A&E // 2003 // 55 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // March 21st, 2006
Some say you can't take it with you. Others just refuse to go. Graham Chapman -- doctor, tall actor, self-wrestler, and really famous dead guy -- is the latter.
Why is it that so many British things I like end so abruptly? Consider the tale of Led Zeppelin. Now, granted, their run of successes lasted almost a decade, but things went away after the tragic death of their drummer, John Bonham. Any chances of a full reunion were squashed for good, despite the worrisome attempts of the surviving members to resurrect past glories. Monty Python's Flying Circus is essentially in that same boat. After less than 50 episodes on BBC for their groundbreaking television program, the troupe went on to do motion pictures, including The Life of Brian, The Meaning of Life, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And tragically, Graham Chapman died in 1989, just before the group's 20th anniversary, putting a damper on any possible reunion attempts.
In briefly covering Chapman's life, many are aware that he was a semi-practicing doctor and that his death from cancer was partially due to years of heavy smoking and alcohol use. In this version of his "Personal Best," the surviving cast members recall him fondly (fellow Python Michael Palin said Chapman was called "late" because the other members always had to wait for him). Chapman's homosexuality is briefly discussed as how it translated to the sketches that appeared on the show, and a larger part of the feature is spent discussing his alcoholism. Frequently Chapman would have to get up and have a drink or two before going in to write with his friends, and often times he would forget what he wrote or be in such bad shape by the afternoon that writing sessions had to be scrapped. What's great about the feature is that all of the surviving Pythons share in the recollections. Their memories would probably have been a better choice to cover the disc than the usual edited sketches that have been included.
But the sketches that are here are most of the gems, in some form or another, most of them intact (I think). "The Dead Parrot," the "Fish-Slapping Dance," and "Ministry of Silly Walk" sketches are here, but what role did Chapman play in them? The other sketches that Chapman helmed or were prominent in do show up, which is nice. Chapman's Mrs. Conclusion and John Cleese's Mrs. Premise show up. The Colonel is one of the first things you see when you pop in this disc. The exploding penguin is here, along with the pantomime horse.
And like the other "Personal Best" discs, this volume suffers from the same overall feeling of incompleteness like the others. Don't show me 2 or 3 minutes of the Dennis Moore "Lupin" thief sketch when there's another 5-7 minutes to enjoy. Don't show the first minute of the "Argument" sketch just because Chapman appears in it, show the whole damn thing! I understand that it's going to be tough to slice and dice each show with an editing machine because of how great their links to sketches were, but don't, as a friend of mine said, kiss me once on the neck and expect to call it foreplay.
Graham Chapman's Personal Best is interesting more for the small gaps in between the meaty stuff. As a moderately serious Python fan, to see any sort of serious remembrance of Chapman by the boys is interesting. Near the end of the feature, members discuss what they like about Chapman, and it's clear that Cleese and Palin still miss him quite a bit. If there was part of the dead horse to beat for the guys in Python, this would be it. In between this and the standard package of highlights, I'd go so far as to say that this disc would be good for those that are still fairly new to the magic of Spam.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 55 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Graham Chapman's Personal Second Best
* Trivia Game
* John Cleese's Personal Best Review
* Eric Idle's Personal Best Review
* Michael Palin's Personal Best Review
* Terry Jones' Personal Best Review