Here's my take on it. Little Britain is a show for middle class, tertiary educated BBC-watchers (and their Australian counterparts) which takes the piss out of everyone else: the old, the decrepid, the gay, the disabled, the working class, the transvestite, the fat, the Scottish. In other words, it's cultural insiders laughing at (most definitely not with) cultural outsiders.
The dozen or so regular characters represent the subconscious prejudices of a mildly insecure audience. None of the characters represent the sort of people who might actually be watching: they're not in on the joke. A few examples helps to illustrate:
- Vicky Pollard is the 'yeah but no but' girl who is the epitome of chav/bogun. She's crass, loud, crude, chubby, and ugly, but has absolutely no self-awareness of her own ridiculousness. She is the girl that every middle class family fears hopes their daughter never becomes. And she'd never watch the BBC.
- Andy and Lou are the coupling of the physically and mentally disabled man with his carer. Andy, as the indicisive, slightly disturbed twit, is a subject of derision and scorn, completely devoid of pity. But then so is his carer, Lou, whose noble but pathetic existance is relentlessly mocked. (The sketches, incidentally, are of panto-like simplicity: "Do you want X?" "Yeah." "Are you sure?" "Yeah" "But you don't like X?" "I know." "But you're sure you want X?" "Yeah." "Okay." "I want Y.")
- Sebastian, the Prime Minister's aid, is a sadly deluded gay man who can't take a hint. Here the contrast is interesting when the hopelessly camp gay man is compared with the serious and refined Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is the straight man (in more ways than one), and is one of few characters who is never the butt of the joke. He is, after all, white, straight, male and educated.
The point I'm making is not that there's something inherently wrong with LB or that we should feel guilty and finding it funny. I'm a firm believer that the biggest offence in black comedy is not being funny: so long as it is funny, you can get away with it. And this stuff most certainly is. I think, though, that audiences are not attuned to the political nature of what they're watching, and need to face up to the fact that the show reinforces prejudices rather than challenges them.
It's ironic that there are a legion of lefties who are usually very sensitive to prejudices and stereotypes elsewhere, but will declare themselves LB fans. I suspect the BBC/ABC gives the show 'cover' from criticisms that can quite righly be levelled at the show.