With the Summer Olympics officially underway, all eyes are on Tokyo as the world’s premier athletes gather for two weeks of intense competition. The 2020 Tokyo Games feature plenty of veteran athletes, including gymnast Simone Biles, swimmer Katie Ledecky, and tennis legend Novak Djovokic, alongside new sports like skateboarding and the return of baseball and softball. And, of course, the games are taking place under the specter of COVID-19, which threatens to derail even the best-laid plans.
As the competition heats up, athletes (and viewers) will need to cool off with some lighter fare, and the streaming-verse is more than happy to lend a hand with classic episodes of shows like The Simpsons and The Office delivering their own takes on the Summer and Winter Games. Let the (TV) games begin!
Years before The Office turned the Olympics into sitcom fodder, Murphy Brown put its own stamp on the competition with a January 1994 episode that follows Murphy (Candice Bergen) and her staff as they travel to Norway to cover the 1994 Winter Games. Things initially go as planned, but when Murphy interviews a star Norwegian skater and she subsequently quits the competition, her team scrambles to pick up the pieces.
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Like many episodes of South Park, “Up the Down Steroid” is extremely insensitive. The 2004 episode tracks Timmy and Jimmy, two disabled children in South Park, as they prepare for the Special Olympics in Denver (the Winter Games were actually held two years prior in Salt Lake City, Utah). When Cartman hears about the $1,000 prize, he pretends to be disabled, but his efforts fail as his fellow competitors have undergone months of actual training, and he has not. Meanwhile, Jimmy takes steroids and flies into a rage, but he eventually comes clean to the audience and chooses to give back his medal as a show of respect to the other athletes.
Streaming on HBO Max
Few Olympic-themed episodes are as iconic as “Office Olympics,” the third episode of the NBC comedy’s second season. When Michael (Steve Carell) and Dwight (Rainn Wilson) leave the office to sign paperwork for Michael’s new condo, Jim (John Krasinski) organizes the first-ever Dunder Mifflin Olympiad, which consists of events like “Who Can Put the Most M&Ms In Their Mouth” and “Flonkerton.” With gold, silver, and bronze yogurt lids up for grabs, the Dunder Mifflin staff devotes their entire day to the games, but if we're being honest, they probably wouldn’t have done any real work that day anyway.
Streaming on Peacock
In 2006, Doctor Who time-traveled to the year 2012 in an episode set against the backdrop of the London Games. The action begins when the TARDIS materializes on the day of the Summer Olympics opening ceremony, but the neighborhood’s residents have bigger concerns, as children have been mysteriously disappearing all week. When all was said and done, the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) carried the Olympic torch into the opening ceremony, a moment that inspired fans to create a petition for Tennant to do the same thing at the real 2012 London Games.
Streaming on HBO Max
Who can forget 30 Rock’s iconic Oprah episode, which also happened to be an Olympics episode, which also happened to air just two days after the 2008 election, which also has been pulled from syndication and streaming due to a scene that features Jenna (Jane Krakowski) in blackface? With Liz (Tina Fey) busy bothering Oprah on a flight, Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) learns that most events from the 2008 Olympics, including synchronized running and group tennis, were staged to juice NBC’s ratings. When Kenneth freaks out, Jack (Alec Baldwin) attempts to break his black-or-white view of the world by staging an elevator disaster gambit that only serves to highlight the page’s inherent goodness.
"Boy Meets Curl" isn't The Simpsons' only Olympics-themed episode — it joins 1999 classic “The Old Man and the C Student,” which follows Homer and Lisa as they try (and fail) to convince the IOC to hold the next games in Springfield — but it is the most complete. With the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics approaching, Homer and Marge form a mixed curling team with Agnes and Seymour Skinner, and Marge’s skills earn them a victory at the pre-game trials. Despite some typical Simpsons-style obstacles, the foursome goes on to defeat Sweden for the gold, a moment that foreshadowed the United States men’s curling team’s championship win over Sweden at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Streaming on Disney+
Doctor Who isn’t the only show to go all-in on the 2012 London Olympics. A year before the games, the BBC released a mockumentary about the fictional Olympic Deliverance Commission (ODC), the body tasked with organizing the competition, starring Hugh Bonneville, Jessica Hynes, and Olivia Colman. Every episode sees the ODC attempting to overcome new obstacles that prevent them from effectively preparing for the Olympics. While initially conceived as a four-part series, Twenty Twelve was so popular that it returned in Spring and Summer 2012, with the final episode airing just three days before the London Olympics opening ceremony.
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While “Camp Redwood,” the first episode in American Horror Story’s ninth season, isn’t explicitly connected to the Olympics, the 1984 Summer Games loom large over the episode, and the core group of counselors are even seen watching the opening ceremony in Los Angeles. The main Olympics action centers around Chet Clancy (played by silver medal-winning freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy), who was disqualified from Team USA for substance abuse issues. When his Olympic dreams go out the window, he agrees to work as a counselor at Camp Redwood, an idyllic summer retreat with a sordid history.
Streaming on Hulu
Even though “All Drug Olympics” and “Synchronized Swimming” aren’t technically episodes, it’s impossible to discuss the Olympics in pop culture without mentioning these iconic Saturday Night Live sketches from the 1980s.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the TV Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.