Review: Monty Python’s Flying Circus: The Complete Series

Once upon a time, in a far-away land called England, a handful of British lads (and one American) came together to create some of the greatest comedy in the history of…. well, comedy.

Of course, I’m referring to the comedy troupe known as Monty Python, who pushed the boundaries of comedy with their astoundingly funny series “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” The complete series is gross, naughty, sometimes quite offensive to modern sensibilities – and because of these things, it’s also gloriously witty, strange, subversive, and intensely weird. Not to mention full of glorious spam, wonderful spam.

For dozens of episodes, these guys served up skits on every insane subject you can think of: defense against fresh fruit, the Ministry of Funny Walks, sitcoms based on the family life of Attila the Hun, lupin bandit Dennis Moore, obscene children’s books, semaphores, racing twits, village idiots, goats, psychotic barbers, Vikings, “ALBATROSS!”, killer sheep, lobotomies, pantomime horses, Tudor pornography, Royal Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things, the dirty vicar, and giant alien blancmanges who are turning people into Scotsmen.

Certain sketches have reached the point of immortality, especially John Cleese’s “dead parrot” sketch, in which he plays an increasingly peeved guy who is trying to return a parrot that was “nailed to its perch.” Also Eric Idle playing the obnoxious guy who constantly thinks of sex, and refers to it as “wink wink, nudge nudge… say no MORE!” And of course, THE SPANISH INQUISTION, whose chief weapons are fear, surprise…

There are also some running jokes, like the pantomime Princess Margaret, and a mysterious knight who walks through hitting people with a dead chicken. And of course, Terry Gilliam’s cartoons interspersing the skits — goofy, surreal, sort of like Saturday morning cartoons if Dali were doing the animating. Somehow the use of photographs to animate these little interludes makes them even more bizarre and wonderful.

Okay, not every skit is funny — the “Mouse Problem” sketch takes a great idea and stretches it thin. We get it, it’s like they’re talking about gay people, but it’s actually about guys who feel like they’re actually giant mice. But more often than not, they ARE quite funny. They also mock just about anything, from government officials to art to censorship (unsurprisingly, since they themselves were often censored) to the military (“Real guns, sir. Not toy ones, sir. Proper ones, sir. They’ve all got ’em. All of ’em, sir. And some of ’em have got tanks!” “Watkins, they ARE on our side”).

And all of this by men who often dress up as the world’s most unattractive girls (John Cleese being the most comically ugly of them), with only a tiny budget and minimal cast. The 70s production values are omnipresent, and they are decidedly unpolitically correct. But in a weird way, these only make it even funnier than it would have been otherwise — the writing and acting are pure, raw, unrefined comedy, not caring what anyone else thinks.

Probably the most memorable actors here are Cleese and Idle. Cleese does his psychotic shrieks better than anyone, as well as having that rubbery lanky body that twists itself into Silly Walks. And Idle not only has amazing comic timing, but he can adjust his voice and body language to… anything, from domestic goddesses to sleazy TV hosts. But the other actors are quite good too, especially Michael Palin, especially when he’s playing someone timid or crazy.

This classic comedy series not only became a pop culture staple, but it’s still fresh and funny more than thirty years after it was made. “Monty Python’s Flying Circus: The Complete Series” is definitely a must-have.

And now for something completely different…

A paeon to Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil

WARNING: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

For some reason, horror movies seem to be particularly susceptible to parody and tongue-in-cheek deconstruction. I haven’t seen as many parodies of action movies or romances. Even sci-fi movies haven’t had as many parodies or deconstructions as horror. Maybe it’s because there’s tension both in horror and comedy, leading to sudden releases.

And people might point to Cabin in the Woods (Joss Whedon is an overrated ass) as a primo example, or the Scary Movie movies, or Young Frankenstein for a classic… but in my opinion, one of the greatest is Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil. This is a parody of slasher-killer/killer-hillbilly movies that also just happens to be a really good movie.

The reversal of the hero/villain dynamic is the most obvious way of lampooning the genre — in this, the protagonists are the hapless hillbillies who just want to go hang out at their decayed vacation house, catch some fish, and fix their new place up. Tucker and Dale could not be more amiable and down-to-earth, and the only reason they ever come across as creepy to anyone is A) Dale’s social awkwardness, and B) the college kids’ preconceptions of hillbillies as dangerous, disgusting and amoral.

Conversely, the college kids — usually depicted as hapless victims in horror — are mostly morons who accidentally kill themselves by doing things like leaping into wood chippers or splashing paint thinner on a fire. The antagonist, however, is one of these college kids, a psychotic hater of hillbillies who decides to declare war on Tucker and Dale after the two rescue the girl he’s hoping to molest.

So the subversion of horror is pretty well handled in its own right — it takes the stuff we’re familiar with and flips it on its head. But the movie wouldn’t be as excellent as it is if it were just “haw haw, it’s funny because they’re dying due to their own stupidity rather than because of killer hillbillies! It is funny because that usually doesn’t happen in horror movies!”

Because… the characters are almost all really good and well-handled, and everything that happens more or less organically flowers from who those people are. Even the less developed characters (such as the various college kids) have fairly consistent and sensibly-drawn characters (despite the blonde girl who’s dressed very badly for a woodland camp-out). Except for the psychotic guy, they all behave like… real people. Sometimes not very smart real people, but real people. For instance, one guy decides “screw this, I’m finding the police” and does just that. It doesn’t turn out well, but he does do the sensible thing.

And there are character arcs (Dale having to develop self-confidence and strength), developed character relationships (both romantic and platonic), several Chekhov’s guns (I won’t mention what they are, because some are spoilers), and it ramps up the tension gradually, punctuated by some hilarious accidental deaths.

I won’t go into too much detail about Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, but I will say that I really don’t think it would be as effective a horror-comedy/deconstruction/parody if it didn’t have such well-developed characters and such a solid plot.

Oh, and it’s insanely funny as well.