Forget the hoops, gymnastics, swimming, chasing of steeples and Vegas bombast of the opening ceremonies - I'm tuning in to the Summer Olympics for the stories, man. I long to learn about the orphanage-reared handballer who triumphed over homelessness, poverty, addiction, obesity, anorexia, bullying, pollen allergies, bad hair, smoking, sassing one's elders and chronic tardiness; about the trampoliner who fell off the trampoline that one time and hurt his arm but somehow mustered the courage to get back on the trampoline; and about the equestrian dressager who had to overcome the emotional disrepair inflicted by a slightly distant father. I hope as many of these stories as possible are told by Bob Costas, whose jocular, whimsical drollness cannot overwhelm the gravitas conveyed by the vague tint of grey on his temples.
Here's the problem, though: No matter how many times NBC sets the focus to "pillow-soft" and attempts to drown us in audio syrup, it still won't be able to match the strength, passion and humanity packed into the 90 seconds of "Meet the Superhumans." The clip, produced by England's Channel 4 to promote its coverage of next month's Paralympic Games, does everything that NBC's prefab story packages do not. It sets the scene without reverting to shadowy lighting, hissing steam vents or similar stagecraft; it inspires without first announcing, "We are going to inspire you now. Please prepare yourself for what will surely be a tidal wave of inspiration." As such, it's as skillfully, powerfully rendered as any promo I've seen in quite some time.
Set to the strains of Public Enemy's "Harder Than You Think," the clip mixes shots of the athletes' preparation and buildup with ones of them competing. We see a basketball team unite in a huddle, a swimmer bundling her hair beneath a cap, a sprinter descend into his pre-gun crouch. That the players are in wheelchairs or competing with the aid of a prosthesis is beside the point. They're presented as athletes and ass-kickers, not as broken individuals elevated by pluck and moxie.
And then, midway through the clip, "Meet the Superhumans" drops the hammer, in the form of a quick sequence that illustrates how the athletes may have come into their disabilities. The music stops and, jarringly, images of a combat explosion, a sonogram and a car accident flash on the screen in quick succession, followed by a shot of a rugby player next to the crumpled automobile in which he was injured. The overall suggestion? These athletes earned their mettle in a way that LeBron James sure as hell never did.
Just as quickly, the clip shifts back to game and training sequences, with an emphasis on the camaraderie and shared sense of mission among competitors. It closes with a few succinct flashes of text - "Forget everything you thought you knew about strength [and] humans. It's time to do battle" - and a three-pointer for the ages. And with that final flourish, I'm ready to watch the games and cheer like it's my sister or best friend competing and run through an f'in cement wall in the spirit of shared humanity.
In theory, "Meet the Superhumans" is an ad. But it has as much in common with spots for soda and shoes as host city London does with subequatorial Africa. It's a celebration, really, and one in which we're all invited to join. That's the best kind.