Sure, Saturday Night Live may be experiencing a ratings boost during this election season, but for the most part, American sketch comedy has sucked over the past few years. So what's a comedy-hungry nation to do? Turn to the Brits, of course! Little Britain USA, HBO's Americanized version of the hit BBC series starring Matt Lucas and David Walliams. The series is a cross between Monty Python and Benny Hill with an extra-heavy dose of nasty prosthetics. Naturally, this type of humor appeals to some and repels others, depending on one's love of British humor and R-rated comedy. The reviewers are certainly at odds! The reviews, after the jump.Variety:
The American version of "Little Britain" shares several traits with Showtime's Tracey Ullman sketch comedy "State of the Union," yet virtually every comparison proves unflattering to the new HBO series. Whereas Ullman's comedy is clever, "Britain USA" is mostly just crude, reveling in mock condescension toward American stereotypes. Ullman plays multiple gender-swapping characters, but with more panache than the chameleon-like David Walliams and Matt Lucas. And Ullman's hit-miss ratio is simply higher, making the slog through "Britain's" gooey swamp to find laughs feel more arduous. Oddly enough, the truncated preview HBO presented to TV critics a few months ago had me howling, which reminds us of the difference between selected clips and sitting through an entire half-hour of disjointed sketches. Moreover, the series is augmented by the strains of canned laughter that come across as forced each time one of the location bits falls flat. (Yes, "Benny Hill" did the same, but that was then, and this is now.)
It's not that Americans can't master the outlandish sketch comedy exemplified by "Little Britain USA." It's just that, from Monty Python to Borat to Eddie Izzard, the British invariably do it so much better.
Where once its wildly diverse sketches were politically incorrect glimpses into different facets of British life — such as Vicky Pollard, the hilariously incoherent working-class teen, and Emily Howard, just an old-fashioned transvestite gal in denial — now they are firmly rooted in genital humor, an endless fascination with homosexuality and fat jokes, often in the same sketch. "Little Britain USA" adds some new American characters to the Lucas/Walliams repertoire, but the hard-R gross-out humor remains the same. So if you are a fan of, say, "Little Britain" in Season 3, you will probably like "Little Britain USA." As for the uninitiated, well, I suppose it all comes down to a person's fondness for penis jokes. Because they are everywhere, those penis jokes: in the skits about the petulantly gay prime minister and his attempts to "seduce" the American president, or the one with a law enforcement officer whose erection grows ever larger as he shows off his gun collection, or the bikini-line-trimming friendship between steroid-maimed locker-room buddies.
Fans of the original (which runs on BBC America) will be thrilled to hear the pair brought some of their best creations with them: the "computer says no" receptionist; the cheerfully rude Fat Fighter; the fulminating female delinquent. But it's no mere copy. They've created new American characters as well, placed in peculiarly American settings. Shaped like a BBC documentary and narrated by Tom Baker in suitably plumy, Masterpiece Theatre tones, Britain USA sends the duo on a rapid-fire tour of the states. Chances are you've braced yourself for a smug attack — superior Brits mocking idiot Yanks — but Lucas and Walliams have something much more embracing in mind. They mock everyone, from that English import receptionist ("the British pride themselves on being the rudest, most unhelpful people in the world") to guest star Rosie O'Donnell, a hilarious, good-sport victim of the Fat Fighter's attack.
'Little Britain USA' premieres on Sunday at 10:30 p.m. on HBO