Thursday, September 25, 2008

Welcome to Little Britain, USA

Welcome to Little Britain!

This Sunday night, September 28, HBO premieres Little Britain USA, an American version of Matt Lucas and David Walliams' monster hit from across the pond.

From its airings on BBC America, the show has garnered a devoted cult audience of fans in the US as well -- many of them celebs admiring the show's uniquely British combination of high wit and lowball, often scatological humor. (And of course, its trademark drag -- which, Walliams has explained, was never intended as a joke in and of itself, but merely a way for him and Lucas to portray a fuller range of the citizenry.)

In a preview video on HBO's web site for the show, Rosie O'Donnell recounts how her agent called to tell her she'd received for Rosie a script to appear in a really rude sketch about a weight loss group, where the leader would pick on her for being fat and be disgusted for her lesbianism. Luckily, Rosie recognized her agent's description of Marjorie Dawes and her vicious leadership of the "Fat Fighters." "Is it Little Britain?!" Rosie recalls asking excitedly.

"Rosie was fantastic, because obviously there are some pretty outrageous things in there, and she didn't ask us to change a word. So that just showed what a brilliant sport she was," Walliams recalled as the two men appeared at a July appearance in front of the TV critics' convention in Beverly Hills. And so, Rosie appears in a hilarious sketch in this first of hopefully many seasons of Little Britain USA; she's joined in other episodes by both British and Yank celebs, like Sting, Paul Rudd and Robert Vaughn, who as fans begged to be included on screen this time around, and David Schwimmer, who signed on to direct many of the new show's segments.

"There's a lot of cruelty in the show," Walliams added. And of course, that's what makes it so brilliant! The duo haven't pulled their punches for America, if Marjorie's assessment of Rosie is any indication.

"The material is all new," Lucas explained. "So if you have already seen the show, you can sort of approach it as Series 4. But if you haven't, which is what we imagine it will be [because] the majority of our audience here will be new, this is very much Series 1."

And so, Marjorie is joined once again by many of the show's other beloved and equally biting characters, like incomprehensible and attitudinal teen Vicky Pollard (now in boot camp in Utah); bitchy and obese Bubbles deVere; unconvincing cross-dresser Emily Howard; self-repressing gay Daffyd Thomas; and supposedly wheelchair-bound Lou and his caretaker Andy, now on holiday in Mississippi. Add to all that new characters, like homoerotic bodybuilders Mark and Tom and, in a change inspired by the Larry Craig scandal, a sexually shamed senator (a revision of Little Britain's similarly apologetic MP) -- and you have what Lucas and Walliams hope will be something uniquely American.

To get their impressions of us down perfectly, the two traveled around the U.S., and saw more of its weirdness than probably have most Americans. They shot sketches on both the East Coast and in California. They went to Dolly's Dixie Stampede in Branson, Missouri, and marveled at a sign in town that read "Welcome to Christian Country." ("We don't have anything like that in England," said Walliams.) And at a rifle range in Wilmington, North Carolina, they met a sheriff who so enjoyed handling his guns that he inspired a new character, who literally gets turned on by the release of his firearm.

Now, as the show gets set to debute here (it will air also in the UK), Lucas and Walliams have returned to their native England -- for now. "We're bi," Lucas answered cheekily when asked in which country the two plan to be spending their time in the foreseeable future. "We seem to be about half the year in the States and half in Britain, which kind of suits us really."

"Obviously it was really great to spend as much time to... get inspiration... because we wanted to do some American characters in the show. We wanted to refresh it, even just for ourselves creatively," Walliams chimed in. Then, in a comedically pointed note to HBO president Sue Naegle, he added, "We're obviously hoping if we get picked up for a second season -- please -- then we'll be spending more time here."

Little Britain USA
Series Premiere
Sunday, September 28
10:30 PM Eastern

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