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BBC Video presents
"It is the law in Britain that on Sundays everybody must eat a roast. The most popular meats are beef, lamb, pork and bat."
DVD ReviewAlthough sketch comedy is for the most part stone dead in American television, it's quite alive and well in Britain. Or more specifically, in Little Britain, an alternate-universe United Kingdom that is even more thoroughly populated with eccentrics (not to mention cross-dressers) than the real thing. This two-disc set collects the first series, eight shows, of the program, which is a hit on BBC America as well as in its native country.
The focus is on a population of some 60 oddball characters, nearly all of whom are portrayed by the writer/creators, portly Matt Lucas and Harold Lloyd-like David Walliams. Aided by some superb makeup and costume work, Lucas and Walliams bring to vivid life scores of well-realized creations who mock the everyday hypocrisies, deceptions and lusts of the British people. Having worked together for many years, Walliams and Lucas had honed these madcap characters in a radio version, allowing them to absolutely hit the ground running with proven material and fully realized personages.
The memorable impersonations are legion: Daffyd (Lucas), the self-professed "only gay in the village" who is unable to cope with the posssibility he might not be as unique as he desires; utterly unconvincing transvestite Emily Howard (Walliams), who compulsively insists on her ladyhood; motormouthed juvenile delinquent Vicky Pollard (Lucas), pathetic ex-kiddie star Des Hayes (Walliams); unscrupulous theatrical legend Bernard Chumley (Lucas); teen Jason (Walliams), who is sexually obsessed with his friend's elderly grandmother; romantic novelist Dame Sally Markham (Lucas, in a devastating satire of Barbara Cartland complete with lewd topiaries); and Sebastian (Walliams), the aide hopelessly and jealously in love with the Prime Minister (Anthony Stewart Head of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). The characters have an amazing variety, thanks to the chameleon-like stars, and they're quite convincing in their madness.
The characters are at their best when they demonstrate an oblivious cluelessness or an outright deceitfulness. The most outstanding set of characterizations are the pairing of Andy (Lucas), who shams at being handicapped, with his long-suffering friend Lou (Walliams), who must put up with his abusive and increasingly absurd demands. It's a one-gag setup, but it's a good setup that can stand many different permutations. Bizarreness is also a vital component of the show, such as flute-tootling Scottish hotelier Ray MacCooney (Walliams), who looms goggle-eyed over his guests, an exceedingly disturbing character that doesn't know the meaning of boundaries. There are quite a few references to British television and popular culture that will likely be lost on most American viewers, but there's enough that's broadly accessible to be enjoyable by nearly anyone other than the easily offended. Coherence is supplied not only by recurring characters but also by a series of running gags, such as the concluding sketch of the two stars in one ill-fated attempt to set a world record after another.
Little Britain is a microcosm of society, seemingly recognizable, but it's also full of unusual details such as the hours of the day being given people's names. Tying the whole together is the stentorian narration of Tom Baker (Doctor Who), a rigid reading of a warped and increasingly absurdist text, with tongue firmly planted in cheek. It may take a while to get used to the world of Little Britain, but it's fascinating in its detail and hilarious in its broad strokes.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture is acceptable; while color and black levels are quite good, there is some pixelation and blocking on close inspection. The PAL to NTSC conversion is pretty well done, although there is some visible ghosting during rapid movement.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 track is quite serviceable, without significant noise or distortion. David Arnold's lovely score for the series comes across nicely, with good presence. The laugh track is mixed a bit loud for my tastes. The dialects are often thick enough that I found myself leaving the subtitles on at all times to be able to follow the humor.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 162 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 TV Spots/Teasers
27 Deleted Scenes
8 Feature/Episode commentaries by Matt Lucas, David Walliams, producer Myfanwy Moore and director Steve Bendelack
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Extras Grade: A+
Final CommentsA modern gem of British comedy finds a home on DVD, supplied with an enormous array of bonus features.
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