Sunday, October 14, 2012

Monty Python’s Flying Circus Season 2 All In One Set, Flaws And All!

The Good: (Mostly) funny, Clever and enduring.
The Bad: A few weak episodes, Light on DVD bonus features.
The Basics: Monty Python’s Flying Circus returns for a second season and while they still have game, these episodes are not always at the top of it.

I am still not entirely certain why Monty Python’s Flying Circus takes up as much space as it does on DVD. Like the first season of the program (reviewed here!), the second season is comprised of thirteen episodes spread out over four discs. Given that the program is half an hour for each episode and that DVD bonus features are limited to the like of biographies, a glossary and a few clipshows, it seems odd to me that this entire season is not packed onto two discs. At least in the newer packages of the Second Season, the discs are in thinner slipcases.

The second season on Monty Python’s Flying Circus is a tougher program to review than its predecessors, if for no other reason than it has a mix of perfect episodes early on ("The Spanish Inquisition") and real duds later in the season ("Archaeology Today"). The result is a mix that is definitely worth seeing and I would even recommend owning, but objectively is treading more toward the average side of sketch comedy than the audacious. "Season Two" is a simple collection of the four previously-released discs each containing three episodes (the fourth, Volume 8, has four episodes).

It is in this season of Monty Python’s Flying Circus that Terry Gilliam gets more airtime both as an animator and on-screen and Carol Cleveland begins bearing the weight of more of the women's roles, so the guys don't have to. Still, the men of Monty Python dress in drag, appear as Gumbys (idiots with rags on their heads who yell constantly to make themselves heard), and impersonate everyone from businessmen to religious figures. In the second season, there are more jokes that run through entire episodes and the show dares to take some real chances. Some of those risks work out well for the show, like the looping of the final few minutes of "Deja Vu." Others do not work quite so well, most notably in "Archaeology Today" when two judges have a conversation in which the subjects are then illustrated having a conversation, which leads into a flashback for them and the viewer gets farther from the point or purpose.

In this season, there are several classic sketched alluded to frequently in pop culture (and more frequently in geek culture). Memorable sketches that helped make Monty Python a household name and keep the sketch comedy troupe in the collective unconscious yet include The Spanish Inquisition (sketch), the Ministry Of Silly Walks, the Semaphore version of "Wuthering Heights," "Blackmail," and the penguin atop the television. For those who might be checking this out who have a keen knowledge of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, they might note that most of those sketches come from earlier in the season. This is true; the program was funnier and more memorable at the beginning of the season. By the end, the season was becoming far less original or audacious.

For those unfamiliar with Monty Python’s Flying Circus, it is a half-hour British sketch comedy series from the early 1970s. The troupe (there is no actual "Monty Python") was made up of six men who wrote and performed their own material, often with props, costumes, wigs and animation that was considered cutting edge at the time. The reason the series is still popular today is that the troupe tackled universal humor as opposed to specific dated humor. There are a few allusions, like the BBCs obsession with sport and variety programming that do not resonate as much today, as far as the humor goes, but the jokes still hold up fairly well.

More often than not, humor is more universal than that on Monty Python’s Flying Circus. So, for example, when the Spanish Inquisition is torturing an old lady, they realize they have forgotten their instruments of real torture and are forced to use a dishrack, a comfy chair and to poke her with pillows. These, of course, are not prime instruments of torment, though they probably yield results as accurate as torture does. Similarly, portraying the life of Attila the Hun as a family-friendly sitcom is funny today because there are still cheesy sitcoms on the air that many of us wonder "Who makes these things?!" and "Who watches this crap?!"

The second season of Monty Python’s Flying Circus finds the entire first season cast back and working with their special talents. Because this is a sketch comedy show, the season does not see the development of any characters, each member of the cast assumes several personas throughout the course of a single episode. Still, the men of Monty Python have their specialities.

Michael Palin and Eric Idle play off one another perfectly and they tend to fit into the same niche, which is often the newscaster, talk show host or slimy mobster. John Cleese has a wonderful combination of physical comedy (silly walks, screwing up his face to appear daft) and deadpan verbal comedy (his declarations in "Archaeology Today" that he is six foot five and can do anything he wants as a result is the highlight of that episode). Terry Jones does a great deal of physical comedy and he seems to delight in exposing his atypical (on television, remarkably average in real life) pasty skinned body to the audience at every possible opportunity. Graham Chapman does a lot of work in costumes assuming people of stature who then act entirely ridiculously. Terry Gilliam rounds out the cast. He is usually relegated to the behind-the-camera role of animator, though he appears this season for several sketches and snippets where he appears onscreen as a boxer and knocks random people out.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus Season 2 might be down a little bit from its first season, but it is still a worthwhile sketch comedy program and anyone who likes great, enduring comedy will find much to love in this boxed set. Of course, loyal fans will want "The Complete Series" (reviewed here!) but for those who want just the essentials, there are enough sketches in this boxed set to still consider it necessary for the lovers of sketch comedy.

For a more precise idea of the sketches from the second season, please check out my descriptions of the episodes included at:
"Face The Press," "The Spanish Inquisition," and "Deja Vu"
"The Buzz Aldrin Show," "Live From The Grill-O-Mat," and "It's A Living"
"The Attila The Hun Show," "Archaeology Today," and "How To Recognize Different Parts Of The Body"
"Scott Of The Antarctic," "How Not To Be Seen," "Spam," and "Royal Episode 13"


For other television reviews, 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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