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"Stiff Upper Lips," airing this Sunday from 9 to 10:30 p.m. on PBS-TV

Brit Wit

The premise is delicious: a Masterpiece Theatre satirical parody targeting those lavish Merchant Ivory period epics, as well as "Gandhi," "Chariots of Fire," "Death in Venice," "Lady Chatterley's Lover," and even Masterpiece Theatre itself and its productions of "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "The Jewel in the Crown." The cast seems made to order: Prunella Scales ("Howards End"), Georgina Cates ("An Awfully Big Adventure") and Peter Ustinov (Oscar winner for "Topkapi" and "Spartacus"). But it doesn't work. Maybe it's that big stretch of water between Land's End and Plymouth Rock, but "Stiff Upper Lips," airing this Sunday from 9 to 10:30 p.m. on PBS-TV, doesn't travel well. And when satire and parody bomb, it's not a pretty sight. All of the elements seem to be in place in "Stiff Upper Lips": a dotty spinster who lives in a Victorian Gothic monstrosity; a butler named Hudson who takes his revenge against the family by urinating in the soup; a scatterbrained niece who abhors men with facial hair; a randy physician; a socialist rabbit catcher; two gay Cambridge students who gossip in Latin; and a dissolute Indian tea plantation owner. But the resultant humor falls as flat as a Victorian ingenue's chest. Bravo to Masterpiece Theatre for having the bollocks to attempt to parody itself. What a pity that it just doesn't work.

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