American cable network HBO has had a great deal of success picking up and importing British comedies. From introducing America to the likes of Da Ali G. Show to co producing the brilliant series Extras with BBC Worldwide, nobody has brought British comedy to the States like this since the glory days of public broadcasting. Now they go a little further down the classiness scale with their latest import, Little Britain USA.
Matt Lucas and David Walliams would be instantly recognisable to anyone who’d ever seen the show Little Britain. Unfortunately, that won’t be a lot of Americans. (I’ve seen it, but I’m sure by now most of the readers here know I’m not like most Americans and routinely stop on Britcoms as part of my regular TV viewing.) This first episode has been greatly hyped by HBO and features a guest-starring shot by Rosie O’Donnell, but will it actually keep Americans interested?
I’m not sure.
The show was very entertaining if you like the Little Britain style of crude, un-politically correct humour. I do, so I was cackling like mad through most of the program, especially at the exploits and nudity of two new characters, Mark and Tom the ‘gym buddies’. Lou Todd and Andy Pipkin are also there, and provide one of the funniest moments in the entire debut show that wasn’t an elaborate gay joke. Carol Beer also makes her first appearance, albeit her first skit is a bit flat.
Still, I think the show is going to catch fans’ attention, and I think it’ll do well to introduce the two to American audiences. HBO tends to have a pretty smart, open-minded crowd, and thanks to the success of The Office and Borat, I think that Americans are ready to embrace a little British comedy performed by Britons. I think that given how politically correct things are in the States at the moment, when the show finally cuts loose like we know it can (and like it did at some moments in the debut episode), it’ll get really funny.
HBO only ordered six episodes at first, most of which were filmed either in studio or on location in North Carolina. Aside from the familiar characters (and I can’t wait until Daffyd makes his debut) which need introduction to the new audience, one of the things that Americans are going to have a serious problem with is the laugh track. The problem is the laugh track style of comedy (and the laugh track is painfully obvious throughout most of the show) is very out of style. Thanks in no small part to post-laugh track shows, the use of the chuckle box in Little Britain USA is going to be quite jarring for most modern viewers. Hell, American shows haven’t routinely used a laugh track since the 1960’s thanks to taping in front of live audiences and the higher production values brought about by series like The Larry Sanders Show. Given just how many shows without canned laughter have been successful, this holdover from the British way of doing things sticks out like a sore thumb (especially on HBO, which generally never has laughter in its shows or live audiences for regular series).
Another problem that Americans will probably have trouble with is the amount of crudeness in the program in terms of insensitive humour. The show will get protested here (much like Borat and Tropic Thunder also were protested). Complaint letters will be written by any of the many special interest groups the duo of Lucas and Walliams offended in this beginning episode. I can only hope that HBO ignores all the complaining from whiny groups too stuck up to laugh at themselves.
I really hope the show takes off here. HBO needs another successful program after the beating that the network’s last foray into comedy (Lucky Louie, a three-camera sitcom shot in front of a live audience but with a decidedly grown-up bent) took. I’d hope that this is the first shaky step towards a brilliant run on HBO. Williams and Lucas have five more episodes in which to win over as many people as they can.
US correspondent Ron Hogan is kind of glad he’s never joined a gym, no matter how cool it might be to have Tom Baker narrate his life. Find more by Ron at his blog, Subtle Bluntness, and daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.