By Curt Wagner
6:06 PM CDT, June 17, 2011
In "Come Fly with Me" (10:30 p.m. Saturday, BBC America; ** 1/2 out of four stars), "Little Britain" creators Matt Lucas and David Walliams get revenge on the airline industry for anyone who has experienced a travel nightmare.
The mockumentary, which soars more than it crash lands, chronicles the goings-on at a busy airport terminal where we meet a pair of married pilots (she became a pilot when he had an affair, a fact she won’t let him forget), customer service agents (they’re BFFs until they fight for the same job), flight attendants (one gay and one in denial), baggage handlers (who don’t care where your bags end up), and passengers (including a Disney-obsessed woman and her annoyed husband).
Narrated perfectly by Lindsay Duncan, the series has a similar feel to "Tracey Ullman's State of the Union," in which the chameleon comic donned all sorts of disguises to play multiple characters of many ethnicities.
It’s risky business darkening your skin to play minority characters, and that apparently led to complaints about "Come Fly with Me" when it aired in Great Britain. It's likely to cause some waves across the pond as well.
With the help of prosthetics, padding and, yes, makeup, Lucas and Walliams lampoon scores of characters of many backgrounds. Supporting cast members play other roles straight, but their reactions to the craziness of Lucas and Walliams are just as funny.
I did cringe at some of the accents (the Japanese fans come to mind), but the guys are equal opportunity "includers," I’d say. (You say potato, I say potahto.) Whether the individual skits work or not (burger-flipper Tommy and coffee-seller Precious get old fast), they are highlighting individual personality quirks and flaws over general racial or ethnic stereotypes. One example is a conceirge who can’t bring himself to tell a passenger that her dog froze to death in the cargo hold. Just as the flight is about to take off, he knocks on the airplane window and holds up a sign that reads: "Dog is dead." The comedy here has nothing to do with race; it just so happens he's not white.
Racism is addressed—and ridiculed. Walliams plays a xenophobic and idiotic immigration officer who bars anAfrican woman from entering into the country because he believes, “There’s no such country as Liberia.” This is the same man who shows on board game he invented called “Keep ’Em Out.”
Those who have experienced flights from hell are likely to get the biggest kick watching Lucas and Walliams lampoon airline practices. Customer service agents Keeley and Melody, for example, can't be bothered to stand up and hand an elderly passenger an early boarding pass. The woman must get it herself, and then learns that everyone on the flight purchased the pass.
Next time you’re stuck in an airport, you’re likely to recognize some of the archetypes Lucas and Walliams satirize. I guarantee you’ll be smiling when you do.
"Come Fly With Me" is part of BBC America’s new, two-hour comedy block called Ministry of Laughs and hosted by “The Nerdist” blogger Chris Hardwick. It kicks off at 9 p.m. June 18 with my favorite talk show, “The Graham Norton Show,” followed by the final season of “The Inbetweeners” and the debut of "Come Fly with Me." Are you ready to laugh?
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