Monday, October 15, 2012

Close, But Not Quite Perfect, "Volume 5" Opens The Second Season Of Monty Python’s Flying Circus Well!

The Good: Funny, Decent-enough DVD bonus features
The Bad: Could use more episodes, Not utilizing the full DVD capacity.
The Basics: The first three episodes of the second season of Monty Python’s Flying Circus are funny and generally enduring, but by no means flawless on "Volume 5!"

I can only imagine, having been raised on the humor of the half-hour British sketch comedy show Monty Python’s Flying Circus how anxious fans of the time might have been about the return of the show for its second season. After all, when one starts a show as high as Monty Python’s Flying Circus did, it seems like there is only one way to do and it is not up! But fans were rewarded when Monty Python’s Flying Circus came back with a series that was arguably as funny as it had been the first season.

The thing is, even within the first three episodes of the second season, there is just enough slippage to declare the episodes are not perfect or that the humor is just a little more repetitive than most fans would like. Even while making such an assertion, though, it is pretty much impossible not to view the second episode of the season, "The Spanish Inquisition" as one of the greatest half-hours of sketch comedy of all time. It is. That half hour is zany and unpredictable and even after one has seen it many times, there is so much to enjoy that it is easy to come back to time and again.

On DVD, Monty Python’s Flying Circus was compiled with three and four episode discs. "Volume 5" presents the first three episodes of the second season, "Face The Press," "The Spanish Inquisition," and "Deja Vu." These episodes easily reaffirm the concept that the right people working together can create something truly amazing. Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin are one such unit and when they come together for Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the result is extraordinary. These episodes, while not perfectly flawless, are better than most television series' ever achieve. Here are the sketches contained on this disc:

The second season opens with John Cleese, at a desk, behind bars saying "And now for something completely different," which sets up the disheveled old man in the cell next to him to deliver the usual "It's . . ." and "Face The Press" begins! The episode actually features a segment called "Face The Press" where various leaders speak in funny ways while the anchor comments on what they are wearing. This sketch is followed by a sketch mocking bureaucracy when a woman has a cooker gas cooker delivered to her house that is technically for a different person with a similar address. This leads to a sketch where a man tries to subtly pick up a prostitute, but he continually gets the disguised classified ad for it wrong.

This leads to the classic sketch featuring the Ministry Of Silly Walks. The episode caps off with a fairly extensive expose on the crime family known as the Piranha Brothers. They rule the neighborhood using fear, violence and intimidation, often nailing people's heads to the floor. The crime family rules until one of the brothers begins seeing the giant hedgehog Spiny Norman and the special investigative squad leader goes undercover to stop them!

A man attempts to fly, crashes to Earth and John Cleese promises something different to open "The Spanish Inquisition." That classic sketch follows when a man delivers a line that a woman doesn't understand and several questions follow, which leads him to the frustrated "I wasn't expecting the Spanish Inquisition." Three Inquisitors appear then and begin one of the most ineffective interrogations in history. Then comes a salesman sketch trying to sell comic novelties to a man who does not have a punchline for the sketch. This is followed by a sketch wherein politicians kick around taxing "thingie."

A young woman tears up various pictures from an elderly lady of Uncle Ted, only to be subjected to a return of the Spanish Inquisition. Then follows one of the funniest sketches; "The Semaphore Version Of 'Wuthering Heights'" which is evolves into other classics on impractical and untheatrical mediums. This naturally evolves into a game of courtroom charades where a man is found not gill-cup before another judge is brought in to stand trial for abuses of power.

"Deja Vu" opens with a woman stripping and Cleese being raised to outside her window to offer something completely different. What that is made of at first is a man in a Bishop's outfit who does not appear in this week's episode trying to learn his lines out in a field. From that field, a man wanders until he finds a desk, asks for an appointment and is brought many miles from the country to a city where he attempts to get flying lessons. However, the man he is meeting tries to convince him that he, personally, may fly, despite the newcomer clearly seeing the lines supporting him. Then comes an attempted hijacking of a plane by a hijacker who is a real pushover and ends up easily giving up his demands to go to Cuba.

This is followed by a sketch involving a poor Scottish poet, whose poems all revolve around not having any money. This is followed by a sketch wherein a psychiatrist dispenses advice in a similar fashion to a milkman delivering milk. On his last run, the psychiatrist gets trapped within the program "It's The Mind." Tonight, on "It's The Mind," is an exploration of the phenomenon of deja vu, the feeling one has seen the oft-looped sketch several times and they have because the last portion of the show is the same footage shown over and over again.

On DVD, "Volume 5" includes the usual listing of the cast filmography and definitions of Python-specific terminology. There is also the usual Terry Gilliam animation featurette where the animator shows elements used to make one of the animations and a link to the online "Monty Python Shop." The Ministry Of Silly Walks sketch is performed live as a bonus feature and there is a clipshow of more risque humor bits that the show did.

Fans of comedy in general will treasure episodes like "The Spanish Inquisition" which hold up impressively over time. But things like the final sketch on "Deja Vu" are nice gimmicks that replay less well over the years. It's a decent joke, but the repetition is tiresome. Still, there are no good reasons to not add "Volume 5" to one's Monty Python’s Flying Circus 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 and movie reviews, be sure to check out my Index Page on the subject for an organized listing!

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