A half-hour special of NTSF carries with it the pressure not to be just another sitcom episode. When I first heard that NTSF would do a special double-length episode, my first thought was excitement, but honestly, my favorite thing about the show is how much it packs into just over 10 minutes per episode. Stretching it out to usual sitcom length could either double the amount of crazy jokes, or water down what is one of the most concentrated founts of parody on the air.
“U-KO’d” is the third of three episodes tonight set in London (after the season premieres of Parks And Recreation and Elementary), but the only one to shoot in actual London and then use it as a fake insular neighborhood in America. NTSF’s “Little Britain” functions within San Diego much like Hong Kong did as the British approached the transfer of sovereignty to China in 1997. And that sideways integration of shooting in a foreign city made the episode so much better. I was afraid that some kind of mission would take the NTSF team to London, away from the San Diego they’re sworn to protect, but combining an Arrested Development-like neighborhood with a Hong Kong-esque transfer of power had the right kind of approach for this type of parody.
On a show that has so many great names, from the buildings named after Nick Cannon to NTSF:AK:CANOE, naming the British outfit National Socialized Strike Force: United Kingdom: Double Decker Bus is just inspired. No other show has the opportunity to name things in the same way as NTSF, but the writers are unflappably perfect when assigning ridiculous names to fictional creations to fit the show.
Essentially, the entire special is a big excuse to use a bunch of British actors on NTSF while making fun of England, which I found a bit refreshing since I’m a bit tired of Canada jokes as America’s hat and the Mexico jokes since San Diego is right near the border. And who better to play the villain than Rupert Giles himself, Anthony Stewart Head. He’s a “Little Britain” nationalist trying to prevent the exchange of sovereignty, sticking up for the insular community by conspiring to assassinate the Prime Minister Of The Royal Navy—the appropriate little British equivalent of Rob Riggle’s position. Julian Barrett (The Mighty Boosh) and the actual Peter Serafinowicz show up as well, but I was most delighted to see Colin Salmon, or Walter from Arrow, as one of the UK:DDB agents there to help NTSF in their search for Alphonse. As expected, there are a lot of jokes about British police not carrying guns—and Trent being vehemently pro-gun—and American intelligence agents resorting to torture. (“Why are your television seasons so short? Tell me!”)
But my favorite part was the plan to track down Head’s supervillian, Alfred Corningham. Instead of using the Scottish team member (because Little Britains hate Scots), Karen Gillan gets to play up a great American accent as a Rhode Island girl infiltrating Head’s manor, and June Diane Raphael adopts a horrific British accent to play her servant, with whom Head falls madly in love. There’s some double-crossing, Alphonse as a captive of a lovely nurse, and Kove and the POTN dealing with the janitor from Community back at headquarters. Nothing too British other than the acknowledgement of a tenuous partnership and some standard Sherlock Holmes homages, but it’s all pretty funny, without much to drag the episode down.
When I started the episode, I was worried about the running time, andthe amount of jokes necessary to keep the pace moving along at a normal clip for NTSF. But I shouldn’t have doubted Paul Scheer. “U-KO’d” is one of the stronger episodes of the season to be sure. But this format is something to use once per season as a special moment, not an indicator that Adult Swim should look to scale up more of its quarter-hour shows to 30 minutes. They tried that with a season of Metalocalypse, and then went back to the shorter running time. That’s the right idea. These sorts of shows can justify the extended time a few times when the idea can be expanded to bring in a bunch of guest stars and feature many different running gags. But NTSF works best when riding that line between comedy sketch and sitcom.
- “…was ripped from the headlines and carefully glued back together in a comedic and amusing fashion to confuse the next guy who reads it.”
- “Do you have any strains of hepatitis?” “It’s pronounced ‘herpes,’ and no.”