Little Britain USA
HBO // Unrated // $29.98 // January 13, 2009
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted January 18, 2009
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In 10 Words or Less
The lads come stateside and remain mostly as excellent as ever

Reviewer's Bias*
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, and a third quickly in November. DVDTalk has a review of all sets, plus the compilation set: Season One | Season Two | Season Three | Complete Collection.

The Show
Watching the first episodes of Little Britain USA on HBO, I felt a mix of excitement and dread, as it was fantastic to once again get new shows from the brilliant DavidWalliams and Matt Lucas, but after feeling slightly disappointed by the third season of the British series, the idea of transplanting the show to a new locale with a new audience was enough to make me cautious with my expectations. Sure, it's not a network adaptation done without the creators' input,ala NBC's many disastrous non-"Office" efforts, but it's still a change, and, as it's been said often, we fear change.

Thankfully, there hasn't been a dramatic change in the series, as they've maintained the narration by former Doctor Who Tom Baker, the sketch structure and the oddball sense of humor. But as the show now takes place in the colonies, led behind the camera by Michael PatrickJann ("The State," "Reno 911!") and "Friends" star David Schwimmer , not all the characters from the previous series have made the trip across the pond, and they've been replaced by new Americans, including a pair ofovermuscular , probably gay weightlifters, a precocious child with a filthy mouth, and a former astronaut struggling with his irrelevancy, but some are just American versions of the British characters, like the politician attempting to cover up his homosexual affairs. Most of the popular characters made the jump though, including Daffyd, the only gay in the village (now attending college in America;) Sebastian Love, the gay British Prime Minister working with and lusting for the president of America; and terrible teen Vicky Pollard, who's been sent to a boot camp in Utah. It's not just a rehash of what's been seen before, with the new settings giving the characters some new life.

Is this series as fresh as the first run on the BBC? No. In all honesty, the series seems stuck between satisfying the fans by bringing back the tried and true star characters and keeping them mostly in a formula, while attempting some new bits that have trouble stacking up to over-the-top creations like Emily Howard, the rubbish transvestite, or Bubbles, the frequently nude and excessively fat socialite. The guys' best work is so outrageous and vivid, combining gross-out and social commentary withe purely silly gags, that it would be hard to top it (though the visual spectacle of the gym buddies' full-body muscle suits (complete with disturbingly hysterical genitalia) may be the most memorable imagery of theshow's four seasons.

No matter which characters they play, including the frustratingly unenjoyable travelers Lou and Andy (returning yet again,) Lucas and Walliams are brilliant comedians, making their characters far more real than they should be, like playing drag with the simple honesty that lends realism to the scenes (much like the Kids in the Hall.) No matter howcartoonish the role, and there are several who verge on surreal, these two ground the show, preventing the outrageous from distracting from the funny.

The DVDs
The set is slightly excessive in terms of the delivery, with two discs carrying just six half-hour episodes, plus extras, arriving in a white single-widthkeepcase (with a tray) which is wrapped in a beautiful foil-embossed slipcover that thankfully doesn't repeat the cover art. The two discs gives the show plenty of legroom, with three episodes per DVD, and the extras on the second disc. The DVDs feature animated, travel-themed, anamorphicwidescreen menus with options to select episodes, play all, adjust languages, and Audio options include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0, while subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French, along with closed captioning. A nice touch carried over from previous "Little Britain" sets is the characterplaylist option, so you can load up sketches starring specific characters.

The Quality
The anamorphic widescreen transfers look fantastic, better than any of the previous three sets, with clean, crisp images that sport excellent color and no issues with dirt, damage or digital artifacts. The level of fine detail and black levels are similarly impressive.

When you're dealing with sketch comedy, a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack tends to be overkill, coming in handy mainly to enhance any music, and that's just the case here, as the dialogue is strong, clear, and center-balanced, while the music gets a bump in the surround field. It's a solid presentation, matching the needs of the material.

The Extras
The extras kick off with episode-length audio commentaries by Lucas and Walliams on each show, continuing the tradition of the previous sets. While the inclusion of Jann or Schwimmer would have been appreciated for adding new perspective (or even just helping to pace out the conversations), the duo has plenty to say about the show, and with the new focus and production, there are new stories and details to share. The guys are enjoyable to listen to, often straying from what's happening on-screen to discuss topics that are interesting them, but providing a lot of the behind-the-scene info commentary aficionados are listening for.

The rest of the extras are on the second disc, starting with a 13-minute making-of featurette. Though it covers similar ground to what's spoken about in the commentary, it adds in interviews with the crew, including Jann and Schwimmer, and on-set footage, making it a nice addition to the set. It's followed by some previous unseen material, including nine deleted scenes and eight minutes of bloopers. The deleted scenes aren't bad, including a recluse concept that didn't make it into the show, a hypnotist Kenny Craig sketch, along with Daffyd and Marjorie Dawes bits, and they have optional commentary explaining why the scenes got the chop. The bloopers are simply silly and are worth a look.

The Bottom Line
There's no doubt that "Little Britain USA" is funny, and to someone who's never seen the British version, it's possibly revelatory, but for fans who've seen the show from the beginning, it's more of the same, lacking the punch it once had, thanks to the repeated use of popular (and predictable) characters. The DVDs have excellent audio and visual quality, and offer a nice amount of quality extras (though a touch less than usual,) making this one fans of the series should certainly check out, but newcomers who don't mind British pop culture jokes will want to pick up the original show's first season to start.

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