Monty Python boxset review
It’s possibly difficult now, forty years on and three or four comedy generations down the line, to appreciate just how groundbreaking Monty Python’s Flying Circus was and still is. Way back before… Michael Palin travelled the globe and Terry Jones became a historian. Before Terry Gilliam directed some of the best films ever made and Eric Idle produced Broadway musicals. Before John Cleese stopped being funny and Graham Chapman died. Before any of that, there was Monty Python’s Flying Circus. And after all of that, there’s a new DVD box set of the original TV Series.
For those who have not seen the cds, books, repackaged sketches or films, a brief introduction to Monty Python might be needed. Back in 1969, five plucky young Oxford and Cambridge graduates and an American joined together to record a sketch show for the BBC.
They filmed three rather good series and a fourth, shorter and apparently not so good one. (Unfortunately the disc containing the fourth series wasn’t available at the time of review.) They famously never ended their sketches, as they just drifted into another sketch or just ended without the then-traditional punch-line.
Those of a certain age will probably be very familiar with the famous Python sketches. The Dead Parrot sketch, the Cheese Shop sketch, the Lumberjack Song, the Ministry for Silly Walks sketch can, by those of us who never really got out much, be pretty much recited word for word. However, it’s always good to be able to watch them again.
Naturally not every sketch is a hit. Indeed, not every episode is a hit – but there’s always something that will raise a chuckle. Yes, some of the stuff has dated and some of the references are a bit old. In fact, to be honest, so are the jokes, a fair amount of them heading towards their fortieth anniversary.
But when the Python team hit their stride, they really were the funniest thing around. Even when performing the weaker material, they each put in a wonderful performance. The high point being Terry Gilliam’s animations, which studiously refuse to date, mainly because they mix Renaissance art with Ronnie Barker’s collection of Edwardian pornography. Which is discussed in one of the few extras, when Gilliam discusses how he created the opening titles.
And talking of extras, there’s a bonus disc, with a pair of documentaries. The first, filmed entirely in black and white, gives the history of the Python team, and features enough archive footage to show the evolution of their sense of humour. The second documentary, this time with colour, details how the Pythons broke big in America and shows an interesting side to the team, both from Terry Jones’ business sense and John Cleese’s general dislike of parties.
But what’s missing is anything that discusses the impact the series had. Just about every comedian since has been in some way influenced by them and most are happy to acknowledge this. It would also have been nice to have something that would put the sketches into context. New audiences might feel that the sketches are a little slow and nothing original, which would be a shame.