The Good: A few good ideas.
The Bad: Not terribly funny, Medium.
The Basics: Life is too short to watch Monty Python’s Flying Circus after those involved in it seem to have lost the passion for it, as they have on Volume 21.
I think, as I approach the end of reviewing each and every episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the ideal in my mind for the reviews is that someone will read the reviews, smile as they remember favorite sketches and hunt down the VHS or DVD I have reviewed. As I approach the end of the series, when it became something far less funny than it was at the beginning, I wonder if my readers will simply scratch their head, say "I don't remember that one" and quietly admit to themselves that the premise does not sound nearly as funny as the classic sketches more people know. With volume 21 of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, people who did that would not be wrong; the show by this point has lost its edge and is not funny at all. In fact, all that saves this video from a one-star rating is the sheer creativity.
Monty Python, at the point these episodes were produced, was a quintet of Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. They wrote and starred in all of the sketches with Gilliam providing animations. This VHS is a pretty lousy deal as it includes two laughless episodes that do call backs to their own jokes and generally have a repetitive feel to them. "Volume 21" features the half-hour episodes "The Light Entertainment War" and "Hamlet" and both have threads which carry through the entire episode, like the appearance of multiple Hamlets in the second episode.
"The Light Entertainment War" begins with an annoying sequence of segues that starts with a mock-television program "Up Your Pavement." The protagonists of that show are almost immediately killed off and the program claims to be about various other people loosely related to one another until the show settles on Royal Air Force members who are not understanding the banter of one of their own when he comes in to warn them about something. The show leaps from that to a sketch where a man is put through a court-martial for trivializing the war. As the case proceeds, the judge becomes more ridiculous and orders everyone in the court to sing.
From there, there is a mock movie trailer followed by a board meeting of television programmers who are bored and struggling to come up with ways to keep the BBC going without producing new programs. They figure they can get away with renaming old programs when they rerun them and then the episode goes to a sitting room. In that room, three people talk about the quality of words as they speak them, the main speaker looking for woody-sounding words and the girl loathing tinny words. A man is given electric shocks then to compel him to change the television channels and the show ends on a musical number, "When Does A Dream Begin?"
"Hamlet" opens with the Prince Of Denmark going to see a psychiatrist, only the psychiatrist just wants to hear about his sexual inadequacies. Hamlet goes through a series of bogus psychiatrists until it is interrupted by the news program "Nationwide," which avoids presenting news about the third world war to talk about wet things instead. This segues to an interview from a man in the street whose prop chair is taken away by the police. The officer, trying to convince the interviewer he is authentic because of his police helmet, begins taking things from passers-by himself. Meanwhile, across the street, a man and woman make love on the sidewalk as the woman gets the guy to agree to take in her aged father. This is illustrated in the next scene as the three of them share a bed and the old man tries to build a model in the dark.
This is followed by the opening credits which ends with a large group of people watching "Hamlet" on television, only to have Ophelia begin psychoanalyzing Hamlet herself. An animated bit takes it to a sketch involving a boxer who has lost his head in his latest match and talk of a comeback by his manager. The fight is then heard by a wing full of doctors who are neglecting their patients to listen to it (the real joke is the amount the announcer keeps saying people paid to see the fight!) and then an old sketch begins with Mrs. Robinson and Mrs. Non-Robinson talking about a piston engine one bought and the other wants for no particular reason than it was on sale. A talk show from Polonius's house begins before going into an advertisement on dentistry and an interview with some jockeys who barely appear on camera.
These episodes contain no sketches considered "classic" by those who love sketch comedy and while sometimes that simply means that greatness has been overlooked, that is not the case here. Eric Idle and Michael Palin seem more like parodies of themselves, Graham Chapman seems lost without John Cleese to act off of and Terry Gilliam delivers each of his lines with a simple glee that screams "finally, I'm on screen!" Terry Jones has a few moments that remind viewers of his comic brilliance, but largely, even he mumbles through his performances as if he feels he is missing part of himself.
In other words, this video is only necessary for the completists. Everyone who loves great comedy can give it a pass.
[For a much better value, check out the final season, Monty Python's Flying Circus Season 4 on DVD, reviewed here, as it has the complete season, with nothing left to search for!]
For other television and movie reviews, please check out my Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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