HBO // 2008 // 159 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // January 22nd, 2009
"Britain and America..."
"...two great nations linked throughout history. We discovered America, even if it was already there. We deliberately let you win the War of Independence, because you threatened to cry if we didn't. And you very kindly joined us for the last few minutes of the Second World War, for which we thank you. What about the people of these two countries? How are we alike? How are we different?" -- narrator Tom Baker
As with the original British version, Little Britain is comprised of a series of skits with recurring characters. Premiering on HBO in September 2008, we have six episodes which feature both old and new characters, as well as another exceedingly generous helping of politically incorrect comedy. Practically all of the characters are played with irreverent glee by master comedians David Williams and Matt Lucas, with most of the supporting players acting as mere victims to their satiric venom. Each episode is narrated by a no-nonsense, literate gentleman of British manners (Tom Baker, Dr. Who), who taints his remarks with a bit of the bloody, disgusting tongue.
When it comes to looking for new ideas for television shows, American producers love to adapt (ahem, steal) from the British. Some work (Three's Company) and some don't (The Office), with the latter forgetting what made the show so memorable and funny in the first place then stumbling big time. The remarkable thing about Little Britain USA is it's not simply an Americanized version, but rather takes the series' broadly familiar approach at satirizing Americans from a British perspective. With Williams & Lucas onboard to ensure the Yanks don't screw things up, we have a mostly successful new series that shows no mercy on any and all American stereotypes. It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, upper or lower class, gay or lesbian, fat or extremely fat...mercy is not present in the duo's audacious mockery.
I discovered Little Britain while living in England and instantly fell in love. Part of the reason is that I dig satire, no matter how crude or raunchy. Williams & Lucas are not simply British counterparts to Trey Parker & Matt Stone, although they admittedly borrow from Sacha Baron Cohen's skewering of American egotism and supposed superiority when it comes to Little Britain USA. Yet, even with the inclusion of new characters and oft-repeated jokes, this new incarnation emerges as marvelously mirthful. Still, some things do get lost in the international transition, possibly yielding the mediocre ratings on HBO. The disappointing reception is no doubt American's dislike of British comedy, usually emerging out of culture shock and inability to relate. It's a shame, too, because fans of Monty Python's Flying Circus, Borat, and even The Family Guy would find much to love here.
Fans of the original British version will be happy to know many characters return. There's Vicky Pollard, the trash-talking slag with a penchant for delinquency, who is going to a Utah boot camp for troubled teenagers. Wheelchair bound Lou keeps on perplexing clueless caretaker Andy while on an American holiday. The least convincing transvestite Emily Howard, fat fighter Marjorie Dawes, the only-gay-in-the-village Daffyd Thomas, flaming Prime Minister Sebastian...they have all come to America to wreak havoc with their trademark mannerisms and behavior. Comic opportunities are, once again, taken to extremes and executed for all their worth, resulting in plenty of laughs. One of the great things about Little Britain -- which contributes to the series' popularity a great deal -- is that there is a character for everyone to like or dislike. For example, some may be sickened by the sight of hardly-BBW Bubbles DeVere, but always up for the rude cough of receptionist Carol Beer.
Granted, much of the show's sense of humor will seem offensive to many. Spouting f-bombs in front of little children, little girls telling their mothers they love them more than transsexual porn, and grandmothers who get high on "the booger sugar" are just a few of the crude ingredients Little Britain USA has to offer. Williams & Lucas somehow find a way to brilliantly lampoon American caricatures while also keeping their minds planted firmly in the gutter. Much of their Yankee yodeling can be found in the new characters, which include two loving gym patrons who have tiny (erm) things, a woman who loves her dog so much she provides a voice for it, and a cop who gets automatic erections when he picks up firearms. As a bonus, we have an African-American President (who saw that coming?) who must put up with Sebastian's endless, amorous advances. What's a little creepy is the actor playing the Prez (Harry Lennix, The Matrix) does have certain similarities with Barack Obama, particularly his voice.
Also, catch cameos by Vivica A. Fox as the First Lady; Hilarie Burton (One Tree Hill) as a lesbian college student; crooner Sting gets intimidated by Emily Howard; Robert Vaughn gets intimidated by Bubbles DeVere; and Paul Rudd (Knocked Up) as a world leader who finds a way to penetrate the President. Best of all is a "Fat Fighters" sketch with a self-deprecating Rosie O'Donnell, the one-time actress who had a talk show "before Ellen DeGeneres filled her slot."
Despite the show's ratings, perhaps Little Britain USA will do better on DVD, as HBO's treatment has much to satisfy fans and newcomers. All six episodes are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the results are clean and sharp. Audio options are in 5.1 Surround (English) and a 2.0 Spanish track; no complaints there. Continuing the trend of the first three seasons, Williams & Lucas provide commentaries on all the episodes and once again prove to be exceptional speakers. They discuss their approach to the show, shooting in North Carolina (among other places), and the inspirations for the new characters. Both are so engaging they make up for the yearning for more episodes (while they only hint at it, a new series is currently in the works for 2009). Rounding out the extras are a 13-minute making-of featurette, eight minutes of bloopers, character playlists, and 18 minutes of deleted scenes with optional commentaries.
As expected, not every sketch is a gem or on-target. Everyone will have a different opinion on their least favorite characters, and mine are an elderly British couple who get lost in America. I suppose Williams & Lucas are commenting on the silence created by married people in their autumn years, but I never laughed once at any of these segments. Bring back the Scottish hotel manager, for God's sake!
A raucously funny show, a fine DVD presentation from HBO, and two brilliant comedians visiting our shores. What more is there to ask?
Not guilty, now time for bitty...
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 159 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes