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An ill-advised crossing for 'Little Britain USA'

TELEVISION & RADIO : TELEVISION REVIEW

September 26, 2008|Mary McNamara | Times Television Critic
  • Matt Lucas, right, and David Walliams star in HBO's "Little Britain USA."
Matt Lucas, right, and David Walliams star in HBO's "Little… (Danny Feld / HBO )

Lou and Andy are keystone characters of the British radio turned television hit "Little Britain," a sketch comedy that stars Matt Lucas and David Walliams. Andy (Lucas) is an ill-tempered, mentally challenged young man, and Lou (Walliams) is his patient, clueless friend and caregiver.

They first appeared on television five years ago in Episode 1 of "Little Britain's" first season. Lou had brought Andy to a pool, and while he tried to figure out how to lower the poor ailing guy into the water, Andy got out of the chair, climbed up the diving board, jumped in, swam across the pool and was back in the chair before Lou turned around. The joke is, Andy can walk just fine.

In Episode 1 of "Little Britain USA," which premieres at 10:30 Sunday night on HBO, we meet Lou and Andy as they are beginning a visit to the U.S. While clueless Lou is checking into their motel, Andy is once again drawn to a pool. Only this time he doesn't jump in it, he pees in it. And not just in it, all over the poor woman who happens to be swimming there.

That scene is, in a nutshell, the trajectory "Little Britain" has taken since its British debut. 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.

Not every joke is phallocentric. Breasts are fair game too -- such as the dangling anatomy of Bubbles, a gambling addict who literally loses everything at the cruise ship casino, and the miraculous milk production of the prim and proper mum who is still nursing her infantile thirtysomething son.

Fat people, gay people, racy foul-mouthed old people, at times "Little Britain" feels almost retro, like some old "Flip Wilson" show on speed. Some of it is actually funny -- the rude British hospital receptionist, for instance, or the deathly unhappy married couple seeing themselves reflected in an estranged pair of caged monkeys -- but you pay for every laugh with two groans and a shudder.

Of course, it isn't cricket to judge a show by standards outside its genre. "Little Britain USA" is British satire at its broadest, nodding far more energetically to Benny Hill than to, say, P.G. Wodehouse. And there is humor to be had and insights to be made in the outrageous. A series of skits involving a woman (Walliams) and the "demands" of her sexually sadistic dog are an amusing and ruthless take-down of the anthropomorphization of pets.

But too often whatever pointed observation about American or British society Lucas and Walliams have in mind, whatever message about our hypocritical social mores and behaviors they're trying to send, gets lost in the adolescent guffawing about fat people and primary sex characteristics.

So when Rosie O'Donnell shows up with Marjorie Dawes (Lucas), the obtuse and abusive leader of Fat Fighters, you have to wonder if she knew what she was getting into. Being asked, "Are you a lesbian because you are fat or are you fat because you're a lesbian" is funny in a consciousness-raising way, but like too many of the sketches, this one doesn't stop with "Did she really say that? Good heavens, ha ha."

No, it has to take it one step further to "Did she really say that? Yuk. Hand me the remote."

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mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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'Little Britain USA'

When: 10:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: HBO

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)

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