This collection includes the three complete Little Britain series that aired from 2003 to 2005 on the BBC. In addition, two extra discs include “Little Britain Live” and “Little Britain Abroad.” Two discs worth of bonus materials round out the expansive set.
Throughout the course of their series, Walliams and Lucas assumed a myriad of characters, and twist the sketches around these already established personalities to wring out the laughs. Little Britain is different from most other sketch-based shows because of the reliance on these characters, versus one-shot segments. This approach is certainly a gamble (more on that below), but the popular reaction to the duo’s comedy is a testament to the fact that the gamble paid off huge.
I laugh at this show and for that matter alone I’ll recommend it. Walliams and Lucas are startlingly talented, no matter what character they’ve assumed. The sketches are — for the most part — quick and to the point, with the jokes and punch-lines hitting hard and fast. This is certainly refreshing in an age of sketch comedy where the gags are sometimes way too over-extended. But with 27 minutes to work with, Walliams and Lucas pack their shows with a healthy variety of set-ups.
The three seasons total 20 episodes (Series 1, 8; Series 2, 6; Series 3, 6) most of which feature recurring characters from the get-go, and some introducing new wackos into the mythology with some older ones, sadly, in my opinion — phased out after the first series. I am of course talking about Ray McCooney (Walliams), the insane caretaker of Ye Olde Hotel in Scotland who is often prompted to burst into flute solos and curses magical sprites on a daily basis. Of all the characters, this was my favorite and I was sad to see him disappear.
But before we get all negative let’s bring it back to the highs of the series. Each show is produced with top-shelf quality, featuring fantastic production design, a memorable theme by David Arnold, genius narration from Tom Baker and some of the best costuming I’ve ever seen in a sketch comedy series. And if you doubt that last one, take one look at a Bubbles Devere sketch and tell me you don’t dry heave just a little bit.
The slickest production design in the world wouldn’t be able to compensate for a dearth of laughs and for the most part, Little Britain delivers. But like any sketch series, the jokes can be hit and miss, with some gags floundering and some soaring. It’s the nature of the business. Walliams and Lucas bat a solid average, however, pushing them comfortably into the “hits” column, but their show is not without whiffs.
Unfortunately, this is where that aforementioned gamble of relying solely on recurring characters for sketches comes into play. While I enjoy most of the characters, there’s a few I can do without (I have little use for Vicky Pollard, Dame Sally Markham, Dennis Waterman (the tiny actor), and Ting Tong) so when their sketches inevitably turn up in the rotations, I get antsy.
But that’s just me. Perhaps you love all of the characters, and that’s cool and you should buy this collection immediately, but I argue even their routines grow a bit repetitive, with each respective sketch usually ending on the same gag, e.g. public urination, projectile vomit, rubber-suited nudity, “Computer says no!” and a host of other trademark punch lines. Funny the first few times, sure, but there is a severe risk of tedium when Walliams and Lucas can put only so many variations on the formula.
I know that sounds like I’m poo-pooing the series, and, well, I guess I am sort of, but that’s the downside of putting all your humor eggs into a few baskets. The upshot is, really, what has actually happened for these guys, and that’s having the populace dig their character lineup and showering them with fame and fortune and welcoming them into pop culture immortality. Good on them, because despite my misgivings, I did laugh a lot more than I grimaced — unless it was during one of these Bubbles Devere bits.
In addition to the television seasons, the collection includes the hour-long special “Little Britain Abroad,” a batch of brand new sketches set in places other than Britain (Sebastian and the Prime Minister journey to America, Lou and Andy are washed up on a desert island), and “Little Britain Live,” an hour-plus taping of one of the monstrously popular live shows Walliams and Lucas toured Britain with.
Fans couldn’t ask for a better representation on DVD. The shows look sublime, transferred in 1.78:1 anamorphic (1.85:1 for the third series), and putting forth a clean picture throughout. The 2.0 stereo audio mix is fine, though, as usually, a 5.1 would have been preferred, but no big deal.
The real meat on this collection is the overwhelming amount of extras. While the same extras that were on the individual releases, the supplementals are still impressive, both in their scope (radio and television interviews, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes, bonus footage, bonus sketches) and depth (episode commentaries and commentaries on the extra footage). Seriously, if you aren’t completely over-saturated and sick to death of David Walliams and Matt Lucas by the time you’ve maneuvered through all this extra content, then you must be related to them.
Computer says yes!