Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Funny, But Hardly Perfect, Volume Six Of Monty Python’s Flying Circus Is Still Worth Owning!

The Good: Funny, Well-delivered comedy, Intriguing animations.
The Bad: Some concepts are beginning to get tired. Not exceptional DVD bonus features.
The Basics: Funny, but showing a little more refinement and less audacity, Volume Six of Monty Python’s Flying Circus is still worthwhile.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus is a tough series to sit down and watch hour after hour after hour if for no other reason than even with only seeing episodes once or twice, when several episodes are watched in a row, the humor may often be anticipated. I suspect this is what happened with my by the time I got to Volume six of the series on DVD. I have been watching the sketch comedy series so much that I get the rhythms of the performers and I see the niches they fit into. By the time this disc, which has the second three episodes of the second season, comes around, the performers themselves seem to know their strengths as well and they play to them.

As a result, Graham Chapman seems to command more faux-serious roles, just as Michael Palin takes on several smarmy characters. Eric Idle and Palin tend to be paired frequently as their delivery styles play off one another remarkably well. Terry Jones is used for a number of physical gags and he seems to delight in exposing his body, which is not the typical body type shown on television (yea for diversity!). John Cleese, similarly, is given several roles where he either deadpans or does absurd physical comedy. Terry Gilliam makes in on-screen a few times, but is relegated more to the animations still.

This is not to say that these three episodes - "The Buzz Aldrin Show," "Live From The Grill-O-Mat," and "It's A Living" - are bad, they aren't. But they replay less well than some of the earlier episodes. In addition, A&E, which released them on DVD, seems to be getting more lax with the DVD bonus features.

"The Buzz Aldrin Show" opens with an animation of a grubby man turning into a game show host butterfly, only to have John Cleese and his desk fly into frame to declare it time for something completely different. The sketches start after the title sequence with the Gumby's introducing the Architect sketch (the five Gumbys act as a thread throughout the episode, introducing many of the sketches). In the first sketch, an architect pitches a block of flats that he has organized as a giant abattoir, ostensibly designed to kill the residents. Railing against the snobbery of free masons, the businessmen involved in the deal allow in the next applicant who has designed a columnar firetrap, but gets the contract because he is a freemason. What follows is a series of quick shots on how to recognize free masons and an attempt to cure one of their elite status.

What follows is a mobster insurance agent who is cheating his clients out of their money, including a priest. This leads to the arrival of "The Bishop!" which presents a crime-fighting Bishop who always arrives on the scene moments too late to save the lives of priests. A film crew approaches a couple who lives on the sidewalks about doing a documentary and they are sent away. Home-installed poets have their meter readings taken. After a quick choice of viewing announcement, a sketch begins with chemists (pharmacists) dispensing remedies only to lead to a lesson in censored words. The sketch rebegins and the episode closes with a crazy cop not arresting a shoplifter and the Gumbys transforming into women!

"Live From The Grill-O-Mat" is a concept show wherein John Cleese introduces sketches from a diner called the Grill-O-Mat with a series of bad restaurant-related jokes. The sketches begin with the classic gameshow sketch "Blackmail" wherein the host blackmails viewers with videos, photographs and incriminating information about themselves and only stops revealing information when the victim pays up. There is a meeting of a rather silly organization, which is responsible for putting things on top of other things until the leader of the group realizes he is on film and works to escape it. This puts the characters in an animated bit which leads into a talk show on current affairs, which ends abruptly.

Next comes a sketch with a man who has a series of unfortunate coincidences occur to him through no fault of his own; a mirror falls, a maid falls into the knife he is holding, a scared man backs out a window rather than face him and the house he is visiting collapses entirely when he closes the door. The next bit is a lame school play of "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers" containing only four brothers and two brides. This is followed by a man who goes into a shop only to be alternately verbally assaulted and treated kindly by the salesman. The show ends with boxer Ken Clean-Air System, an idiot who trains to beat up a school girl in the boxing ring.

"It's A Living" begins with a sketch by the same name wherein a show host does nothing but talk about the fees he and the others on the show are awarded by the BBC for participating in the show. The opening credits come after an animation and John Cleese notes how he did not use his new catchphrase to introduce the show because he will not be in this week's episode (though he is). This leads into a school award's ceremony where the headmaster is continually replaced by a different thief before a military intervention. This turns out to be a film of Ken Dibley's, a director whose works seem to correspond with the names of much better and better-developed works at the same time (his version of "Rear Window," for example is thirty seconds long).

What follows next is a series of important people being thrown into a stream, followed by a dinner party which is interrupted when their book-of-the-month club dung arrives. Absurd prizes are given away as part of England's attempts to encourage consumers to spend money, including the couple giving the party being given away at a police raffle! Then follows an interview by an incredibly conceited Timmy Williams, whose old friend attempts to have a serious, heartfelt conversation with him while Williams is accosted by multiple media outlets. Then there is an aborted interview with Raymond Luxury Yacht (pronounced Throatwobbler Mangrove) and a sketch wherein a registrar for marriage licenses continually mistakes the meaning of visitors who come in and ask them to marry him. The episode closes with a parody of election night coverage as the Sensible and Silly Parties square off throughout England.

On DVD, this set is a bit anemic. There are two clip shows of sketches loosely held together as game shows and general absurdities, in addition to the usual behind-the-scenes on Gilliam's animations and a biography of the six Pythons. There are no commentary tracks and on this disc, there are no live performances of any of the sketches. In other words, there is pathetically little outside the main programming.

Still, this is Monty Python’s Flying Circus while it was fun, funny and deeply creative and this disc offers a lot of laughs for anyone who likes great sketch comedy.

[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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