October 3, 2008

Little Britain USA


Everything you need to know about...

BBC1, tonight, 9.30pm


Not content with the extraordinary domestic success of Little Britain on the BBC, those gossip-page darlings David Walliams and Matt Lucas have decided to try their luck stateside.

The six-part series was promptly picked up by US production company HBO; it begins tonight on BBC1 at 9.30pm. Press coverage surrounding the first episode, which aired in America on Sunday night, was promisingly intense and the show's creators have come up with a host of new characters to mark the occasion. Quite how the Yanks would take to a vomiting, cross-dressing granny or the incoherent prattlings of a shell-suited chav has been the subject of lengthy debate.


Little Britain USA is "effectively series four", according to its makers, so all of your favourite characters are still present and correct. It is admittedly odd to see them out of their natural environment, however: Daffyd is attending college and finds that, just as back home, he is far from being the only gay in the US of A. Vicky has been sent to a young offenders' boot camp, where she mumbles excuses at her bemused supervisor, and Sebastian has climbed a couple of rungs on the career ladder to become a creepily camp UN delegate. As one might expect, Lou and Andy kick things off in familiar style with a sketch that culminates in the latter relieving himself in a swimming pool.


One of the reasons why Little Britain USA has generated so many column inches across the pond is the presence of several Hollywood showbiz heavyweights. In the first episode, watch out for chat-show host Rosie O'Donnell copping some diet-related abuse during the obligatory Fat Fighters sketch: "Are you fat because you're a lesbian or are you a lesbian because you're fat?" Lucas and Walliams have also managed to rope in David Schwimmer to direct an episode, and expect guest appearances from, among others, Sting, Paul Rudd and Vivica A Fox.


Many have tried but few have succeeded. Musically, think Robbie Williams or Oasis, the former trying time and again (even moving out there) to trigger the kind of sales landslide that can occur when such an enormous country takes a liking to your tunes. In terms of recent comic exports - with the exception of The Office and a handful of Richard Curtis films - well, it always seems those guys don't get our humour. Little Britain doesn't exactly fit into the category of "hard to get" comedy, however, so Matt and David probably figured that if the audience could get to grips with their cute little accents and handle a few penis jokes then they'd start to rake in the Benjamins.


It seems that virtually every sketch clings desperately to a prosthetic breast or penis. While I'm certainly not averse to some cheap playground laughs, it is difficult to keep people chuckling for more than 20 minutes with purely visual gags - you feel sometimes a script would come in handy. The new characters - led by locker-room jocks Tom and Mark - attempt to lower the taste bar yet more, and the American accents employed by Lucas and Walliams are tiresome and cringeworthy in equal measure. We don't much like it when Americans try their hands at the Queen's English, so why should it work the other way around?


Extremely mixed: The Washington Post described some of the sketches as "too tasteless even for a celebration of bad taste", and Variety magazine reckoned that "Little Britain's laughs are as puny as its ambitions". There has been some positive feedback, however, with USA Today pointing to the "speed, skill, and good humour" of its stars, while The Hollywood Reporter went so far as to call the series "delightful". It is certainly not for the easily offended, the majority of sketches seldom rising above the level of basic toilet humour. The prominence of such lowbrow wit, one presumes, was surely seen as critical during the writing process: "Make it really nasty and they're bound to tune in."

American Beauties... the new characters

Tom and Mark

Walliams described these gym buddies (left) as "possibly the most outrageous (characters) we've ever done". Commonly found strutting naked after a hard gym session, they flick towels and boast about their female conquests before turning their steroid-ravaged penises on each other.

Bing Gordyn

The eighth astronaut on the Moon, bitter Bing (right) doesn't see why all the other astronauts get more recognition than he does. "He's my favourite new character and David plays him brilliantly," cooed Lucas.

Ellie Grace and mother

More cross-dressing here, with Lucas as the hopeful beauty- pageant contestant and Walliams the pushy mother (right).

Conor and Mildred

Lucas plays an old lady who fondly recounts her tales of youthful drug abuse, much to the surprise of her wide-eyed grandson.

George and Sandra

This dour couple have been married for far too long and can't stand the sight of each other. Early impressions are that this is one of the better efforts.

Phyllis and Mr Doggy

Another of Walliams's deranged old ladies, this one has formed an uncomfortably intimate relationship with her pet pooch.

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