In 10 Words or Less
More of Her Majesty's royally screwed-up subjects
Loves: Sketch Comedy, Season One of "Little Britain"
Likes: British Comedy
Hates: "The League of Gentlemen"
The Story So Far...
An out-of-nowhere hit on British television, adapted from the two creators' radio show, "Little Britain" delivered one of the freshest and funniest sketch comedy shows in recent years. A mix of filmed segments and in-studio scenes, the series simulates a documentary about British people, and presents a rather odd assortment of characters, all of whom are played by Matt Lucas and David Walliams.
The first season was released on DVD in August of 2005. DVDTalk has a review of that set here.
After approaching the first season of "Little Britain" with caution, due to the show's overwhelming hype, I was pleasantly surprised that the show really was that good. So when the second campaign arrived, I once again looked at the show suspiciously, this time concerned that the series couldn't reach the heights it reached before. Sadly, this time I was right, though the show remains a fantastic way to spend a few hours.
The show had to make a few changes in its second run, in an attempt to keep things fresh. The easiest and safest way to do that was to change up the cast of characters. Thus, out went some of the less-interesting "Britons," including Ray McCooney the Scottish hotel manager, Jason and his friend's grandmother, author Dame Sally Markham and the annoying Liz, who was Mollie Sugden's bridesmaid, as well as the episode-ending record-breaking bits.
Coming in are a handful of sketches that rely mostly on shock value, unlike the surreal bits in season one. Bubbles Devere is as disturbing a visual gag as has been seen in some time, while Maggie and Judy's bigoted vomiting recalls "SNL"'s short-lived obsession with the "puke pipe," only with a bit of social commentary. If they aren't enough to make you cringe, Harvey's never-ending desire for "bitty" and its graphic conclusion will do the trick.
Some old friends are back, some with changes. Sad tranny Emily Howard has a new, and even less convincing pal Florence, and she/he is still just as funny. Daffyd's self-proclaimed status as the only gay in the Welsh village of Llandewi Breffi is shown to be untrue, but he continues his crusade for understanding in an understanding world. And in the world of government, Sebastien Love's inappropriate interest in the Prime Minister becomes more and more obvious. All of these returning bits remain highly entertaining.
While the show's batting average is still quite high, when the show strikes out, it's very very noticeable, as seen in the Mr. Mann sketches. Returning from the nonsensical pirate toy sketch in season one, this set of segments is just a repeat followed by a repeat, as Mr. Mann asked for extremely specific items. Some parts of the sketches are funny, but as a group, it's too repetitive. The same goes for the Lou and Andy sketches, which inherited the final spot from the record breakers.
None of them are as bad as the Bank Clerk sketches though, which involve an annoying woman telling people that the computer says "No," and then coughing on them. There's not even an attempt at variety here. Where the show has inserted variety has been the short interim sketches that bridge the gaps between the longer sketches. This time, they are road bumps, with the exception of the understated "Mr. T" segment.
Had this been the first season of the series, I would probably be in love, but since this show has some history, it's simply entertaining, instead of astounding. That's the problem with greatness: it's extremely hard to maintain.
There's two fewer episodes this time, and all six episodes are found on the first disc of the two-DVD set, while the second disc holds the bulk of the extras. The discs feature unique anamorphic widescreen main menus designed like postcard racks. Options include character playlists, play all episodes, select individual shows and adjust languages. The episode selection menus have further sketch breakdowns, while the language options include commentary tracks and English subtitles. There is no closed captioning.
The anamorphic widescreen transfers on these DVDs look solid, with quality color, excellent detail and a complete lack of dirt, damage and digital artifacts. Some scenes are sharper than others, with the filmed scenes looking slightly sharper than the studio ones, but overall, there's nothing to complain about.
The audio, presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, is pretty simple, with crisp dialogue and nicely delivered music. There's nothing dynamic about the sound, but it's very nice nonetheless.
Just to get it out of the way, there is an option called "Wish You Were Here," but when it's clicked, nothing happens. Once you get past that, the only extras on Disc One are six episode-length audio commentaries with Lucas, Walliams and producer Geoff Posner. Continuing the trend from the first set, the tracks are a good mix of fun and information, with the guys asking each other occasionally if certain ground was covered in the first set. As the guiding forces of the show, they have plenty of say, and the tracks are better off for it.
The rest of the extras are on Disc Two, starting with the 44-minute "Little Documentary," which is directed by Joe Cornish (the upcoming Ant-Man movie) and Dan Munford (director of Land of the Dead featurette "When Shaun Met George"). A well-done and fast-moving look behind the scenes of the show's second season, it shows how an episode is produced without being boring.
A special episode of "Little Britain," produced for the charity event "Comic Relief" is included here also, with appearances by George Michaels, Elton John, Robbie Williams and British talk show host Tricia. The celebs have some fun with their personalities, especially Williams, who shares a scene with Emily Howard and Florence. It's a pretty decent episode overall. An optional episode-length audio commentary and just over two minutes of very funny outtakes for the episode are also available.
For those fans for whom six episodes isn't enough "Little Britain," almost 50 minutes of deleted scenes are included. Some of these are just as good as the material on the real episodes, but many, including a run of diner gags, don't exactly stack up. They are definitely worth viewing only to catch up with some of the characters that seemed to have been forgotten. Another commentary track comes with these scenes, and provides excellent background info.
The disc wraps up with a collection of media appearances, and two final sketches. Some of the appearance content repeats a bit, but it's all interesting. "Little Britain at the NFT" is a sit-down interview with Lucas and Walliams at the National Film Theater, with Dr. Graeme Garden. Running just short of 45 minutes, it's a good bit of insight into the show. A pair of radio interviews, with Chris Moyles and Jonathan Ross, combine for almost 70 minutes of good-natured joking, while a second interview with Ross, this time on video, is 10-minutes more of fun chat.
Things end with a cute sketch from "Richard & Judy," in which the show's hosts play Lou and Andy, and a Daffyd sketch that aired when the show repeated on BBC One, due to some censoring on the network's part.
The Bottom Line
It's hard to live up to expectations, especially when those expectations are as high as the ones I brought to the table for this season. Still, these episodes don't compare with the first one, thanks to a gross-out factor, repetitive jokes and bridging sketches that fall short, hurting momentum. The DVDs do a fine job of delivering the show, and the extras included are a good mix of found material, new content and informative features. Fans of the first series will enjoy the season, but new viewers should start here, and then go backwards to the first season to get the best effect.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.