Matt Lucas stars in "Come Fly With Me." (Jack Barnes / BBC )
In "Come Fly With Me," which premieres Saturday on BBC America, David Walliams and Matt Lucas from "Little Britain" reunite over the subject of air travel. The series, which takes off on the British documentary series "Airport" and "Airline," perfectly replicates the look and sound and feel of such films. It is artfully shot; Lindsay Duncan narrates in a proper purr. Everything is played straight except the characters the stars themselves play.
These include pilots, flight attendants, ground crew, concession-stand workers, paparazzi, customer service personnel and a wide variety of passengers. Among them are a clutch of black, Middle Eastern and Asian characters, played in makeup, which elicited complaints about racism when the show aired in Britain last December, and complaints about the complaints. (Lucas defended the show as an attempt to "reflect, affectionately, the multicultural Britain we love.") It's hard not to shift in one's seat, in this day and age, when white people darken their skin for the purpose of comedy. But Walliams and Lucas play and lampoon something like 50 people in the course of the series, from all across the United Kingdom, and it might be argued that this equal-opportunity caricature amounts not to racism but inclusiveness.
Indeed, racism is a theme here, as embodied by a xenophobic and overly suspicious immigration officer who refuses an African woman entry on the grounds that "There's no such country as Liberia" and has invented a board game called "Keep 'Em Out," but defends himself on the grounds that "one of my best friends is … friends with a man who's black."
As good as the stars are at disappearing into their prosthetics and paddings — both are marvelous actors — the show feels best when it focuses less on its human grotesques and more on the purgatory that air travel has become. (A baggage handler: "The thing is, if we're supposed to get a bag on a flight to New York and we miss it, we just slings it on a flight to Delhi — then at least that way the passenger's got the peace of mind to know that their bag has left London.") It is also fine when it gets strange: They are very funny as customs officers who identify contraband drugs by taking them.
It is not the show for which Lucas and Walliams will be remembered; it is more amusing than hilarious, and at times not funny at all. But fans should be fitfully rewarded.