Come Fly With Me debuts tonight on BBC America at 11:30 p.m. Eastern.
With their show Little Britain, David Walliams and Matt Lucas created some hilarious, indelible characters that were sometimes buoyed and sometimes bogged down by the fact that each really only had one joke. Many even used that no-no of supposedly “smart” comedy—the catch-phrase. (“Computer says no,” may have been the best.) The show rightfully earned a pretty huge following in its country of origin, though Little Britain USA—which aired on HBO for one season—didn’t do as well, either commercially or artistically.
For their re-teaming, Come Fly With Me, Lucas and Walliams don’t stray too far from what brought them stardom in Little Britain, though instead of their characters standing alone in various parts of the country, they all have something in common: the airport. A spoof of sorts of the TV-doc Airline, Come Fly uses a narrator to introduce the various oddballs who work for three separate airlines. All of the main parts—regardless of ethnicity or gender—are played by Walliams and Lucas, as was the case with Little Britain.
It’s the ethnicity part of that equation that sometimes finds the duo accused of racism. I don’t think that’s the case, but they’re certainly guilty at certain points of trying to milk massively broad ethnic stereotypes for laughs. If those laughs landed better, they’d be forgivable, but most of the jokes in episode one involving Omar Baba—a shifty, rich Arab who owns the budget airline—fell pretty flat.
That wasn’t the case with Precious Little, an overweight black woman (played by Lucas) who runs the coffee kiosk at the airport. I guess that proves that a wealthy, white, gay man can play a Jesus-fearing black woman without it coming across as far too ugly. (It will for some people, to be sure—some British press have pilloried Lucas and Walliams for these types of portrayals.)
But the big question of course is whether Come Fly With Me is funny. Based on the first episode—which drew a whopping 12 million viewers in the UK when it debuted last year—the answer is mixed. Some of the bits are genius: The duo as a married pilot and first officer who constantly bicker are fantastic. The catty check-in girls have the potential for some great interaction. Taaj—a ground crew member inspired by Ali G—calls his little airport car the “pussy wagon.” I can get behind that.
But a lot of the actual jokes in episode one—there are six, all of which already aired in the UK—seemed aimed squarely at a really mainstream audience, and you could see them coming a mile away. An old woman supposedly flying for the first time turns out to be manipulating the system. A flight attendant cuddles a baby before stowing it in an overhead bin—these were too easy, and just not terribly smart. Thank the TV gods at least that Come Fly doesn’t feature that killer of so many good British TV shows, though—the laugh track.
Though it didn’t hit me as immediately as Little Britain, I’ll watch the rest of Come Fly With Me. Even if it doesn’t hit its mark all the time, I’m guessing it will offer enough left-field surprises to make up for some of the too-straight jokes.
- A passenger asks if she needs to buy the early boarding pass… “I’d hate to see you trampled underfoot!”
- A cameo from Geri Halliwell of Spice Girls—that’s probably a big deal in the UK, eh?
- Lucas and Walliams dressed as Japanese schoolgirls is maybe the scariest thing they’ve ever done.
- “Happy flighting!”