a quick collage of coverage on everything from BMX biking and kayaking to white water to skateboarding and ping- pong. It’s ideal to watch as you browse TikTok – and it’s a pleasure.

The champion is beautiful and witty, while Mayne exudes a relaxed Boomer charisma and tries to approach his guests as if they were people he came across by chance, asking random questions and providing strange anecdotes about his private life. Most importantly, they both get lost unexpectedly because of the anchor – so much so that it’s often hard to tell when they’re joking. After Mayne started suddenly and with little context asking the guests if they liked the Pearl Jam band or not, Champion went into action asking for their position on Beyoncé.

All this gives Tokyo Tonight a whiff of experimental charm for a public approach not previously seen in traditional Olympic reporting. Often Mayne and Champion appear on screen seemingly unaware that their microphones are hot. “Should I do something now?” Mayne asked Champion deep in the creek one night last week. “I’m off.”

Even in the smoother parts of the show, there is still a sense of whimsy. Mayne dedicated one segment to a sketch in which she pretended to be an elite gymnast. During “Shredding Gnaws with Mike Parsons,” Mayne interviewed an American veteran surfer in a conversation bordering on surreal. “How many times have you been out, and one of you was a shark?” Mayne asked Parsons, who was apparently rejected because he had to estimate the number of sharks with whom he shared an approximate location in his five decades of surfing. (He couldn’t give an estimate.) Not surprisingly, Mayne then informed Parsons and viewers that the world’s waters belonged to sharks, not humans. “It simply came to our notice then theirs the ocean, ”he said.

He then asked Parsons if he liked Pearl Jam.

Enthusiastic fans of the Olympics who must be watched will not like it Tokyo Tonight, partly because of his jumping format, and partly because he doesn’t take himself seriously. But for those who enjoy watching elite athletes shine on the global stage, but who feel a little sick of watching competitions that it really shouldn’t take place, and who like to watch reports about the Olympics while watching social media, is the perfect sample of short shows featured by hosts who seem determined to make the least boring version of the highlights.

If NBC continues to control coverage of the Olympics for American viewers, it will have to make some changes to make people happy. It would also be good to preserve this kind of anarchic entertainment. The ocean belongs to sharks, but my heart belongs Tokyo Tonight.

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