Britain, Britain, Britain. For years now, the Matt Lucas and David Walliams' BBC program Little Britain has been wildly popular in their native UK, beginning as a radio show, then morphing into a TV series, and finally, a highly successful live tour. That's all well and good, but everyone knows you aren't worth shit in the entertainment business until you've conquered the U.S. So take your accolades and highly valuable currency and stick 'em where the sun don't shine, Mssrs. Walliams and Lucas. And learn how to spell your name right, too: It's W-I-L-L-I-A-M-S.
Oh wait, now I remember: I'm a fan of Little Britain–check out the interview we did with Walliams and Lucas in '06 here–albeit with some (growing?) reservations. Here's the deal: The show, a collection of quick sketches with a recurring cast of miscreant characters, is quite funny the first time you see it. But as the episodes continue, and you get a feel for the characters and, more importantly, their catchphrases, Little Britain can become SNL at its least inventive: one-note characters endlessly repeating their catchphrases ("I'm the only gay in the village!") and/or their one joke. (Look, Andy's up from his wheelchair and running around behind Lou's back!)
If the phrases between those parentheses make no sense to you, then you're in luck with Little Britain USA, Lucas' and Walliams' new show for HBO. And at a characteristically British short run of only six half-hour episodes, the show's gags may not have enough time to wear out their welcome. As a series, Little Britain only had a cult following here in the States, but with a prime, post-Entourage slot on HBO, there are millions of people out there who don't yet know that Dafydd Thomas is the only gay in the village. Today, HBO rolled out the welcome mat on its website:
Well, uh, we ain't so good at spellin' other countries' names here in the U.S. and A. But HBO did also do this nine-minute sneak preview.
Aside from a couple specials, Little Britain hasn't returned for a full "series" (as they call seasons over there–how adorable!) on the BBC since its third season ended in December of 2005. Lucas and Walliams did a Little Britain tour in the UK in 2006, and the new series for HBO was announced in the summer of '07. The point of all of this: They've had ample time to brainstorm some new characters for Little Britain USA, and the season premiere featured a lot of newbies along with tried-and-true staples of its UK counterpart.
The show opened with the venerable pair of the not-really-wheelchair-bound Andy and his oblivious caretaker, Lou. The duo is one of Little Britain's one-joke staples: Lou prattles on with someone in the foreground, while Andy gets into all kinds of shenanigans in the background. Repeat. That said, it can be a pretty funny joke, and Andy pissing in a hotel pool made me laugh.
And if you don't like scatological jokes, Little Britain USA (and Little Britain for that matter) isn't for you. Without them, there would be virtually no jokes. The premiere episode opens with Andy pissing in a pool, but also includes new character Ellie-Grace (an adorable little moppet with a dirty mouth) talking about cumshots and transsexual porn; a sketch with a sheriff showing off his gun collection with a raging hard-on (which ends with him shooting his load); and ends with Lucas and Walliams in muscle suits as Lucas shaves the bikini area around Walliams' tiny penis. That doesn't include this exchange between Rosie O'Donnell and Marjorie Dawes (Lucas), the abusive leader of weight-loss support group FatFighters:
O'Donnell: "I can't believe how you treat people! You're absolutely rude, you're homophobic, you're racist. You're meant to help these people, and you keep ridiculing them about their size. It's disgusting!"
Lucas: "And licking another woman's vagina isn't?"
Zing! Sometimes Little Britain can slip into "hey, isn't being gay funny?" joke routine–witness the cringe-inducingly funny sketch with Lucas and Walliams in the muscle suits–and that, along with the scatological jokes, reminds me of Reno 911!, another show on my regular schedule. I'm not imagining things; co-director Michael Patrick Jann has also helmed Reno 911!. (The other director? David Schwimmer, still apparently in the throes of anglophilia following Run Fatboy Run, in which Walliams made a cameo.)
For the most part, Lucas and Walliams spent Little Britain USA's premiere introducing new characters. There's Ellie-Grace; Phyllis–whom I first mistook for Maggie, the perpetually vomiting woman on the British series–a sort of maternal British version of Son Of Sam; Mark and Tom, the muscle-bound dudes with tiny dicks; Mildred, a senior citizen who shares inappropriate tales of her youth with her grandson; Bing Gordyn, the eighth man on the moon; and George and his taciturn wife, Sandra, who have been married for 40 years.
Ellie-Grace seems to have the least potential, as the joke is obvious from the get-go. In each skit, as she and her mother one-up each other by saying how much they love one another, we'll just wait for Ellie-Grace's inappropriate comment. I suspect Walliams and Lucas have a list of words and phrases somewhere they can just plug in. This week, Ellie-Grace said "transsexual porn" and "cumshots." Next week: rimjobs and fisting maybe? But I found Bing Gordyn and Phyllis pretty funny. And Marjorie from FatFighters is always good for a laugh.
HBO promises she'll be around with some others from the BBC series: Dafydd; motormouth delinquent Vicky Pollard; Harvey, a grown man who still breast-feeds; Sebastian Love, the British Prime Minister (!) with amorous feelings for his Obama-esque U.S. counterpart; and Carol Beer, the world's least helpful receptionist. (Surprisingly, she didn't cough on the little girl in tonight's episode, like she usually does.)
Little Britain USA does a nice job of balancing new material for old fans and recycling popular characters to hook newbies. It's hard to say how long it'll be until the novelty wears off; that depends on how willing Lucas and Walliams are to expand on their catchphrase-heavy past for something more sustainable. I'll be watching.
— IMDB posted a news story claiming Little Britain USA had already angered some gay-rights groups, specifically the "West Hollywood Gay And Lesbian Alliance," who claimed "This is the most politically incorrect, offensive and obnoxious material ever seen in this country." The West Hollywood Gay And Lesbian Alliance? A quick Google search turned up nothing–save for blogger Tim Curran exposing the whole thing as a fraud. Looks like HBO was trying its hand at viral marketing.
— but not too much. You can't embed any Little Britain USA clips from HBO's website. If you'd like to see a bunch of them, click here.
— A laugh track? I know the original Little Britain has one, but... really?