Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Monty Python’s Flying Circus Takes A Turn For The Tragically Unfunny With "Vols. 11/12"

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The Good: One or two moments of humor, DVD bonus features are standard for the series
The Bad: Largely not funny.
The Basics: As Monty Python’s Flying Circus wound down, it took a turn for the less funny and on DVD, the two-volume set that closes the third season flops.

Sometimes, when something jumps the shark, it jumps so far over that where it lands is almost impossible to find from the vantage of those looking at it from where it was. That confused metaphor works perfectly on Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which had a rough third season and the second DVD set from the third season, containing Volumes 11 and 12, is a great example. As the season progressed, the episodes simply lost their spark.

To wit, by the end of these episodes - one of which was actually filmed over thirteen months before it aired - John Cleese left the troupe and the remaining five men had to struggle to keep the show together for a fourth season. They failed. But here are the seven episodes found in this set.

"Salad Days" opens with the naked organist sitting down and his clothes coming off and the credits, which is followed by what is supposed to be an action-adventure show about Biggles. Biggles, however, in this episode, dictates a letter. After calling his secretary a harlot and killing his long-time friend for being gay, there is an animated bit involving things getting knocked over before the show presents a ridiculous sketch wherein some men climb a sidewalk. This segues into a sketch where men walk off a lifeboat into a woman's kitchen. The woman, who is stuffing a turkey with ridiculous items (like a cat and beer bottle) leaves her house to get dessert for the various sailors only to buy her pastries aboard a lifeboat. This is followed by the television show "Storage Jars" where world events are reported in relation to their effect on storage jars.

An animated feature links to a man who recaps the show so far, before a man walks into a cheese shop to try to buy some cheese. Unfortunately for Rogue Cheddar, the cheese shop has no cheese available, which he learns only by going through an entire inventory of cheeses. After shooting the owner of the cheese shop, this is revealed to be a Cheese Western and a film commentator talks about a director's merging of romance and violence in his new film "Salad Days," wherein a group of funloving people all tear one another apart in a bloody series of accidents. The closing credits come up then with an apology for how tasteless the sketch was, news being reported for storage jars and John Cleese admitting the show ran short, so everyone can just watch the tide for a few minutes.

"The Cycling Tour" is one of the few concept episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and while it is easy to admire the ambition of it, it is hard to appreciate the execution. Mr. Pither, on a cycling tour of Cornwall, continues to fall off his bicycle when his trousers get caught in the spokes. Soon after replacing his pants, he replaces his bicycle pump and as he continues to fall off his bike elsewhere, he damages food he has packed and tries to talk with disinterested people about the plight of his food.

This is until he meets up with a driver named Gulliver, who has a keen interest in food, like a tomato that ejects from a car or body at the first sign of danger, an event that happens moments before Pither and Gulliver end up in an accident. Gulliver now believes himself to be the singer Clodah Rogers, then Trotsky, then Ertha Kitt. As Gulliver changes personalities, Pither is captured by the Soviet executioners for bringing back a fake Trotsky and he awaits execution while the army gets shooting people down pat.

In "The Nude Organist," opens with an incompetent plane hijacker, who attempts to hold a plane cockpit hostage for money, but ends up telling the pilots where the bomb is and giving them a pound. After the sketch is ruined, the would-be bomber pops up and attempts to bribe others in other sketches for money on the condition that he will not ruin their sketch. After the opening credits comes a sketch involving housing projects being built by fictional characters, from Dickens and Paradise Lost. It then turns into a sketch wherein a hypnotist and his assistant create housing that endures so long as the residents there believe in it.

The episode progresses with a radio program for mortuary assistants. Then there is a sketch on the Olympic Hide and Seek finals, which take a total of twenty-two years to determine the outcome of. Then a couple has their neighbors, the Cheap-Laughs, over for dinner and their flat is destroyed by their neighbor's slapstick antics. Then comes a lecture on how to do bullfighting right and a report on a space probe to the planet Algon and the costs of shopping there. The episode closes with the would-be hijacker reading the closing credits.

In "Henry Thripshaw's Disease," a Tudor job-finding agency admits to a customer that they have not been able to find work in Tudor jobs for centuries and the client admits he is actually looking for porn. The purveyor of the business opens a wall, through which the customer goes to find a porn shop. When a raid is done by a costumed investigator, the shop clears out and the investigator leaves to find himself back in Tudor England!

