Given the choice, Judge Jeff Andreasen wouldn't have come to arrange a holiday...
Our reviews of The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus Collector's Set (published November 19th, 2008), Monty Python's Flying Circus: Sets 1 and 2 (published October 7th, 1999), Monty Python's Flying Circus: Sets 3 and 4 (published November 23rd, 1999), Monty Python's Flying Circus: Sets 5 and 6 (published May 1st, 2000), Monty Python's Flying Circus: Set 7 (published December 4th, 2000), Monty Python's Flying Circus: Graham Chapman's Personal Best (published March 21st, 2006), Monty Python's Flying Circus: John Cleese's Personal Best (published March 1st, 2006), Monty Python's Flying Circus: Michael Palin's Personal Best (published August 30th, 2005), Monty Python's Flying Circus: Terry Gilliam's Personal Best (published April 5th, 2006), and Monty Python's Flying Circus: Terry Jones' Personal Best (published March 15th, 2006) are also available.
Double-dipping? When a studio's just released an entire series on DVD in special boxed sets and on individual discs, then yes, a "best of" series smacks sorely of double-dipping.
I'm not a Monty Python fanatic. I'll get that out of the way. I've seen many episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus on tape and on PBS, and of course I've seen the movies. But aside from judging Monty Python and the Holy Grail to be the funniest movie ever, and having a fond appreciation of a skit or two here and there, I'm a casual acquaintance. I can't quote chapter and verse from the Bible of Python. So, while this may be viewed as heresy by the faithful, I found myself groaning more than guffawing through this tired collection of snippets from the Monty Python troupe's best of collection.
First and foremost, Monty Python was an ensemble. John Cleese was only as funny as his interaction with the other players. Eric Idle was only as funny as the skit. Sometimes the players had their soliloquies apart from the other members of the troupe, but for the most part Monty Python was a team. Remove a part from the whole and the team is considerably lessened. On their own, the Monty Python players are funny enough, together they are hilarious. Taken as a whole, the best skits delivered by Monty Python are sidesplitting fare. Snipped apart to fill a half-hour vanity piece for a single participant, they're a mess. Without the full context these pieces of skits elicit more shrugs than laughs, especially when presented in the frenetic manner they are on this DVD.
Monty Python's Flying Circus: Eric Idle's Personal Best begins with an interminable introduction by Idle himself at the Hollywood Bowl, site of the legendary Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl performance by the original cast members back in 1982. The intro lingers for far too long, and by the time the presentation began flashing back to the good ol' days, I was already counting the minutes. Bits and pieces of some of the best skits are here, most memorably the "Wink-wink, nudge-nudge, say no more" act that I remember as being hysterical on television. Here, though, the scene is from their Live at the Hollywood Bowl performance, and didn't strike me as funny as it did on Monty Python's Flying Circus. Same with the "Lumberjack Song." Bits and pieces of a skit just don't do it. You need to see the whole thing to appreciate the breadth of the humor. Seeing just the few minutes of Eric Idle's involvement in a skit devalues the hilarious impact of the whole scene, especially when Eric Idle himself is not actually in the skit, as is the case with a few of the excerpts on this DVD.
As for the DVD itself, the video and audio quality is pretty ordinary, though that is to be expected as the analog source material hasn't aged all that well. This drawback doesn't warrant much criticism, though, as the performances are articulated in a clear manner that overcomes the audio's limitations. There's nothing that will (or can, most likely) be done about the video quality. It's okay. It was okay to start with and hasn't improved. Still, I haven't seen a VHS, DVD, or television presentation of the old Python stuff that was in any better condition, so this gripe, too, is more of a shrug than criticism.
The bottom line is: Python fanatics will grab this up to own Idle's opening and closing appearance, but they will already own all the filler in between. If you're interested in seeing the best of the Monty Python crew and don't care about the intros, I don't recommend throwing money away on this DVD. Buy one of the set collections or a movie, which sell for more or less the same price but are far more representative of the troupe's collective genius than this spotlight fare.
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