Saturday, October 27, 2012

Monty Python’s Flying Circus Continues Without John Cleese (With Poor Results)! (Volume 20)

The Good: One good laugh, Conceptually interesting.
The Bad: Largely not funny, Not clever, Medium
The Basic: Long past their prime, the men of "Monty Python" start the fourth season with "Volume 20," which lacks John Cleese...and humor!

Sometimes, when a concept is done, it is done. In the case of sketch comedy, those of us who hold Monty Python’s Flying Circus up as the gold standard of comedy often do so neglecting the final season. In the final six episodes of the series, Monty Python’s Flying Circus saw increased on-screen presence of Terry Gilliam following the departure of John Cleese, who went on to bigger and better things. Sick of fighting with the censors and eager for a new challenge, Cleese left the troupe and his departure forced the remaining five men of Monty Python to adapt.

Unfortunately, as Volume 20 on VHS illustrates, the remaining men of the troupe lost something significant with Cleese's departure. The two episodes on this tape, "The Golden Age Of Ballooning" and "Michael Ellis" yield few laughs and actually sound funnier than they were actually executed. Indeed, "Michael Ellis" yielded a single laugh for me on my third viewing and I recall it being even less funny on prior perusals. The first episode of the fourth season is almost entirely a dud and the men of the troupe seem to be struggling to find their sense of comic timing amid circumstances that sound far more zany than they are presented as.

This tape features Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam struggling to be funny. Instead, most of the two episodes have the men simple wearing lavish costumes and speaking in accents and hoping that the audience will not notice that what they are saying is not particularly humorous.

In "The Golden Age Of Ballooning," the show attempted another of their theme shows where everything ties into a single premise. Here is the "BBC" production "The Golden Age Of Ballooning," which starts with a man working on a toilet, talking about the Mongolfier brothers who are in France working on the first hot air balloon. On the eve of their history-making balloon flight, the Mongolfier brothers are visited by a man who they do not let in and they confess to one another that they have not been washing for quite some time. After that, there is a bit about the merchandising of "The Golden Age Of Ballooning" before the second part of the series begin. In "The Mongolfier Brothers In Love," the engineering brother is complained to by his suspended girlfriend who laments how everything he does has to be tied to ballooning. They are visited that night by Louis XIV, who is after the plans for the hot air balloon. As he is washing, the engineer realizes it cannot be Louis XIV (he's actually a Scotsman) and Louis XVI, as he decides he is, flees with the plans.

The third part of the series begins with Louis XVI arriving in England where he tries to sell the plans to the crazy Charles III. When that caper goes awry - from the Mongolfier brother arriving to stop the transaction - the other Mongolfier brother tries to kiss the woman who remained in France. The servant who works for the Mongolfier brothers (and has been trying to find the decanter on the sideboard) makes his exit and he is given many awards. This is followed by a bit on Zeppelin, who begins throwing German government members out of the airship when they call it a balloon. The members of the German state land in the sitting (or drawing) room of two German peasants and they begin to sort them out by status.

Like "The Golden Age Of Ballooning," "Michael Ellis" is a concept episode of "Monty Python," which follows a man who is constantly mistaken for Michael Ellis going through his day. He visits a department store where he is pranked by the clerks, who think he is Michael Ellis. After demanding to see a manager, he is sold an ant as his pet. He leaves the store, generally dissatisfied and arrives home where his mother berates him for buying an ant after neglecting the tiger and sperm whale he bought previously as pets. He then sits down to watch a program on ants and realizes that he has been sold something that is not an ant.

Returning to the department store, he begins to search for the store's general manager. In one corner of the store is a poetry reading where famous poets (Shelly, Wordsworth, Tennyson) read their poems with significant changes made to accommodate lore of ants. He is sent to the general manager's office in the toupee department where the workers there try to sell him a toupee. Dissatisfied, he and a television interviewer try to figure out how to end the episode (a problem because the episode actually began with both the opening animation followed immediately by the closing credits).

As this is VHS, there are no bonus features and the hour of entertainment - I am liberally using the word "entertainment" - is a tough sell to anyone who likes comedy, especially on this outdated medium. Fans of Monty Python’s Flying Circus are more likely to cringe than laugh and that is disappointing considering how fresh the show once was.

[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 reviews, be sure to visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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