Sunday, October 7, 2012

Classics Of Real Comedy: Monty Python’s Flying Circus Volume 2 Has Real Laughs!

The Good: Funny, Holds up well over multiple viewings, Good (enough) DVD features.
The Bad: Not a great use of the medium.
The Basics: More than just for geeks, Monty Python’s Flying Circus is a perfect DVD with "Volume 2," even if they could have squeezed another episode on!

With classic shows on DVD, it is real easy to see where the priorities are by what get released quickly and what producers of DVDs take the time to clean up and restore and make into the ideal digital permanent record for posterity. To be honest, some of the programs that take time to be put on DVD make a great deal of sense that they take so long to arrive on DVD; cleaning them up for digital is a painstaking process and they are packed with cutting edge effects and need to be poured over frame by frame for the ideal viewing experience.

So when A&E released Monty Python’s Flying Circus on DVD as one of the earliest television series' to use the medium, it was clear that even with the new digital medium, the show was funny in its late-60s barely-touched-up form and improving the picture quality was not going to improve the series any. That said, there is not much that actually needs improving on the classic British series!

Volume 2 of Monty Python’s Flying Circus contains the second trio of episodes (episodes four through six) of the first season of the series. This is a sketch comedy show (for those who might be unfamiliar with it) so there is not so much in the way of plot or character to consider. Instead, the performers - Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin - and animator Terry Gilliam present scripted skits that are zany, clever and poke fun at all manners of the establishment.

Episode Four, "Owl-Stretching Time," has the disheveled old man introducing the show after being tossed off a cliff. What follows is a sketch with two batty old women discussing art and smacking their children, before consuming some of the artwork themselves. This sketch is interrupted by an art critic eating a painting and the first appearance in the series of their classic line "But it's my only line!" A singer is taken down by a mistress which breaks to an officer in the Army breaking the fourth wall to object to the turn of the army's slogan "it's a man's life in . . ."

This is followed by Terry Jones appearing in a silent movie-type sketch wherein a man attempts to find a place to change into his swimming trunks only to be pretty consistently thwarted by interruptions and a lack of privacy. After another warning from the officer, one of his subordinates begins training a group of people on how to defend themselves against attacks by people wielding fresh fruit (and not point-ed sticks). An animated operation follows, which is then followed by a sketch that has a bookseller working as a front for an international criminal conspiracy of . . . dentists.

In "Man's Crisis Of Identity In The Latter Half Of The Twentieth Century," is introduced by the disheveled man rowing into frame. This then becomes the rather amusing "Confuse-a-cat" sketch wherein a company that specializes in shaking things up for felines puts on an absurd act to snap a cat out of its ennui. This is followed by the world's worst smuggler at customs, which is capped off by a television interviewer attempting to ask a cat, a duck and a lizard questions about customs law at the time and then the "man in the street" the same question. This is followed by a sketch wherein the police raid a flat and do some obvious evidence planting. The show break's the fourth wall to have writers respond to that sketch.

This is followed by an erotic film that continues to get interrupted by other programming before settling into a sketch where an applicant for a job is interviewed with an extremely odd collection of questions. Asked about the time of day and his responses to simple greetings, the applicant begins to crack, at which point the interviewer becomes increasingly pleased and absurd. The episode is capped off by an encyclopedia salesman who is posing as a burglar to get let into the homes of those he wants to sell encyclopedias to.

The disheveled old man introduces "It's The Arts" by running across a field to a ringing telephone. The segment "It's The Arts" then begins as an exploration of an artist with an obscenely long name whose name takes so long to say that saying it eats up most of the time for the interviews. Then there is a sketch involving gangsters involved in an elaborate scheme to actually buy the watches they want. This is followed by the famous "Crunchy Frog" sketch wherein a confectioner is taken to task for putting actual crunchy frogs in his crunchy frog chocolates.

The episode continues with a "nothing ever happens on my street" type sketch wherein a stockbroker journeys to work oblivious to naked women, monsters and gunplay all around him. This goes into a one-note skit involving an American Indian at a theater before the recurrence of the Scotsman on a horse gag from an earlier episode. The episode concludes with the very funny sketch involving sycophantic writers at Twentieth Century Vole attempting to kiss up to a famous producer.

On DVD, Volume 2 contains biographies of all six of the regular "Monty Python" castmembers, with video clips as well. Each episode has a useless trivia fact and there is a dictionary of terms unique to Monty Python’s Flying Circus. There is also a selection of clips of historical individuals (the Queen, Attila The Hun, etc.) acting absurd from throughout the series as well as a presentation of the "Crunchy Frog" sketch performed live! There are no commentary tracks or interviews, but there is a trivia game as well. Unfortunately, the closed captioning on this disc (necessary when one is on the phone ignoring what pompous relatives are saying) is printed all in white, often over white scenery or clothing. The result is much of it cannot be adequately be seen.

For those who love classic television, British comedy or sketch comedy, this is an essential set. In fact, the only real problem with this disc is that there is not more on it (the capacity on this DVD is hardly entirely utilized!).

[For a much better value, check out Monty Python's Flying Circus Season 1 on DVD, reviewed here, as it has the complete season, with nothing left to search for!]

For other British comedies on DVD, please check out my reviews of:


For other television reviews, be sure to visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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