Wednesday, February 22, 2006

OOH! I WET 'EM! Monty Python Returns to PBS


Back in the days before instant gratification, before TiVo and iPods and DVD box sets and DirecTV and MP3s and instant downloading of music and movies, one often had to put forth some measure of effort—sometimes physical effort—in order to get oneself in the position to watch one’s favorite TV program. Those were the days when you and I, two or more of the great unwashed, charter members of the Global Village, were yoked to the TV schedule—you were home in front of the tube at 9:00 on Wednesday night, by God, if you wanted to see this week’s episode of Baretta, and if you missed it, well, too bad. Maybe there would be a late-season repeat, and maybe not. This type of world-weary tale will certainly become my generation’s equivalent of walking ten miles, to and from school, in a snowstorm, wearing only perforated shoes and a thin, thin jacket and carrying 10-12 heavy textbooks without a book bag—“You know, you spoiled brat,” I’ll put forth halfheartedly from my wheelchair, “when I was a kid I had to seek out my entertainment—it didn’t come to me whenever I wanted it just by waving some magic wand.” “It’s not a wand, Grandpa, it’s a digital wireless mouse with scanning capability and 240 gigs of memory,” my grandchild will say, barely looking up from the holographic Smell-o-Vision electro-shock action booming and crackling from his/her Playstation XXV.

Or perhaps I’ll just trot out an old Monty Python routine and really watch the storm clouds of confusion gather over his/her spiky little head—“We used to have to get up 7:00 at night, half an hour before we went to bed, eat a lump of dry poison, work 280 hours down mill, and when we got home our dad would slice us in two with a bread knife and dance upon our graves singing ‘Alleluia.’” Why, when I was a freshman in college in 1977, Monty Python’s Flying Circus had already been a phenomenon on PBS stations across the country for almost three years, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail was already a entrenched part of the lexicon of laughs of any self-respecting college student (“What… is your favorite color?”). And yet it was with a hardened bunker mentality that I would tromp down to the TV room every night at around 10:15 or so, where a large group of students would be gathered watching Starsky and Hutch or Barnaby Jones or some other such offering. I would spend the next 45 minutes leading to the top of the hour dropping none-too-subtle hints that Monty Python was coming up at 11:00, if anybody’s interested, it’s really great, you know, haveyoueverseenit, blahblahblah. Mind you, for one as shy and unassuming as I was at the time, taking such measures with a group I really didn’t know at all meant that I really wanted to see this show and was willing to endure all manner of humiliation and degradation (by humiliation and degradation, of course I mean speaking up in front of strangers and risking their disapproval) to ensure that I did. Most of the time the group was cool about me walking up and changing the channel as the credits on Barnaby Jones started to flash past, and I could settle in knowing that no one was gonna leap up and switch over to a rerun of I Love Lucy. But there were also those nights when some joker would tolerate about 63 seconds of Python, stand up, grumble some variation on “What the fuck is this shit?” and then twist the dial forcefully to one of a variety of nose-picking local news anchors, or perhaps the ever-present I Love Lucy rerun. This kind of crude majority-rules environment made seeking out the silliest and more esoteric comedy show on TV much more stressful than it ever should have been, and believe me, if I’d had the option back then of downloading Python off the Internet every night and watching it back in the comfort and privacy of my own cracker-box dorm room, don’t think for a second I wouldn’t have done just that. (Just don’t tell my snotty, video-hypnotized grandchild I said that, all right?)

Now, years later, you can go to a Web site to get your fix. Or perhaps you bought the entire run of the show on DVD, like I did? Or one of the many special editions of each of the Python movies that are also available on DVD? (I like this one.) But even with all this convenient packaging of all the great Python material (oh, wait, I almost forgot—have you got this?! I do!), there is something special on the horizon. If your eyes light up at the thought of a confection called Crunchy Frog, or if you’ve ever wanted to have the nickname “Two Sheds,” or if you salivate at the prospect of the new production by the Batley Townswomen’s Guild (their re-enactment of the Battle of Pearl Harbor was a smash hit), or if the sight of an earnest archaeologist breaking into song (“Today/I hear the robins sing/Today…”) makes you feel like you’re going to go insane with glee, then you’ll want to check in with your PBS affiliate’s local listings to find out when you can see the first two installments of Monty Python’s Personal Best, a six-part series of reminiscences, favorite bits and even some new material, one part given over to each of the members of Monty Python with which they spin their own personal history of the troupe and its highlights. (Graham Chapman, dead since 1988, has graciously given over his chapter to be compiled by the other remaining members.) The Los Angeles PBS affiliate, KCET, kicks off Monty Python’s Personal Best tonight with the Eric Idle segment (9:00 p.m.) and follows at 10:00 p.m. with the Graham Chapman tribute. The subsequent four installments will air over the next two Wednesday nights, March 1 and March 8. (Los Angeles Times staff writer Robert Lloyd checked in this past Sunday with an excellent article detailing some additional background on the history and impact of Monty Python’s Flying Circus that is well worth reading.)