Following the opening credits, then, the episode continues with a couple who have a chance encounter with a loony and then adopt his ways. Following an animation, the show has a short "Is There?" which is a talk show posing the question "is there life after death?" by having dead people on. With that question more or less resolved, a man enters into a doctor's office with a word-jumbling condition and the doctor, E. Henry Thripshaw, attempts to exploit it for movie and merchandising rights. The episode concludes with a bit involving a vicar who is ordering and drinking exceptional amounts of sherry, which is broken up by a pack of musicians who play a Spanish melody.

"Dennis Moore" opens with a boxing match between a heavyweight and a professor and a first-round knock-out makes the heavyweight the new professor of Fine Arts. After the opening credits, there is a highwayman named Dennis Moore steals lupins from the rich and brings them to the poor. After a sketch on doctors removing money from their patients, there is "The Great Debate," which is "Should there be a TV4 or not?" and all of the answers given are simple yes and no answers. Dennis Moore is revisited then when he delivers his lupins to the poor, who are sick to death of lupins, so he goes out to steal something more valuable.

Then there is the Ideal Loon Exhibition with a special contest for judges. This is followed by a sketch with a salesman selling liquor and Dennis Moore returns. Having stolen all of the truly fine things from the nobles, he has essentially made the poor rich, though he keeps stealing from the nobles, who now have nothing left. This is followed by the gameshow "Prejudice" wherein players try to come up with derrogatory names for different ethnic groups. The episode concludes with Dennis Moore returning and trying to redistribute the wealth between a carriage full of people.

"A Book At Bedtime" is - oddly enough - an older episode that begins as a storytelling hour where a man tries to read a book, but is strangely illiterate. As he is replaced by a succession of readers who also have difficulty, the story unfolds. The story of "Ivanhoe" segues into a skit on kamikaze highlanders, suicidal Scotsmen who in their training kill off almost their entire regiment. When one final Scotsman is saved for a secret mission, the program is interrupted for an explanation of the phrase "No time to lose." As the Scotsman goes on his mission, the brain size of a penguin is explored . . . by scientists at a country club. The program gets into an animated bit where penguins are taking over British jobs at an alarming rate.

The Kamikaze Highlander arrives at a secret Soviet meeting where he launches, but fails to detonate among two people talking with mixed up subtitles. As the Unexploded Scotsman Brigade works to disarm the Scotsman, the show continues with the gameshow "Spot The Looney." The episode concludes with two documentaries attempting to film using the same film crew and microphones (and the brawls that break out between them) and the storytime hour concluding.

The final episode on the last disc is "Grandstand," which is notable as John Cleese's final regular performance on Monty Python's Flying Circus. The episode is an award's ceremony featuring a presenter who is entirely schmaltzy and self-congratulatory of the entire film industry. He gives out awards and panders to the audience, including a pantomime Princess Margaret. The ashes of a notable are brought out to give an award and Oscar Wilde begins a party where his wit is dwindling. In the attempt to curry favor with a royal, Wilde begins making terrible analogies about the royal and passing off who said the horrible things to other guests at the party. The awards return with the refrigerator of a writer presenting an award and a viewing of the sketch that came in sixth, the new film by Pasolini. The Italian director mixes a cricket match with sexual and religious imagery and the cricket team complains afterwards.

The episode continues with woman getting a new brain from Curry's door-to-door salespeople. Then a blood donor who wants to donate urine gets his chance by stealing a doctor's blood and trading the doctor for the right to donate urine. This leads to the International Wife-Swapping competition, which plays over the closing credits. That returns the viewer to the award's ceremony and a final sketch involving a dirty vicar who moves in on the ladies when he gets a new parish.

These discs come with the standard filmographies of the "Pythons," a clipshow of various John Cleese in which he starred and definitions of Pythonisms. There is also a trivia game and Monty Python karaoke. But even fans of the franchise will have a tough time getting excited about these episodes.

[For a much better value, check out the penultimate season, Monty Python's Flying Circus Season 3 on DVD, reviewed here, as it has the complete season, with nothing left to search for!]


For other television reviews, be sure to 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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