A horror greeted me upon my return from Afghanistan: Little Britain is coming to HBO. I will now explain to you why this is a bad thing.
Individually, David Walliams and Matt Lucas are very, very funny. Look at Walliams’ turn as Vulva on Spaced — brilliant. ("It’s not finished… It’s finished.") Their early efforts are worthy as well: In Rock Profile, they tormented an ex-MTV UK presenter by acting as insufferable musicians during interview shows. (Try and find the Take That reunion episode.) And that’s basically consistent with the milieu they came out of. In general, UK comedy gets to take risks that American comedy doesn’t. Try and find anything as courageous as The League Of Gentlemen or Brass Eye, or as innovative as Alan Partridge was 15 years ago.
Little Britain, ironically, is the most American of all the big UK comedy behemoths. All it is — all it is — is catch phrases and fright wigs and fat suits. The characters are funny the first time around and even the second. ("Call me Bubbles…" "Look into my eyes, my eyes, don’t look around the eyes, don’t look around the eyes — you’re under!" "Ehh ehh eh!" "Margaret! Margaret!") By the third time, it’s done. But Little Britain went on for at least three seasons, recycling the same brainlessness. Imagine a British version of Saturday Night Live. It becomes depressing after a while. I kind of now think Ricky Gervais’ sellout character Andy on Extras is a sly dig at Walliams and Lucas.
There is no shortage of great British comedy. For God’s sake, go buy the new Spaced DVD collection. Download region-free-DVD software and get the Brass Eye and The Day Today and I’m Alan Partridge and The League Of Gentlemen and Nathan Barley and The Armando Iannucci Show. It fits the basic unfairness of the universe that Barbara Ehrenreich wrote about yesterday that Little Britain is what makes it to HBO.