Monty Python’s Flying Circus is arguably the most iconic comedy sketch show of all time, and it is on the verge of celebrating 40 years of “something completely different.”
The show started in 1969 and was broadcast originally on the BBC. The team, which includes John Cleese, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and Terry Gilliam (all of whom would find major success in solo projects after the show), wrote and performed for four seasons. Totaling 45 episodes, A&E created a “16 Ton” boxed set that includes all of these episodes plus a couple of discs of extras. The shows themselves are remarkable, and they showcased the different comedic talents of each member.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus pioneered the stream-of-consciousness style, an approach that not only avoided the use of punch lines but also provided Terry Gilliam with ample opportunities to link sketches with his surreal animations. Heavy in satire, the show poked fun at the quirks of British daily life as well as politics, organized religion, and even the BBC itself.
Oftentimes, the show would also reference historical and literary figures, appealing to the intellectual, but there was also a plethora of sketches marked with sexual innuendo. All of this culminated in an almost legendary series that aired such infamous sketches as “The Lumberjack Song” (about a cross-dressing lumberjack), “The Spanish Inquisition” (which deals with a bumbling trio of medieval Inquisitors), and “Dead Parrot” (where a man tries desperately to return a dead parrot to a pet shop).
However, that is not to say that every sketch was pure comedic genius. The funniest shows were largely in the first couple of seasons, where the ideas were fresh. By the end of the second season, some of the themes were starting to lose their luster. After John Cleese left, before the final season, there was little incentive to keep watching.
The bonus discs help to make up for this. Included are some of their best sketches showcased live at the Hollywood Bowl and live at Aspen, as well as Parrot Sketch Not Included (their twentieth anniversary show) and Monty Python’s Fliedgender Zirkus (an episode made specifically for German audiences).
However, the set is not perfect. Hardcore Python fans sometimes have a problem with the censorship. There were times when the BBC had to dub certain words deemed too inappropriate for the audience. However, the censorship is really not that much of a nuisance. In any case, it does not take away much from the sketches.
Others also have a problem with the packaging, as the episode listings are vague and it is hard to find specific sketches without having to pop in the DVD first. Unless you just do not care what episode you watch, it can be a hassle. Fans often have their hearts set on watching the “Self-Defense Against Fresh Fruit” sketch at a given moment.
Overall, though, the set is as good as it gets. There really is no other way to find the goldmine of episodes and bonus features in an all-inclusive manner (unless you have the time to sit through a PBS marathon). If outrageous comedy and the best of British satire is your thing, Monty Python’s Flying Circus 16-Ton Megaset is your best bet.