Sketch comedy is one of the hardest forms of comedy to do well. You only have a few minutes to get each character and joke right and it can be difficult to keep a recurring sketch from becoming too one-note and repetitive. As well as that, there can be an overreliance on catchphrases or just a general misjudgement of what makes good sketch comedy.
And, obviously, because of that there are always sketch shows that are complete stinkers. Thankfully they usually disappear quickly and we don’t miss them. And these sketch shows are prime examples of why…
5. Little Britain USA (BBC1/HBO, 2008)
Cracking the US is never easy for British writers. Usually their vision will be compromised a lot to fit US audiences and a lot of the original content will become lost in translation. But when Matt Lucas and David Walliams made the trip stateside to continue Little Britain, they were building on a smash hit and were working with HBO. So it looked like Little Britain USA could be solid continuation of its UK counterpart. But, sadly, things didn’t really work out that way.
The concept of Little Britain USA is flawed to its very core since Little Britain was supposed to be both character comedy and poke fun at aspects of life in Britain like class structure. It’s a British comedy. The clue is in the title. So the idea of Little Britain USA doesn’t work because it’s trying to fuse that with doing the same thing for America. Which means it doesn’t really hit home for either UK or US viewers since its focus is split.
Little Britain USA saw the majority of Little Britain’s main characters such as Lou and Andy being reused with them being relocated to America for various reasons. Which is a big problem in itself since we’ve seen these characters in up to three full series, a theatre tour, and two specials before so there’s very little more that can be done with them. There are only so many times we can see David Walliams wearing a dress and saying “I’m a lady”, and still find it funny.
Also, some characters are straight copies of characters from the original series such as Republican Senator White being a localisation of Sir Norman Fry, a married MP who is frequently seen in public having sex with men, and little known astronaut Bing Gordyn being a reworking of Olympic silver medallist Denver Mills. Which shows a disappointing lack of originality.
Some of the newer material works quite well such as sketches of Matt Lucas as a grandmother with a very chequered past but those sketches are vastly outnumbered by the disappointing stuff. On top of that, each episode clocks in at just over twenty minutes. Which just isn’t long enough to do decent sketch comedy because it means you can’t strike a good balance between a lot of short sketches and a smaller number of longer ones.
The whole thing just feels stale, like it’s plodding along after having already run its course, and has reached a point where it should be put aside. There’s very little that we haven’t seen before and it doesn’t come anywhere near the heights of the original series.
What Are Its Redeeming Features?
Tom Baker’s voiceover.
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