In 10 Words or Less
Back to the Old Country for possibly the last time
Loves: Sketch Comedy, Season One of "Little Britain"
Likes: British Comedy
Dislikes: Gross-out comedy
Hates: "The League of Gentlemen," Repetition
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, followed by a second series in May of 2006. DVDTalk has a review of both sets: Season One | Season Two.
A third season of "Little Britain" was at one point a dream in your
naive reviewer's heart, as he sat amazed by the fresh and original
comedy that made up the series' first assault. After watching the show's
second go-round, the idea of a third helping was more like eating White
Castles: you enjoyed it in the past, but you know it could end up making
The series' originality, at this point, is hard to find, as the
popularity of several characters has been slavishly acknowledged with
screentime. Just a small handful of new sketch concepts have been
introduced, including Mrs. Emery, an incontinent old biddy prone to
losing her liquid anywhere; Ting Tong, an awful mail-order bride; Sir Norman Fry MP, an obviously gay politician who makes excuses for his behavior; a guy
who responds to eating spicy food by blurting out a series of
nonsensical pop-cultural references and a woman with a huge collection
of frog tchotchkes and a less-favorable opinion of the real amphibians.
None of these new bits have anything approaching the humor of a Daffyd, "the only gay in the village," or the rough-edged Vicki Pollard (though the Fry sketches are amusing.) That's not a big concern, because Daffyd and Vicki, along with many of the previously introduced characters, return in Season Three. Unfortunately, they no longer have the ability to draw laughs like they once did, repeating catchphrases and situations the way "SNL" does whenever they find a character audiences respond to.
Thus, we get five new Carol Beer sketches this season. For anyone who doesn't know or remember her, in season two, she worked in a bank, and after typing customers' information in, she responded to all questions by saying "Computer says no," before coughing on the person. Well, now Carol is a travel agent, but everything else is basically a repeat. The same can be said for just about any of the characters, including the aggressively boring Lou and Andy sketches, which take the same joke and just put it in a new place, be it an aquarium or air show. Where you once didn't know what to expect from a sketch, now the entire joke is waiting for the catchphrase.
If the repetition wasn't enough to turn viewers away, the series' dependence on gross-out jokes might finish them off. The race/class-based puke fest of the Maggie and Judy sketches, the visually horrid Bubbles bits and the pee-pee joke that is the Mrs. Emery scenes are all barely enjoyable, though at least there's a concept behind Maggie's barfing. The Mrs. Emery sketches are just pointless exercises intastelessness.
The one place the season got it right is in the frustratingly dull and repetitive Mr. Mann sketches, in which David Walliams plays a customer looking for very specific items in Matt Lucas' shop. Apparently realizing the limited nature of the sketch, they pushed it further and further, reaching new levels of madness, turning what was a rather weak bit into something worth watching.
As someone who somewhat keeps up with British pop-culture and considers himself knowledgeable of such things, I was surprised to find out how many references I didn't understand in this series. Frequently, the audience would be laughing at a name or line, but I had no idea what the joke meant. That certainly didn't help my enjoyment of the set, and it will leave the casual anglophile out in the cold.
While I can't comment on the packaging, as we received only screener copies, if they follow previous conventions, we should get a standard-width clear keepcase, with two disc hubs, and a two-sided cover. The six episodes all on the first disc of the two-DVD set, while the second disc holds the bulk of the extras. The discs' anamorphic widescreen main menus mimic a Viewmaster disc, which you flip through, screen by screen. 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 are solid, with good color, nice detail and a complete lack of dirt, damage and digital artifacts. Some softness can be seen in spots, especially during the scenes filmed on location, and some scenes are sharper than others, but overall, it's
The audio, presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, is simple, with crisp dialogue and nicely reproduced music. It's a standard TV presentation, but one that doesn't distract from the show.
Episode-length audio commentaries with Walliams and Lucas are available on each episode, and they do a nice job of providing back story, set details and do it in a way that's entertaining and informative. If you enjoy the show, the tracks are worth listening to.
The second disc is where most of the extras are, starting with over 44 minutes of deleted scenes, which can be viewed with or without audio commentary by Walliams and Lucas. There's a lot of fluff that was better off excised from the series, including Andy and Lou bits, some Mr. Mann sketches, Emily Howard scenes and Carol Beers moments. Also found in here are a pair of supermarket workers who were a bad idea from the start, an extremely annoying bus sketch and some scenes with rubbish hypnotist Kenny Craig, who didn't make the jump from the second season. The commentary is very good here, as it explains a lot about why the sketches didn't work or were cut.
A special episode of "The South Bank Show," a British arts series, looks inside the show, and reveals a great deal about the partnership between Walliams and Lucas. The 48-minute show is very well put together, and was very interesting to watch. It's followed by 36 minutes of wraparounds from "'Little Britain' Night" a marathon of episodes that ran on British TV. Unfortunately, the coolest part of the night, an interactive commentary on the three episodes shown, available through cable boxes, isn't included, but the interviews with Walliams, Lucas, Anthony Head (the Prime Minister from the series) and Ruth Jones (Daffyd's friend Myfanwy) aren't bad.
More TV appearances, one a 15-minute interview on the talk show "Richard & Judy," the other a 10-minute clip of Walliams (with "Distraction"'s Jimmy Carr) on the odd car show "Top Gear;" and a 28-minute episode of David Baddiel's radio show "Heresy," with Walliams and Lucas as guests, wrap things up, along with a trailer for the DVD of "Little Britain Live," the show's stage tour.
The Bottom Line
There's a definite "final" feel to this series, as characters' sketches come to something of an end, though there are plans for an HBO version for American audiences, and the creators have a deal to do more shows. Hopefully they act as a fresh start, as the show has become repetitive and too focused on being disgusting. This DVD set delivers the short third season with a very nice presentation and a good collection of extras, but the show itself is a weaker version of the series it started as. Sadly, it still trumps most of the sketch shows out there, though you'll tire of this set after a few viewings.
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 his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*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.