Tuned In: 'Little Britain USA' imports glee of original

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Fans of the irreverent British sketch show "Little Britain," imported by BBC America, will not be shocked by its new American spinoff from the same creative team.

But the new series, "Little Britain USA," premiering at 10:30 p.m. Sunday on HBO, will likely stun those unfamiliar with the original, particularly the sketch featuring a couple of gym buddies. Series creators Matt Lucas and David Walliams play workout partners who get naked in the locker room, where viewers see full-frontal shots of their anatomically correct, muscley prosthetic body suits.

The easily offended should steer clear, but viewers with an appreciation for outrageous humor are likely to have a good laugh watching "Little Britain USA." The series features some characters from the original show and some newcomers.

Recurring character Marjorie Dawes, a rude, racist, homophobic weight-loss counselor, makes the leap to the American version, welcoming guest star Rosie O'Donnell to a Fat Fighters meeting.

"Are you fat because you're a lesbian or are you a lesbian because you're fat?" Dawes asks O'Donnell.

In its format, "Little Britain USA" resembles the Showtime sketch comedy "Tracey Ullman's State of the Union," which also has narration and distinctly American characters created by a Brit. But where Ullman's sketches were often too short, the skits on "Little Britain USA" are lengthier and generally more successful. Ullman seems more concerned with skewering American archetypes; "Little Britain USA" is mostly out to get a laugh in whatever way possible.

The narrator for "Little Britain USA" (Tom Baker of the '70s "Dr. Who"), introduces each episode by noting the similarities between England and the United States with such pronouncements as, "We share so much: A language, a moral high ground and a love of war." The show also carries a laugh track, another holdover from the Brit version.

Some sketches were filmed on location (mostly in North Carolina) while others were shot in front of a studio audience in Los Angeles.

"We play all the location stuff in front of a live audience, so all of the laughter you hear is genuine," Lucas said at a July HBO press conference. "None of it has been taken from 'M*A*S*H,' we promise."

The pair tried to soak up American culture, visiting a rifle range in North Carolina where they met a sheriff who enjoys handling guns.

"We wrote a sketch about a sheriff who gets an erection every time he picks up a gun," Walliams said. "That was the most inspiring thing we saw."

HBO's 'Tim' time

"The Life & Times of Tim," another coarse comedy, comes to HBO at 11 p.m. Sunday. It tells the crudely animated stories of sad sack Tim (voice of series creator/writer Steve Dildarian), who gets himself into unlikely, ridiculous situations.

In the first of two stories in Sunday's 30-minute premiere, Tim's girlfriend, Amy, with her parents in tow, catches Tim spending time with a prostitute. This is where the absurdity begins. Instead of throwing Tim out, Amy goes into the kitchen to make a meatloaf while Tim awaits the hooker's pimp because he refuses to pay her $300. The resolution is equally illogical.

The second story is funnier if more outlandish. Tim's friend Rodney throws a pathetic bachelor party, leading the guys to make up stories about the craziness that went down. Rodney tells everyone at work that Tim was "raped by a bum." The humor that flows from this is necessarily off-color and politically incorrect, and yet I found myself laughing anyway when a human resources manager uses what she calls "bum rape humor," to which Tim says, "That's not a genre of humor."

Sophomoric and crude, "The Life & Times of Tim" may be a viable alternative for fans of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim.

'Race' is on

A new season of CBS's "The Amazing Race" (8 p.m. Sunday, although it could be delayed by football overruns) kicks off with 11 teams of two, including married hippie beekeepers Anita and Arthur.

"Bees are much calmer than all of this," Anita says at one point in Sunday's globetrotting season premiere.

The teams travel from Los Angeles to Brazil in the first episode. Fans of Pittsburgh's inclines take note: Their travels include a ride on a Brazilian funicular.

Contact TV editor Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv .


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