Judge Joel Pearce! He's had running water for over ten years, and he invented the cat.
Our reviews of Little Britain: The Complete Second Series (published July 26th, 2006), Little Britain: The Complete Third Series (published January 3rd, 2007), Little Britain Live (published June 6th, 2007), and Little Britain: The Complete Collection (published December 19th, 2007) are also available.
Britain, Britain, Britain!
Wickedly funny, sharply satirical, and gleefully offensive, Little Britain may be one of the funniest sketch comedy series of all time. Even though it's been out for several years across the pond, this may be the first chance that many North Americans will have to indulge in this particular import.
And it all comes from the minds and performances of two men. Virtually all of the major characters are played by Matt Lucas and David Walliams. The premise of the show is simple enough: depicting the lives of the ordinary people of Britain. Actually, it openly and viciously mocks them.
Although the British have always been noted for being a bit stiff, prudish, and generally bland, they have also always been on the cutting edge of television comedy. Some of the sketches in Flying Circus would have been more than shocking to an American audience in 1969. Things haven't changed at all since then. One of the principal pleasures of watching Little Britain is being unsure just what will come next. Since Lucas and Walliams don't shy away from any topic, or refrain from mocking any group, the audience is sure to be surprised regularly. Some moments ignore the bounds of good taste, such as Jason and his affection for his friend's grandmother, or the adventures of Davith, the only gay man (maybe) in his small mining town in Wales. The good news is, even though it isn't always in good taste, it's always in good fun.
And it's really, really funny. Matt Lucas's Vicky Pollard, the white trash teenager, may be the most hilarious character ever rendered on film. No matter where you grew up, there was a Vicky Pollard at your school, and you will laugh when you recognize her. Many of the segments play on British stereotypes, and range across enough of society to keep from getting monotonous. The opening credit blurb changes each episode, and the closing credits are always different as well. More creative energy has been poured into the eight episodes of this series than some shows can cram into a 22-episode run. It's well filmed, too, the cinematography never getting in the way of the performances.
Since Little Britain is sketch-based, there is no real story to speak of. Most of the characters are recurring, and we quickly know what to expect when we see the arrival of, say, Emily Howard (the least convincing transvestite in the world). Many of the characters develop across episodes, though, which gives this series an edge over most other sketch comedy shows. Although most of the sketches with Vicky Pollard are similar, they begin to build on each other. Also, each time that one of the sketches starts to become routine, Lucas and Walliams throw the audience a curve-ball to upset our expectations.
I have few complaints about Little Britain. Of course, I don't find every sketch hilarious. I don't understand the segments with the agent and the pint-sized performer, and the mysterious Scottish hotel manager becomes tiresome after a while. This is bound to happen with sketch comedy shows, though, and I'm sure there are people out there who look forward to those segments. Also, eight episodes is just too few for a show this delightful. There are more series on the way, but this set definitely left me wanting more.
The discs themselves are spectacular. The transfer is quite clean, in the show's original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. When I think of the shows that aired a few years ago on the BBC, this is a massive improvement. The image is a bit fuzzy at times, but the colors are bang on. The sound is fine, with a straightforward mix and very clear dialogue. Where this set really shines is the extra features, though. There are commentary tracks on every single episode, featuring Lucas and Walliams, joined by producer Myfanwy Moore and director Steve Bendelack. They are entertaining and informative, never slowing down for the full four hours of commentary.
And that isn't all. The first disc houses the original pilot episodes, which allows us to see the growth of the series through its development. There are some deleted scenes as well, excised for a variety of reasons. Both the pilot and the deleted scenes have commentary tracks as well. Following this is an interview segment conducted by BBC Radio's Jonathan Ross. The second disc has a great "What Does Britain Mean to You?" segment, in which the recurring characters respond to that question. Next up are a few highlights from Rock Profile, a series with which Lucas and Walliams were previously involved. Then there's a production featurette, which walks through the process of making this kind of series. There are some live sketches as well from a cancer benefit, as well as a radio interview. On both discs, there is also an option to follow a single character through the episodes, which is a nice touch. This is an astounding number of special features, particularly for an eight-episode series. This is the best television special edition I have ever seen.
Should you pick up a copy of Little Britain? Absolutely. Get it, and make sure you share it with friends so that when you begin quoting it regularly in everyday speech, the people around you will understand and laugh with you. Show it to your family and friends, though you may want to keep it away from anyone who gets offended by, well, anything I suppose. I have no doubt that Little Britain will go down as one of the funniest series in television history, and is certainly the kind of series you want to have on your shelf, ready for regular viewing and sharing with others.
Little Britain is not guilty of anything. Bring on series Two!
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