Monty Python's Flying Circus: The Complete Series

"Essential"

Monty Python's Flying Circus: The Complete Series Review


In the history of sketch comedy, Monty Python's Flying Circus stands as The Beatles of humor. Not only were members Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, and Terry Gilliam geniuses at the short skit format, but they redefined the configuration and expanded its realm of possibilities. Celebrated like rock stars and elevated to the status of gods, such success begs the question: does the origin of this myth --- i.e. the TV show from several decades ago -- still hold up. The answer, without a doubt, is a resounding yes.

Spread out over four series (the UK answer to seasons) from 1969 to 1974, the group created 45 fantastic installments of pure British lunacy. From slapstick to scathing satire, the ridiculous and the surreal, the former Oxford and Cambridge grads took the British Broadcasting system by storm and the maelstrom is still going strong almost 40 years later. By now, fans all have their favorite bits -- the "Dead Parrot" sketch (a customer returns to a pet shop to complain about his lifeless purchase), the "Spanish Inquisition" (in which members of the famed Church torture tribunal use such horrific devious means as the comfy chair and the soft pillows to elicit confessions), and the "Ministry of Silly Walks" (pure physical comedy greatness in motion). While the troupe would go on to create three of the greatest big screen comedies of all time, the TV show equally illustrates their range as well as the reasons for their longevity.

Over time, the familiar have grown into legend, leaving room for the lesser known moments to shine. While Series One celebrated "The Funniest Joke in the World," the completely incompetent "Marriage Guidance Counselor" and an unlikely confection known as "Crunchy Frog", there's also the attempt by feline professionals to "Confuse a Cat" and a visit with "The Gorilla Librarian." In fact, some of the sketches are so famous, a kind of instant recall exists just by mentioning their name -- "Nudge Nudge," "Self Defense Against Fresh Fruit," "The Lumberjack Son." It's the same throughout the rest of the run. In fact, few who lived through Python's PBS heyday (the educational channel imported the program to America) will never think of Spam, lupins, or a simple argument in quite the same way.

The best thing about Monty Python is its unpredictable nature. The sextet behind the bedlam has often claimed in interviews that the run-on, stream of consciousness nature of the show came from an inherent inability to end their sketches properly. Ideas bounce into each other randomly, seemingly disjointed and dissimilar until a theme or single punch line is revealed. American born animator Gilliam was critical to its success, keeping the show moving with his insane, always dreamlike connective cartoons. Even more enjoyable was the level of performance involved. Everyone -- Cleese's upper class crankiness, Idle's star smugness, Palin and Jones' schoolboy mischievousness, and Chapman's suave silliness -- had a place in Python's mix. The result was a combination that few could compete with, and none could eclipse.

As the founding fathers of the post-modern laugh, Monty Python's Flying Circus has inspired a legion of similarly styled -- and successful -- offshoots. Without the boys from Britain, we might not have SCTV, The Kids in the Hall, or the still-running-strong Saturday Night Live. Even after going their separate ways, Palin, Cleese, Idle, Jones, and Gilliam all made major strides within the entertainment industry (Chapman, sadly, died of spinal cancer in 1989 at age 48). Like the Fab Four they're often compared to, they remain a staple of the category they helped change forever. If one is looking for the true definition of timeless, Monty Python's Flying Circus unquestionably deserves such consideration.



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