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Monty Python's Flying Circus: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and Terry Gilliam.  Are they six comic geniuses who revolutionized television in the 1970s, leaving behind them an immortal legacy which makes all future sketch shows pale in comparison, or are they just a bunch of poofs who did skits?  Whatever the case may be, it's perhaps the 14 most important DVDs in my video collection at the moment, and looks like it will stay that way far into the future.

For the first time viewer, you may find the show to be an exercise in unabashed chaos and lunacy.  And it is indeed that, probably about as well done as any comedy troupe ever has.  However, to accentuate the comedy, one will find that the Python universe is indeed governed by certain rules.  In Episode 30, for example, during the opening animation one might notice the particular absence of someone saying "Monty Python's Flying Circus!", which I believe in that season was done by one of the Gumbys.  Near the end of the animation we finally discover it's Tony M. Nyphot's Flying Riccsu instead.  Also, in Episode 19 John Cleese's Desk Man explicitly notes the breaking of the rules.

Motifs of the show include rough and tumble wordplay, 16 ton weights, animals, and very fancy menus.  They cover the full spectrum of comedy, everything from the extremely intellectual to the extremely rude and primordial, to the extremely British, often citing maps of local roads that us Americans probably wouldn't know about.  Esher-bashing is also a Python pastime.  But it always seems like everything is kept in perfect balance.  After some of the more rude sketches, for instance, the BBC will often issue an apology, or failing that, one of the cast members.

It reminds me of one of the tenets of Fight Club: sketches (fights) will go on as long as they have to.  The problem with Saturday Night Live is that all their sketches have to be around 5 minutes long, and lately the sketches have been about 3 or 4 minutes too long.  They would do well to go back and study the reason SNL was bourne in the first place: Lorne Michaels wanted to do a Python homage on American TV.

Specialties of the cast members: 

Graham Chapman runs the gamut from army bigwigs to people who are out of their tiny little minds. (Rev. Arthur Belling)  And the occasional brash American film producer.  And the occasional Wood Party member who ends up hanging upside down several miles below the earth's crust.  Most often chosen to play the lead in Monty Python films, but only because he comes first alphabetically.  One of my favorites is in episode 18, as the President of the Royal Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things.  Oh, and not that it matters, but apparently he actually was a poof.

John Cleese is the alpha male of the show.  The William Shatner, if you will, but instead of telling Star Trek fans to get a life, his goal is nothing short of getting the whole of England to lighten up a bit and not be so stuffy and uptight.  His specialties include silly walks, archaeology (great speaking voice), albatrosses and men who would like to buy a fish license.

Eric Idle is keen on word games and catchy songs, and is just downright handsome.  One great song of his is in 'The Money Programme' episode.  Another catchy one is in the movie 'The Meaning of Life' and is probably not suitable for children under 13.  But perhaps his real life persona is best expressed in the 'Michael Ellis' show, the put-upon everyman trying to make sense of a world (and a department store) gone stark raving mad.  One of my favorite bits of his is as David Attenborough in Episode 39, 'Grandstand'.

Terry Jones does the best female impersonations on the show, like the waitress in the Spam caf.  He has been contrasted in comedy style to Cleese; whereas Cleese favors the intellectual, Jones favors the more visceral.  Perhaps this is no more evident than in Episode 35, the Cheap Laughs sketch, but the rude candies sketch was the one cited.  Other specialties include stripteasing and severe head trauma, usually inflicted by a giant hammer in the later episodes.

Terry Gilliam as we all know is the man behind those strange animations, and he's no slouch in front of the camera either.  Well, maybe a little bit.  He may be the only American film director to appear in drag (on stage) or proclaim "I've run out of beans!" so magnificently.

Michael Palin usually does smarmy game show hosts (Blackmail, Prejudice, Interesting People), or put-upon nerd characters, like Podgorny or Pither of the Cycling Tour, or the man who reads the Poet meters.  One of my favorites is in Episode 43 where he plays a policeman who lives by impulse and is keen on the bobby's helmet and its rich history.  He also tends to, ever so slightly, crack up the most; one of my favorites is when his Gumby visits the brain specialist, and the brain specialist has a little trouble at first figuring out where his brain is.  He also tends to get hit with the 16 Ton weight the most.

Favorite bits so far: 

Episode 1 - Strewth!

    Interesting to note the audience's reaction to the animated titles for one, for the very first time.  People didn't know what to make of it at the time.

Also: Arthur 'Two Sheds' Jackson.

Motif: pigs

Episode 2 - Strewth!!  And mouse parties.

Motif: sheep

Episode 3.  First appearance of that inter-episode motif: Donkey Rides!  Also, there's a shout-out to all the people who think the media's out of touch.  (it gets applause!  As does the horse chestnut.)  Great line: "I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  So anyway..."

Episode 5 - Man's Crisis of Identity in the Latter Half of the Twentieth Century - Another great early episode.  It's also the first episode in which they incorporate Letters to the Editor, or letters to BBC, whatever.  Personal fave: perhaps the interview for the Management Training Course.  In that one, Graham Chapman plays a meek type really well.

Episode 23 - Finally found it!  The 16 ton weight at the end was too short.

Episode 24 - Archbishop Nudge!  Know what I mean?  Also, they condense the whole episode into 30 seconds at the end...

Episode 25 - In 1970, Monty Python lay in ruins and.... SPAM!

    Dip, dip, dip, my little ship...

Episode 26 - Intensive Care Unit.  Far too much cannibalism.  The exploding Blue Danube...

    Monty Python proudly presents the Insurance Sketch...

Episode 35 - the Cheap Laughs, and the segue into the bullfighting sketch. 

Episode 36 - let's look at this film ........................................................ clip!

Also, the Rev. Arthur Belling.

Episode 37 - the Ambulance from Hell, leading to a frog based on a man from Episode 1.  Very much like a dream.

Episode 38 - Rival documentaries

Episode 39 - Eric Idle gives a riveting performance as a smarmy host of an Academy Awards-style show.  I heard he's supposed to be David Attenborough. 

Episode 42 - The Light Entertainment War - Another masterful stream of consciousness revolving around the apparently universal problem of television programs being so bad.


Episode 43 - The beginning with Michael Palin's helmet-obsessed bobby, segueing to Terry Jones and Carol Cleveland and their unique marital problem.

Episode 44 - Box!

Episode 45 - The Worst Family in Britain.  Oh yeah, and another Strewth.

This is going to take a lot more study, however.

Good link: Just the words - Monty Python


-so sayeth the Movie Hooligan

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