The British invasion

UK comics hit American TV

America is facing a wave of British comedy this weekend – with both Lee Mack and sketch troupe The Hollow Men making their US TV debuts.

Mack stars in a transatlantic Sketch Show – the only one of the British cast to make the journey – when it launches on Fox in the prime-time 9.30pm slot on Fox on Sunday.

Meanwhile, The Hollow Men, a group of four Cambridge graduates spotted by TV producers at the Edinburgh fringe despite never having their own British show, start their series on Comedy Central on Thursday night.

Reviews for both shows have been mixed, with critics comparing both to Monty Python or Canadian sketch outfit The Kids In The Hall, not always flatteringly.

For example, The Salt Lake City Tribune said: “The Hollow Men are just like the comic-revered Kids In The Hall troupe, minus the Canadian-ness (they’re British), the imagination (they’re predictable) and the laughs.”

The revered New York Times was no less kind on the group, which comprises David Armand, Nick Tanner, Rupert Russell and Sam Spedding.

It said: “There's something troubling about how unfunny it is, since the comics' effort, good natures and even intelligence are so forcefully on display.

“Maybe the professionalism is what produces the strain here. The actors are acting and not just goofing around, and it shows.”

The Seattle Post was slightly kinder, saying the show was “acerbic, while borrowing extensively from Monty Python's fast-paced absurdist tradition,” but still worried that it “has to overcome being a weaker imitation of previous contributions to the genre”.

Similarly Newsday magazine called the group “talented” but added “they usually don't know when to quit” and the over-long sketches often become ‘tedious”.

It much preferred the pacier Sketch Show which is presented by Frasier star Kelsey Grammer, and singled out Mack for praise.

It said “Mack, who at times recalls Eric Idle at his wink-wink, nudge-nudge best, is a gifted player who brings an aura of nuttiness to every bit he's in.”

Back in Seattle, the Post was more circumspect, saying the show was “decidedly British (read: traditional, straight-laced)…”, but predicting it would be quickly cancelled, fearing it too tame for the notoriously ribald Fox channel.

>> Sketch Show USA - see some unscreened sketches

>> The Hollow Men: Official Comedy Central site

Full reviews:
New York Times
Seattle Post

Published: 10 Mar 2005

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