Friday, 28 January 2011


Friday, 28 January 2011

Matt Lucas and David Walliams aren't to everyone's taste, but an astonishing amount of people find them hilarious. You just have to remember the phenomenon that was Little Britain; a sketch show that combined the cheekiness and cross-dressing of '70s Dick Emery, with the catchphrase proliferation of The Fast Show, then added a squeeze of League Of Gentlemen's dark milieu, to become a colossal worldwide hit. It was a comedy that sold merchandise like talking Vicky Pollard dolls, spawned a sell-out UK live show that also toured Australia, inspired a video-game, and was given its own American-centric spin-off on HBO. You can't be expected to top that success, really.

Come Fly With Me is essentially Little Britain with boundaries. Or rules born of its mockumentary format, which helps keep it focused and agile. Where Lucas and Walliams could once dream up characters from a melting pot of an entire country, they're now stuck in an airport. Where they once tested the boundaries of taste and decency (vomiting/incontinent old ladies), they've now cleaned up their act. Well, mostly. The airport restriction really isn't so bad, as it means they can have foreign characters arriving in the UK, and most walks of life pass through airport check-ins at some time or another.

And while only the airport's staff can make weekly appearances, things are kept fresh by involving one-off passengers (such as two obsessive Japanese superfans of Martin Clunes). This helps prevent Come Fly With Me stagnating, as Little Britain certainly did. The only downside is that the regulars, filmed at work for a documentary, are limited by their working roles. You have to wonder what Lucas and Walliams could possibly do with two competitive baggage check-in girls come series 2 or 3, for example. And while there are plentiful airport and travel-related gags that spring to mind from this premise, there's surely a finite amount of jokes you can have with bigoted customs officials, gay flight attendants, inept baggage handlers, married pilots, and workshy coffee shop owners. The characters will have to grow as people, ideally via ongoing storylines, but Come Fly With Me has only made modest inroads.

It feels slightly outdated, taking its inspiration from the fly-on-the-wall docs Airport and Airline, which peaked in the early-'00s and died away soon after. Curiously, while each episode has a few strands of storyline weaving through each half-hour, there's little connection between episodes. This is likely intentional, so it's more accessible to people who miss the odd episode, but it might have been more interesting for Lucas and Walliams to tackle a proper ongoing narrative in their work. As it stands, Come Fly With Me isn't really stretching them as writers or performers. It's Little Britain, trapped in an airport, with all the pro's and con's you'd imagine.

Thursdays, BBC1/HD, 9PM