If, for some reason, you miss any of the episodes, I have it on good authority that they will be available in just a few weeks time on DVD. But for some reason I feel like making the time, if I can possibly do it, to see these specials as they spill out over the free air waves, just like we used to do it back in the good old days when we had to stand up and fight drunken hordes of indifferent dorm residents just so we could take a half-hour off in order to laugh about the Larch (“Number 38—the Larch!”) or a romantic restaurant setting that spirals into hysteria, aneurysms and suicide all because of a dirty fork. Hope you enjoy the show.

Sincerely,
Raymond Luxury Yacht (pronounced “Yatch-t”)

P.S. Dennis would like to know, What's your favorite Monty Python sketch or moment?

7 comments:

Mr. Middlebrow said...

My favorite MP sketch is The Philosopher's Drinking Song. And The Four Yorkshiremen.

My two favorite MP sketches are The Philosopher's Drinking Song and The Four Yorkshiremen. And The Cheese Shop.

Amongst my favorite MP sketches are The Philosopher's Drinking Song, The Four Yorkshiremen, and The Cheese Shop.

C'mon, Dennis ("There's some lovely filth over here!"), you know it's impossible to pick only one. Hell, it's impossible to pick only three. Stupid git!

It's my contention that before everything in life was a moment on Seinfeld, it was a Monty Python sketch.

Thom McGregor said...

Dennis, a post worthy of a Python! Bumping into this show on PBS when I was a youngster is seriously one of my fondest childhood memories. It made me feel like I wasn't alone in the world, it brought my sisters and I together in the spirit of absurdity, and I fell in love with Michael Palin. My favorites? Of course, cheese and dead parrot, but also fish slapping, Twit competition, The Bishop!, Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson, Bicycle Repair Man! and anything where John Cleese does a slow or fast boil-over. Oh, pure joy. I don't think I could truly like anyone who didn't "get" MP. Oh, and thank you for writing on a subject that I actually know something about! I was feeling kind of dumb there for a while.

aaron w graham said...

Well, thank you for turning my attention to this, as I’ve just finished watching both the Eric Idle and Graham Chapman installments. I was under the impression that they were simply clips from “Flying Circus” strung together without any real involvement with any of the Pythons, save for maybe brief introductions, but I’m very glad to have been proven wrong. Instead, the idiosyncratic personalities of each member get to present their side of the story showcasing their unique talents, except for Graham, but what a lovely little tribute to his genius, anyway.

As for favorite sketches, I really can’t recall the names of any of my favorites, except for the aforementioned dead parrot and upper-class twit competition. My favorite has to be the one shown at the head of the Chapman episode, where he realizes that he’s “on film”, panics, and races inside to tell the other members of the board meeting.

Tom Sutpen said...

Three favorite moments, if not sketches, among many (plucked randomly with fondness from the corridors of recollection):

* Inspector Leopard of Scotland Yard's Special Fraud Film Director Squad and his disquisition on the work of Luchino Visconti (still the most enlightened survey of Visconti I've ever come across).

* Sir Phillip Sidney singlehandedly fighting back the tide of Spanish Porn in Tudor England.

* "The Cycling Tour" (no more need be said).

Now, watch. After I hit the 'publish' button, I'll think of a dozen more I like better. Always happens that way.

Ed said...

My first memory was in 1973 when a neighborhood friend introduced me to their work.

My favorites would be;

The Death of Mary Queen of Scots
"I think she's dead. "No I'm not."

Penguin on top of the Television
"Oh intercourse the penguins!"

Funeral Home
"You're going to eat my mother?!?" "Not raw, not raw."

There are really just too many to list.

Ed said...

My first memory was in 1973 when a neighborhood friend introduced me to their work.

My favorites would be;

The Death of Mary Queen of Scots
"I think she's dead. "No I'm not."

Penguin on top of the Television
"Oh intercourse the penguins!"

Funeral Home
"You're going to eat my mother?!?" "Not raw, not raw."

There are really just too many to list.

beege said...

Well, I can no longer hear or read the Sermon on the Mount without hearing, "Blessed are the cheesemakers?!" in my head.

You've never really lived until you're in the pulpit, reading the gospel of the day, and very nearly can't make it through because now you've got a good chunk of "Life of Brian" running through your head. :)