Friday, October 19, 2012

As The Second Season Winds Up, Monty Python’s Flying Circus Recovers Some With "Volume 8!"

The Good: Funny, Enduring, Decent-enough DVD bonus features
The Bad: A couple misses.
The Basics: On Volume 8 of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the troupe creates iconic sketches like "Spam" and "How Not To Be Seen" and a lot of filler.

As Monty Python’s Flying Circus progressed, it became successively less funny in repeatable, enduring ways. This, of course, is somewhat natural and not at all unique to the one sketch comedy series. In the case of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, some of the final truly classic sketches showed up at the end of the second season, which is where the DVD collection, "Volume 8" comes in.

In this DVD collection, a single disc, the second season concludes with the episodes "Scott Of The Antarctic," "How Not To Be Seen," "Spam," and "Royal Episode Thirteen." While "How Not To Be Seen" and "Spam" have some of the truly great and iconic Monty Python sketches that continued their trend toward the brilliantly absurd, the other two episodes work, but replay less well over time. The result is a DVD that, while still worthwhile and better than "Volume 7's" content, is still not quite up to the riotous standards of the rest of the series before now.

For those who have not seen the episodes or the series, Monty Python’s Flying Circus is a sketch comedy program where there are no characters, merely performers (in this case six men) who make humorous skits. The team of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin creates sketches that look at the world and history and society from a skewed point and poke fun at reality in a fairly timeless and enduring way. In these four episodes, they tackle moviemaking, dining in Britain, and relationships, among other things. For a better idea of the content of the episodes, the four episodes include:

"Scott Of The Antarctic" continued a trend on the series of pushing the opening credits to odd times in the program, in this case more of the middle. The program begins with a painfully awkward film featuring a man and a woman in a garbage dump, its purpose being to make a parody of pretentious art house films. It hits a bit close to its mark, though, and the show becomes funnier when the same program about movies begins to focus on the new Twentieth Century Vole film "Scott Of The Antarctic," which features the title character standing on boxes and costar Vanilla Hoare acting from within a trench and forgetting every one of her lines.

Following the opening credits is an animated bit featuring a man with dancing teeth and then goes into a live action bit wherein John Cleese plays a man attempting to buy a license for fish. The premise being that in Britain one needs a license for pets (dogs and cats) so to own a fish one ought to need a license. This is followed by two sporting events, a rugby match where one side is the city council and another which is a soccer game involving the Long John Silver Impersonators vs. a team of gynecologists.

"How Not To Be Seen" opens with a business where a coffee's advertising campaign has lead to several deaths, a lost account and the business being driven close to bankruptcy, which nothing is done about because the lousy businessman is the owner's son. A skipping record leads John Cleese to introduce the show with his line of "And now for something completely different," which gets stuck like a skipping record a few times. Then there is a play which is a murder mystery which hinges largely on every character's knowledge of train schedules.

This leads into a discussion on film with a director with incredible buck teeth who then creates films that have characters with massive front teeth. From there, the show features various crackpot religions, all of which are catering to niche markets like the riche, lunatics, Gumbys, and animated characters. The episode continues with the title sketch, a Government film on how to avoid being seen. Those who can be seen in the film are shot or blown up, inspiring people to remain hidden. This concept is played out with a man hiding in a filing cabinet before being killed inside (given that he can still be heard, so They know where he is) and a musical guest that appears in boxes. The episode concludes with a recap of the sketches in about thirty one-second clips.

The episode "Spam" finds a darkened night in bygone days with a little rowboat carrying pirates, which leads to John Cleese, his trademark line and the opening credits. Then a sketch involving a Hungarian to English phrasebook begins wherein the phrasebook mismatches phrases. As a result, a tobacconist is offended when a Hungarian attempts to solicit him for sex when all he wants are matches. This is followed by the trial of the man who wrote the phrasebook. There is an animated short which leads into the classic Communist quiz wherein famous Communists like Lenin, Marx, Mao and Che are asked questions on sport.

This leads into a sketch wherein famous portraits walk out of their paintings and go on strike over working conditions. This is followed by a World War I sketch that is tried twice because extras from other sketches are stuck on the same set. In the eventual sketch, a General attempts to get out of a suicide mission by trying to get one of his subordinates (including a man with no arms) to kill himself. There is a sketch for drama actors who are hospitalized for their hammy acting, then one of the Gumbys appears to arrange flowers, which basically is an idiot mashing flowers into a vase. The episode concludes with the classic sketch "Spam," wherein a diner serves only dishes that include Spam.

For "Royal Episode Thirteen," John Cleese announces that the Queen will be watching the show at some point and the cast is quite excited about it. The appearance of class for the show wears off almost instantly, though, with a coal miner sketch where the miners are all intellectuals and arguing about various theories and algorithms. Then comes an interview with a man who says things in a roundabout way (only he doesn't) and three people who say, the ends of words, beginnings of words and only the middles of words. There is a sketch that follows on how to feed a goldfish (which is quite horrible to any animal lover).

Next comes the insurance sketch, wherein a man is asked to provide an extensive sample (several gallons) of a bodily fluid that takes quite a bit of work to get in such quantity for the purpose of proving he is serious about getting insurance. Then comes a hospital run by doctors who believe the patients ought to do the work, then a girl's boarding school at night sketch. After a lifeboat cannibalism sketch - which is followed by angry letters about the sketch - the show ends with a cannibalistic undertaker and the audience rebelling against it.

On DVD, these episodes are accompanied by karayoke of "The Lumberjack Song," a live performance of the poofy judge sketch and a clipshow. There is also a small collection of definitions of "pythonisms," filmographies and biographies of all six men of Monty Python and a featurette on Terry Gilliam's animations. These are not extraordinary bonus features, but they are standard for this series and the return of "live" performances to the DVD featurettes is a nice touch.

All in all, those who love sketch comedy will find much to love in Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Volume 8 is still better than most any other sketch comedy DVD on the market today, making it worth adding to anyone's DVD collection.

[For a much better value, check out the sophomore season, Monty Python's Flying Circus Season 2 on DVD, reviewed here, as it has the complete season, with nothing left to search for!]


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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