In 10 Words or Less
Air travel is a funny business
Loves: Little Britain
Likes: British comedy
Dislikes: Limited concepts, flying
Hates: Being disappointed
Sketch comedy set in a defined universe is a dicey proposition. While it can help unify sketches and helps craft the recurring characters that are a hallmark of the genre, as seen in series like Portlandia, if you don't like the general atmosphere nothing will really work for you (as evidenced by my distaste for The League of Gentlemen, despite the many positive suggestions to give it another try over the years. Stop. It's not going to happen.) So what happens when you set an entire sketch series inside of what is essentially one building (give or take a few airplane cabins)? Well, it puts some definite limitations on the imaginations behind one of the most surprising and hilarious series in recent history.
Matt Lucas and David Walliams, the stars of the brilliant Little Britain and its American off-shoot Little Britain USA, had quite a task in front of them when it came to following up on their three-season breakout hit. They smartly stuck with what worked before, creating comic vignettes of everyday people, all of whom have quirks that lead to comedic situations. However, unlike in the previous shows, where the characters hailed from all over their respective countries, the cast of Come Fly With Me, played almost entirely by Lucas and Walliams, work in and around a major British airport, mainly for FlyLo, a low-cost airline owned by a greedy, vaguely Middle-Eastern man named Omar.
Most of the six episodes feature the same recurring characters, including Fearghal, the gay steward on the Irish Catholic airline Our Lady Air; Ian, the slightly unintelligent/slightly racist immigration official; and Jackie and Simon, married pilots who are still together despite some adultery on Simon's part. Though there are a few one-off characters, like Corinne, a handicapped handicap-transport worker, and many of the passengers, for the most part, the show follows a few distinct storylines and repetitive set pieces, like the competition to be the new check-in manager between desk agents Melody and Keeley, Tommy the burger flipper's dreams of being a pilot or coffee-kiosk clerk Precious' attempts to avoid work.
Now, while these characters are as interesting as your average Little Britain citizen, and Lucas and Walliams are as funny as ever, the use of the airport as setting limits their effectiveness and no one has the stand-out star quality of previous memorable creations like Daffyd (the only gay in the village), dodgy transvestite Emily Howard or FatFighter Marjorie Dawes. It's easy to say that Vicki Pollard was a one-note character, and she certainly was built around a single catch-phrase, but they could move her from place to place and freshen the concept up.
It's harder to do that when the characters are in established work roles and the show is essentially a workplace comedy. Precious' sabotage effort was amusing the first time, but when she did it a third and fourth time, it was just tired. The same goes for many of the "stars," though at least some of them changed it up a bit, like moving snobbish first-class stewardess Penny to economy class. Part of what holds this series back, versus some of the more anarchic ideas in Little Britain, is an airport doesn't really allow for lunatics to roam free, and as we learned from Lucas and Walliams in the past, insanity is very close to comedy. The airport setting also welcomes a few too many jokes from the old airplane comedy catalog, including bits about bad food, flight delays and pushy security. It would be almost impossible to not cover these topics, but something fresh and new was expected and not delivered.
Another issue, which was broached when the series first aired in the UK, is the matter of racial humor. I am certainly not one who complains about politically incorrect comedy, but it's hard to ignore that minorities do not shine very brightly in this series, be it ineffective passenger liaison Moses, Taaj the Pakistani dunce or the aforementioned Precious, a highly-religious Caribbean woman always looking to get out of working. The less said about the two Japanese schoolgirls stalking Martin Clune the better as well. (Though, admittedly, there aren't many characters, minority or otherwise, who come off looking good in this series.) Perhaps if these characters were funnier, it would be less of an issue, but outside of Taaj, they don't earn mny laughs, which makes the use of blackface (or slant-eyed make-up appliances) even less acceptable than they might be otherwise.
The six episodes in the first season of Come Fly With Me are spread over two discs, which arrive in a standard-width keepcase with a tray. The discs have an animated, anamorphic widescreen menu designed after in-flight touch screens (I assume, since that's what's shown, but I've never seen one on a plane), with options to play episodes, select scenes, adjust the subtitles and check out the extras. There are no audio options, but English SDH subtitles are available.
The anamorphic widescreen transfers on these episodes are quite impressive, showing a rather high level of fine detail and really solid color, though the clarity of the presentation unfortunately makes the make-up work quite obvious (check out Omar and Precious and you can actually see the seams of the appliances.) There are no issues with compression artifacts though, and the entire presentation is quite clean.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 presentation is as good as you'd expect from a stereo TV presentation, delivering center-balanced audio free of any distortion. It's not likely the show would have benefited from a more exotic mix, especially as a faux documentary, but it still feels like the audio should keep pace with the visuals.
Unlike with the Little Britain DVDs, which had a wealth of audio commentaries, this set offers a grand total of none, instead going with a pretty in-depth making-of, the nearly hour-long "Come Fly on the Wall." Built around an interview with the lead duo, conducted by British journalist Mark Lawson, it covers the show a bit, including a reveal about a Little Britain character considered for a return in this series, but it's anything but a fluff piece, as it gets into their not-always-rosy working relationship, complete with on-set footage that paints the two actors, especially Lucas, as somewhat diva-ish. I can't think of the last behind-the-scenes featurette that was so honest about the talent involved. It's an excellent look at a top-notch comedy team, who happen to be making a comedy series at the time.
A short auto-run gallery of promotional shots of the characters is followed by a set of Christmas BBC IDs featuring several of the characters interacting with British celebs who will be unknown to many American viewers, like Gary Lineker, Tess Daly and Shane Richie, however fans of Extras and Dr. Who have something to look forward to.
The Bottom Line
Lucas and Walliams had their work cut out for them in trying to craft a follow-up to Little Britain, but it wasn't made any easier by a concept that constrained them to a single location and its denizens. They remain funny, but this cast of characters lacks the stand-outs of their previous series and the results come up short thanks to repetitive, and worse yet simple jokes. The extras, compared to previous sets, are slightly disappointing as well, but the presentation quality holds up well, so it's certainly worth a look for Little Britain fans jonesing for more.
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.