Episode One of the the third series of Little Britain screened on Wednesday night on ABCTV. And I can't remember being this disappointed about a hitherto eagerly-awaited piece of pop culture since Phantom Menace, the Matrix sequels or Return of the King (though I seem to be on my own on that one).
I came to the Little Britain phenomenon late--via Very Little Britain (a truncated version of the TV series that aired on ABCTV last year) and snippets of the radio show on Radio National--before Santa was kind enough to drop the Series One and Two DVDs in my lap. The verdict? Two words: comedy gold. By turns clever, outrageous, ludicrous and disgusting, with a repertoire of characters (nearly all of whom are played by series creators Matt Lucas and David Walliams, who have an incredible talent for portraying women convincingly; the deliberately unconvincing transvestite Emily Howard notwithstanding) and set-pieces that are completely original yet instantly recognisable--and not since Seinfeld has a comedy series been able to produce so many memorable catchphrases. ("Yyyyyyeeeessssss!" is particularly popular in my house.) Series Two retains many of the more popular Series One characters such as Daffyd and Vicki Pollard, while new characters such as Bubbles de Vere and the "Computer says 'No'" woman are just as successful. Though it ups the ante somewhat in the bad-taste department ("Be quick, Mr Hutton. I have a colonic at three."), it still manages to be very funny.
See, the great thing about the first two series is that the creators were able to recognise that, as funny as the characters and ideas can be, they do have a use-by date. In Series Three, that rule of thumb seems to have been thrown out the window. To be replaced by a new rule: take one popular character--say, Bubbles de Vere--multiply that character by two, and the sketch will be twice as funny. Wrong. Even if the clone is wearing a black fat suit instead of a white fat suit. (As a matter of fact, they instituted this rule in Series Two by giving Emily Howard a sidekick--and those sketches were probably among the weakest of that series.)
Onto Lou and Andy. There are basically two varieties of "Andy": "Faker Andy" (who gets up out his wheelchair and stretches his legs/dives into a swimming pool/leaps astride a horse and gallops off into the distance whemever his helper Lou's back is turned) and "Fickle Andy" (who, having deliberated at length at some earlier point in time on the benefits of option A, stubbornly and inexplicably settles on option B, only to change his mind again at the point of no return). "Fickle Andy" has far more comedic potential than "Faker Andy," for obvious reasons (i.e. he's not disabled; we get it)--so why do we get a double-dose of the latter in the Series Three opener? The Vicki and Daffyd sequences are fairly pedestrian, too.
And the new characters are certainly nothing to write home about. What's with the Thai mail-order bride? Is she really meant to be from Thailand, or is she putting it on? The latter option might have rendered her sketch mildly amusing; as it is, it's just crass. The "Old And Putrid" urinating woman shows some potential--but even she's just a variation on territory the show has covered before (namely the projectile-vomiting elderly lady from the second series).
Well, you may be thinking, it's only the first episode. Fair enough--it might pick up from here. Lucas and Walliams admitted that in putting the first two series together they would include the best material in the first few episodes. The DVDs each contain more than an episode's worth of deleted material--much of which is still very funnyin my view. But if they've continued that trend with the third series, things look pretty ominous.