A bit of catch up and - for anyone remotely interested - you can read my reviews of WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN that I did for The Culture Vulture and SHAME that I did for The Baltic Times. It's also transpired that a piece I did about TV show COME FLY WITH ME appeared in this week's Eesti Ekspress. It was originally written a few months back when the show was meant to premiere of ETV (the Estonian version of the BBC for all you non-Estonians out there) but the show was postponed and - thus - so was my article. I quietly forgot about it until now
David Walliams and Matt Lucas have always been a slight source of conflict with me. They were brilliant and inventive in the 90s with their shows but when they became global megastars they seemed to coast along with tired catchphrases and increasingly boring shock tactics. And it doidn't help that Walliams had a period of being on every TV show ever. but Come Fly With Me had some genuinely interesting moments and wwas something of a return to form. Anyhoo, given that it was published in Estonian those who want to read my original English version can do so below. Bear in mind it's written to appeal to thos who have no idea who Lucas and Walliams are...
Come Fly With Me
At first glance Come Fly With Me, the latest BBC comedy series to make its way to ETV, is a gentle spoof of reality TV shows. Yet those who have a love of British comedy know that it’s the latest work from two comedians who have proven to be the dominant force in UK comedy for the past decade with all the hallmarks of classic English comedy: namely sharp wit, moments of the surreal and men dressing up as women.
David Walliams and Matt Lucas began their careers plying their trade on the UK comedy circuit (which basically means performing in the top room of a bar to three comedy fans and one drunk who’s looking for the toilet) and were soon noticed by the Paramount Comedy Channel, a digital TV channel with a small but loyal following. During the late 1990s they provided sketches in between the programmes – including some uncannily accurate parodies of American and US sitcoms – Walliams and Lucas began to develop a small cult following (another alumni of the Paramount Comedy Channel was Sacha Baron-Cohen who would become the bane of Kazakhstan in his role as Borat).
Over the next few years they would gain more prominence by playing bit roles in various UK sitcoms, especially Lucas who gained a level of stardom by playing George Dawes in comedy quiz show Shooting Stars (he played an adult baby who dressed in a romper suit and played drums whilst keeping score – yes, there are no limits to what us British people find funny). Rock Profiles – broadcast on another UK digital channel with a small audience – also garnered a cult following as Lucas and Walliams played various rock stars in spoof interviews (highlights including Walliams playing The Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb as if he were the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz and Lucas deciding to interpret Prince as a Scottish tramp – I did tell you that there are no limits to what us British people find funny).
However, as with the majority of comedians and comedy shows in the UK, it was BBC Radio 4 that gave Lucas and Walliams the opportunity to move to the next level. Sketch show Little Britain was first broadcast in 2001 and gave the duo free reign to create such characters as Emily Howard (a transvestite whose only failure is that she’s terrible at pretending to be a woman) and Daffyd Thomas, the self-proclaimed ‘only gay in the village’ who seems slightly perturbed when other gay people arrive. But it was the move to TV that transformed them into superstars. After a slow start, the show captured the imagination of the British public. The catchphrases were everywhere, Walliams and Lucas became fixtures in the tabloid press and Little Britain was a bona fide phenomenon garnering massive viewing figures on the BBC.
Little Britain’s popularity was due to the fact that it channelled the surreality (and love of cross dressing, with Lucas and Walliams making much use of prosthetics and make-up) from Monty Python, the sharp writing of such shows as Blackadder and the scatological mixture of rude words and fart jokes beloved of five-year-olds everywhere. But it not only harked back to UK comedies of old: it poked fun at the stereotypes of British society. And if there’s anything that us British people like, it’s making fun of ourselves. Characters such as Vicky Pollard were every cliché of an underage drinking and foulmouthed teenager writ-large and – despite the fact they were grotesques – became strangely beloved.
But the popularity of the show began to be its undoing as it soon folded under the weight of its successes. Lucas and Walliams started to rely on their catchphrases and increasingly lazy ideas, with accusations of racism (with characters such as Ting-Tong, a mail order Thai bride) being levelled at the pair. A live tour did exceedingly well as did Little Britain USA but the pair seemed to be running out of ideas.
They soon started to work on their own projects with Walliams fronting quiz shows and having his private life splashed across the UK papers whilst Lucas would have bit parts in such films as Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and recent US hit Bridesmaids whilst also dealing with a controversial love life.
With the pair re-united for Come Fly With Me, there seems to be a renewed vigour to their work. A mockumentary about the day to day workings of an English airport there are plenty of elements that one would recognise from Little Britain – the fact that the duo play almost all the characters in a variety of wigs and clever make up and the glorious exposure of British stereotypes. But the restrictions of the show’s format has forced them to concentrate more on character than catchphrases and it makes for a more mature experience than Little Britain. From the girls who work the Check-In desk of ‘Fly-Lo’ (an accurate parody of almost any low cost airline you would care to name) to the immigration officer who hates all foreigners, there’s a sense of a storyline at work that gives greater depth to proceedings. Of course, there are still plenty of individually funny moments and one-off characters but its sense of cohesiveness makes Come Fly With Me a bold step for the pair and for UK comedy.
Walliams and Lucas have sometimes been a polarising force in UK comedy thanks to their overwhelming popularity. But even those who remain unconvinced by their work, which manages to be both populist and literate at the same time, cannot deny their impact on British comedy.