"Britain, Britain, Britain, land of technological achievement. We've had running water for over ten years, an underground tunnel that links us to Peru, and we invented the cat," narrates Tom Baker gleefully at the beginning of Little Britain, introducing the first hit show for fledgling digital channel BBC3 and the best new comedy since The League of Gentlemen. In fact, creators and stars Matt Lucas and David Walliams acknowledge a large debt to the League, not only in the gallery of grotesques all performed by the duo, but also in the way in which the familiar sketch-show format is expanded by clever use of locale: not Royston Vasey here, but "Britain" itself in all its perverse splendour: from Darkly Noon, where chavette Vicky Pollard seems all too frighteningly real ("Yeah, but no, but yeah. Shut up!"), to the Welsh village with only one gay, to the council estate where buck-toothed Lou looks after apparently wheelchair-bound Andy ("Yeah, I know"), to Kelsey Grammar School where pupils are baffled and confused by their fusty teacher, and many more besides. It's unashamedly puerile stuff and, as with The Fast Show before it, many sketches rely on a single incident or catchphrase repeated over and over in only slightly different contexts. But it works brilliantly, thanks to the characterisations of Lucas and Walliams, their sharp eye for the eccentricities of modern life, and of course that surreal voiceover from Tom Baker.
On the DVD: This is a handsome two-disc set chock full of tasty extras. Lucas and Walliams provide a surprisingly serious commentary, joined in turn by producer Myfanwy Moore and director Steve Bendelack (a League of Gentlemen alumnus). There's the original pilot episode, plus plenty of deleted scenes, live sketches, several behind-the-scenes segments, an interview with Jonathan Ross, and a half-hour Best of Rock Profiles, the hilarious spoof series in which Walliams and Lucas impersonated various rock stars. If that's not enough, you can also select from a gallery to watch all the sketches featuring your favourite characters. Another triumph for Auntie Beeb. --Mark Walker
Take a surreal tour of the British Isles in this comedy sketch show, adapted from an award-winning Radio 4 series, as it looks at life in the new millennium by following the lives of some extraordinary and sometimes sinister folk. Meet Emily, an unconvincing transvestite who runs a guesthouse by the sea, Jason, who is passionately in love with his best friend’s grandmother, and Daffyd, the only gay man in his village (and that’s the way he wants to keep it!)--to name just a few of the quirky characters that feature in this essential dissection of British life. It asks "Just who are Britain? What do they? And why?"
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