By G. Michael Dobbs
Three servings of British humor are the subjects of this week's DVD reviews.
Come Fly With Me: Season One
Matt Lucas and David Walliams had a hit on both sides of the Atlantic a few years ago with their show "Little Britain," which purported to be a documentary about the eccentric inhabitants of the British Isles.
Despite its British-centric humor and speech, the show was accessible to American audiences who marveled that Lucas and Walliams played a dizzying number of male and female characters.
The new show takes a subject that is clearly more universal commercial aviation but gives it "The Little Britain" treatment. Set in a large airport, the show follows a host of characters ranging from a strict but moronic immigration officer to a discount airline owner, to several flight attendants to a husband and wife pilot team.
And like "Little Britain," there are hits and misses in the comedy, although I think the team scores often with solid laughs. The Omar Baba character the airline owner was particularly funny with his various schemes such as making passengers swipe a credit card to pay for a life jacket during a crash into water.
Politically correct American audiences might cringe at bit at the no-holds-barred comedy and at the fact that both men portray people of color.
If you're fan of "Little Britain," "Come Fly With Me" should be a priority to see.
Steve Coogan Live
Steve Coogan may be the biggest British superstar who has the least amount of name recognition in the United States, although he certainly has tried.
Coogan is best known to American audiences for his film appearances, such as the director in the movie "Tropic Thunder." Coming from a standup comedy background, Coogan became very well know for a variety of characters, including his most famous, "Alan Partridge," a hapless television talk show host.
This two-disc set collects three of Coogan's comedy specials taped before a live audience as well as a "mockumentary" called "Steve Coogan: The Inside Story."
I've seen a little of the Alan Partridge television shows and thought what I had seen was pretty brilliant.
So I was looking forward to these live shows and was under-whelmed. So much of comedy is cultural context and if you lack that the jokes fall flat. I had trouble not only with the gags, but also with the accents, which were at times difficult to decipher.
I may revisit this collection in order to try to develop an appreciation for it as I do love British comedy, but I must admit that viewing it was indeed work.
The Comic Strip Presents
Of the three DVDs in this week's column, this one held the greatest promise of a comic discovery and fell the hardest.
"The Comic Strip Live" was a British television series that is practically a who's who in contemporary British comedy. The cast included people such as Dawn French, Rik Mayall, Jennifer Saunders and Robbie Coltrane, among many others, as they started their careers.
The show consisted of half-hours satiric films. The cast and staff obviously decided not to go the usual route of shorter sketches tied by a framing device and while I admire this effort it simply means if the premise doesn't work, it doesn't work for the whole show.
For instance, I had never heard of the children's books series that was the basis for the group's first show, "Five Go Mad in Dorset." Although I understood the direction the parody was going, its humor was lacking because I didn't know the subject of the show.
Another show satirized the idea of a group of college students living in Iron Age conditions an experiment that happened back in the 1980s and it became old very quickly.
This is one of those television shows that I am willing to guess was very polarizing: you either loved it or hated it. I won't go so far as to say I hated it, but I found watching it to be very heavy lifting.