Saturday, October 20, 2012

Monty Python’s Flying Circus Season 3 Is More Average Than Extraordinary.

The Good: Funny, Interesting-enough DVD bonus features
The Bad: Fewer truly classic sketches, Dull toward the end.
The Basics: Funny, but not truly outrageous or enduring, the third season of Monty Python’s Flying Circus arrives on DVD with little to get truly excited about.

When Monty Python’s Flying Circus began its third season, it seemed to have a more extensive budget and the sketches seemed to have greater scope and sense of unity to the episodes. Still, the episodes seemed less funny and by the end of the third season, John Cleese was so disenchanted with the troupe that he left. The thing is, by the time the final episode of the third season, "Grandstand," comes along, the objective viewer can see where Cleese is coming from.

"Season Three" of Monty Python’s Flying Circus has few truly timeless and memorable - "classic" - sketches that are more widely known in society. For sure, true Monty Python geeks will be able to sing the "Dennis Moore" theme, but outside that, there are few truly memorable sketches in this boxed set, which is comprised of four discs and all thirteen episodes of the season. The comedy troupe of Monty Python was made up of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin and this was the final season the entire sextet was together, before they went to work on the movies.

The third season of Monty Python’s Flying Circus is a collection of thirteen episodes with over a hundred sketches. The comedy vignettes include a man whose sole ambition is to have a disease named after him so there might be a foundation and merchandising for it, various religious figures like pervert vicars and drunk priests. There is a sketch on the role of cheese in Western films and the vigilante Dennis Moore, who only steals lupins for the poor. The Gumbys return to perform surgery and a ridiculous sketch wherein a pantomime horse is a spy.

There are mockeries of documentaries, like "Njorl's Saga," and running gags on how the BBC is low on cash so extras cannot speak. There are animations by Terry Gilliam that bridge the various sketches and ridiculous pseudo-science sketches that make fun of archaeologists. There are jibes at politicians and religion and sports. There are also amusing moments where the whole cast mimics reporters, capturing perfectly the schmaltz of in-your-face reporters with "Whicker's World."

The problem with Season Three is there are far more smiles than laughs. Watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus, one tends to get the strengths of each member of the troupe. Cleese does more physical comedy and deadpans while wearing elaborate costumes or speaking in funny accents, Chapman treads toward absurdist humor with exaggerated body movements, Idle and Palin play off one another like an old married couple, Terry Gilliam rules with animations and Terry Jones seems to do a little bit of everything with as much mastery as any of the others working the same field. The thing is, by this third season, the members of the troupe seem happy to play to their strengths and not get out of their comfortable niches. Instead, they even seem bored in their roles.

So, for example, it is hard to imagine John Cleese in the role of Dennis Moore playing the role the same way if it had been the first or even second season. He plays the role without any sense of absurdity, no asides where his facial expression breaks the fourth wall. Instead, it is a very standard premise wherein Cleese as Moore robs the rich of their lupins, which were a symbol of wealth, until the poor scream at him for something useful. When the sketch breaks into the redistribution of wealth, even Cleese seems bored with it and that lack of spark in the performance is disappointing and will likely leave the lifelong Monty Python viewer bored with this season.

The lack of spark seems to permeate the entire season; as difficult to describe as it might be, the energy of the season is not the same. Terry Gilliam's animations, for example, start using more dated references, people from the late 1960s and early 1970s who might not be as recognizable now. This robs the show of one of the things that it had going for it from the outset; a sense of universal humor that was not dated. Between the humor of some of the animations and some of the sketches that focus on things like how ridiculous the counterculture movement could be, there is a more dated feel to some of the material in this season.

Still, in this third season, Monty Python’s Flying Circus manages to attack several institutions that have not changed even since the sketches were aired. Attacks on the clergy and the overall state of British politics remain humorous and enduring even today. Similarly, assaults on the pretensions of the moviemakers and institutions of popular culture are relevant and funny even now. In other words, when the show strives for timeless, they achieve it, but this season the major divergence in the program is that it does not try as hard to be timeless.

On DVD, the discs have pretty standard "Monty Python" bonus features (by this time in the series). The discs include biographies - mostly filmographies - of each of the members of the troupe (these are now a decade out of date). There are featurettes on Terry Gilliam's animations and a few live versions of sketches from earlier seasons. As well, there are mini-clipshows featuring themes that were explored at various points in the series. There is also a karaoke featurette and a trivia game on one of the discs.

Fans of Monty Python’s Flying Circus are likely to ignore my advice anyway, but those looking for great comedy might want to get this only if the Complete Series boxed set (reviewed here!) is on sale somewhere. Unlike the final season of the show, the lack of timelessness and the lack of spark is not enough to totally sink this, but still, it is a pretty weak recommend for this one.

For a better idea of what this boxed set includes, please check out my reviews of the individual episodes at:
"Whicker's World," "Mr. And Mrs. Brian Norris' Ford Popular," "The Money Programme"
"Blood, Devastation, Death, War, And Horror," "The All-England Summarize Proust Competition," "The War Against Pornography"
"Salad Days," "The Cycling Tour," "The Nude Organist," "E. Henry Thripshaw's Disease," "Dennis Moore," "A Book At Bedtime," and "Grandstand"


For other television and movie reviews, please visit my Index Page for an organized listing!

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