We have stood shoulder to shoulder through times of war and crisis, but now the special relationship between Britain and America faces its biggest challenge yet. Can it withstand Little Britain USA? The show starts there tonight on HBO, but advance screenings have had the critics howling with dismay and indignation.
Shoulder to shoulder? Like a man startled by his neighbour at the urinal in a Little Britain gag, America is staring down at us and saying, "Oh my God! Is that for real?"
Matt Lucas and David Walliams have not, it is fair to say, taken a subtle approach in their attempt to conquer the New World. There is piss. There is puke. There are penis jokes a-plenty, as the LA Times pointed out: "They are everywhere: in the skit about the petulantly gay prime ministers and his attempts to 'seduce' the American president, or the one with the law enforcement officer whose erection grows ever larger as he shows off his gun collection, or the bikini-line-trimming friendship between steroid-maimed locker-room buddies."
If you're a fan of the show thinking that description is mistaken, it isn't: Sebastian Love, former aide to the Prime Minister, has now been elected leader himself and gets a bit too friendly in the Oval Office. Which seems to be a real problem for some Americans. A black president they may be ready for, but a gay one? No. They seem to like their homosexuals safely camp and cute, not invading the personal space of "ordinary" people like the Commander in Chief.
Some people, it seems, are taking all this as a direct insult to all they hold dear. Who are these goddam Limeys, anyway, to make fun of the fine office of the president? Or the Great American Cop? Or his gun? Or jocks, those sporting icons beloved of the nation? They're outta line!
The new, all-American characters are the really contentious ones. Otherwise, familiar faces have been relocated to new settings Stateside, but their behaviour is pretty much the same. It's crude, the critics are saying. It mocks stereotypes. Er, yes. That's why people here loved Vicky Pollard, because she was filthy and stupid but also horribly truthful.
It is a high-risk strategy, going over there and taking the mickey out of them – and not ourselves, in the usual look-at-us-quaint-Brits way. They don't try it here. When Joey bought a union flag hat from Richard Branson in the execrable episodes of the otherwise mighty Friends set in London, the joke was on American tourists, not us. (There is a link, by the way, because David Schwimmer – or Ross – is directing some of the sketches. There are a few example of American stars relishing the chance to go further than their audience normally allows. Rosie O'Donnell, for example, allows herself to be asked by Marjorie Dawes of Fat Fighters: "Were you a lesbian before you were fat or did you become one when you were fat because no men wanted you?")
Even Homer Simpson, when he came over, made of the Queen in an affectionate and respectful way: she didn't have Hillary Clinton's tongue in her ear. The Americans wouldn't dare do that. But that's their mistake, not ours, because if they had we probably would have laughed.
Back at the urinal, Britain and America will still be standing shoulder to shoulder after tonight. But we'll be looking at our shocked neighbour, saying: "Yeah, it's for real. Gross, isn't it?" And laughing. Because that, Mr President, is the difference. We can laugh at ourselves. On this strange little eccentric island, what other choice have we got? Now, give us a kiss....Reuse content