September 26, 2008

‘Little Britain’ Lends Us Lots of Laughs

By Robert Bianco

Thank goodness for the naughty Brits.

Sketch comedy may be on its last legs in America -- and getting lamer with each outing of Saturday Night Live -- but it's clearly thriving in Britain. So while we wait for the American networks to get their comedy acts back in gear, we can more than make do with Sunday's fabulous lend-lease package: Little Britain USA.

Think of Monty Python with fewer people, even more drag, and latex fat suits, and you'll get the idea behind the marvelously talented Matt Lucas and David Walliams' comedy revue. What you won't get from that description is the cheeky, modern effrontery of their humor, or their ability to mock their characters while keeping us on their side --from the desperate-to-be-remembered eighth man on the moon to the angelic little girl who talks like a longshoreman.

Fans of the original (which runs on BBC America) will be thrilled to hear the pair brought some of their best creations with them: the "computer says no" receptionist; the cheerfully rude Fat Fighter; the fulminating female delinquent. But it's no mere copy. They've created new American characters as well, placed in peculiarly American settings.

Shaped like a BBC documentary and narrated by Tom Baker in suitably plumy, Masterpiece Theatre tones, Britain USA sends the duo on a rapid-fire tour of the states. Chances are you've braced yourself for a smug attack -- superior Brits mocking idiot Yanks -- but Lucas and Walliams have something much more embracing in mind. They mock everyone, from that English import receptionist ("the British pride themselves on being the rudest, most unhelpful people in the world") to guest star Rosie O'Donnell, a hilarious, good-sport victim of the Fat Fighter's attack.

The two do have a fondness for fat jokes and a fascination with bodily functions that may exceed your own. But unless you're easily offended, their speed, skill and good humor are likely to carry you past any gaps.

It would be unfair to spoil Sunday's whip-fast half-hour by repeating all the jokes. But I will put you on alert for Phyllis, a devoted dog owner whose conversations with "Mr. Doggy" sometimes get the better of her.

You can't expect every skit in a show like this to work, and of course, some don't. What's startling is that the vast majority do, and those few that flop are over so quickly, you're already laughing at something else by time you notice. Indeed, the only real downside of the program is that they've made only six episodes.

Enjoy them while you can, and send the queen a thank-you note.

Little Britain USA

HBO, Sunday, 10:30 ET/PT

**** out of four (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>