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THEY'RE LAUGHING AT US (AND I LIKE IT)
By Joe Brancatelli
July 14, 2011 -- To hell with the truth about life on the road this week. I've got a fictional television show that's better than the truth. And it's a hell of a lot funnier, too.
You are, I hope, familiar with a BBC/HBO program called Little Britain, a manic, hilarious and gleefully sarcastic sketch show created by David Walliams and Matt Lucas. They wrote most of the sketches and appeared as most of the characters thanks to their own talents and brilliant makeup work.
Walliams and Lucas have now turned their skills to our lives--or a version of same--with their newest project, Come Fly With Me. It premiered on Christmas Day on the BBC. It began its American run on BBC America last month and you can catch up with some of what you've missed here. Episodes 3 and 4 repeat tomorrow (Friday) at noon and Episode 5 airs for the first time in America on Saturday night at 11:30 p.m. The sixth and final episode airs on July 24.
Simply put, Come Fly With Me is ROTFLMAO funny. It is total fiction and absolutely true. Every word, every character, every sketch, every narrative strand, every eye roll and every facial tic is our lives on the road perfectly captured and hilariously satirized. It spares no one and nothing involved with travel. It skewers airline owners and employees, passengers and paparazzi, airport security workers and immigration officers, and the entire ridiculous act of flying today. It is savage. And that is why it is roll-on-the-floor-laughing-my-ass-off funny.
Done in a deadpan mockumentary style and narrated with pitch-perfect credulity by the British actress Lindsay Duncan, Come Fly With Me tells the story of the day-to-day life of an airport that bears a striking resemblance to London's Stansted Airport. The show is vaguely hung on three airlines: FlyLo, a mashup of EasyJet and Ryanair owned by a lecherous entrepreneur named Omar Baba; Our Lady Air, an Irish discount airline fronted by a gay "air steward" named Fearghal O'Farrell; and Great British Air, a British Airways spoof so slick that it even features BA's premium-class forward- and rear-facing seats.
Walliams and Lucas play dozen of characters and each will make you nod your head in recognition and then dissolve in gales of laughter at the idiotic truth of our lives on the road.
How can you not howl (and cringe) when you see Penny Carter (Walliams), a Great British Air flight attendant, humiliate two lifelong coach flyers who have been given a gift of first-class travel? I won't even try to describe it. Just watch the clip.
Or what to make of Taaj Manzoor (Lucas), a ground-crew staffer, gamely making excuses to flyers when the wing falls off a FlyLo jet and a flight is delayed? Among his whoppers: There was a volcanic eruption in Bradford; a woman living near the airport asked them not to fly over her house during her cookout; "it's getting quite dark" and the pilot is nervous about night flying; and the pilot was watching Avatar on DVD at home and didn't realize how long it was.
Then there is the moment when Ian Foot (Walliams), the racist, clueless chief immigration officer, hauls a passenger into an interrogation room because she's flying on a passport from the "ficticious" country of Liberia. (Watch that encounter here.) And don't miss the payoff. After finding Liberia on the map, Foot sternly lectures the gobsmacked flyer: "I would advise you in future to travel with a large atlas or a globe so you can prove to people you haven't made up your country."
Or there's the time Foot confronted poor Manzoor because Ian is convinced that Taaj is a potential security threat. Foot's bizarre questioning includes asking Manzoor about his preferred faith ("I prefer the George Michael version," Taaj responds.) and his taste in curry. ("I don't like curry," explains Taaj. "I prefer English foods … like pizza and Chinese.")
Walliams styles Baba, owner of Britain's "8th favourite low cost airline," as an amalgam of Ryanair's infuriating Michael O'Leary, Virgin's boorish Richard Branson and the bombastic Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder of Easyjet. We see Baba defending himself against charges of sexual harassment. He protests charges that his airline is unsafe. ("We haven't had a crash since Tuesday!") And he rejects claims that his planes don't have lifejackets for passengers. Baba even demonstrates how to use the credit card swipe machine to rent one for 20 minutes. There is also a very helpful optional purchase: "priority disembarcation" after the crash.
Lucas makes Fearghal of Our Lady Air oddly lovable. That's no easy task for a character who puts a newborn infant in the overhead locker or calms a frightened child with the airline's teddy-bear mascot, then demands a 35-pound payment for the stuffed animal. Fearghal also fronts the Our Lady Air Duty Free catalog. Among its offerings? Hague, a scent named after British Foreign Minister William Hague.
Lucas also plays Precious Little, who runs an airport coffee kiosk. Sort of. Each episode shows her closing early because she's stolen, hidden or broken the kiosk's supplies. Lucas also did a one-off in the first episode as a guy who poses as a security checkpoint official. He's shown tweaking the nipples and cupping "the junk" of startled male passengers during ersatz security patdowns.
Then there's Walliams' Melody Baines, a check-in staffer for FlyLo. Here's her pitch to sell a "speedy boarding pass" option to a passenger: "I couldn't help noticing that you're quite old … I would hate to see you trampled underfoot … We lost an elderly gentleman last week." Once the woman buys the pass, Melody cheerfully informs her that she sold one to everyone on the flight. She pulls a similar trick on a business flyer in another episode. She talks him into buying a pricey ticket and only then tells him that all flights are suspended due to a strike.
As episodes unfold, Walliams and Lucas adopt a series of dead-on guises: devious passengers; slimy "executive passenger liaison officers;" drunk pilots; corrupt baggage handlers; flyers called Peter and Judith Surname; and even a family that showed up a week early for their flight and somehow missed it even though they camped out at the airport. The show also boasts many guest stars gamely playing themselves, including David Schwimmer from Friends and Geri Halliwell of the Spice Girls.
If you're not into watching Come Fly With Me on BBC America's schedule, you can download the episodes from iTunes or Amazon.com or catch clips on YouTube.com and Hulu.com
Come Fly With Me won't make you feel better about life on the road. But it will make you laugh. Out loud. A lot. Because as that eminent philosopher Homer Simpson said, "It's funny because it's true."
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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.