Monty Python's Flying Circus: The First 13 Episodes

John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones. Aspect ratio: 4:3. Mono. 441 minutes. 1969–70. A&E AAE 700441 (discs 1–6), A&E AAE 70044 (discs 7–13). NR. $24.98 each.

Trivia Question: What's the name of the tune used as the theme of Monty Python's Flying Circus?

It's hard for those of us who succumbed early on to Monty Python's very strange brand of TV humor—and who still watch every rerun of it that comes along—to believe that the program premiered 30 years ago and lasted only three-and-a-half seasons. But in that short time Monty Python's Flying Circus built a vast, loyal audience on both sides of the Atlantic, and contributed more memorable one-liners to American culture than did most shows that aired for 10 years or more.

When Americans think of British humor, they think of the gentle roguishness of Peter Sellers or the manic vulgarity of Benny Hill. But Monty Python, to quote their own trademark phrase, is something completely different. A group of five mostly unabashedly upper-class Oxford and Cambridge alumni and one American (Terry Gilliam), Monty Python's Flying Circus (don't ask) was unclassifiable—there had never been anything like it, and probably never will be again. "Weird" pretty much says it all. Each half-hour show consisted of a series of short skits that segued into each other with stream-of-consciousness illogic, punctuated by Gilliam's truly bizarre animations featuring balloons or flowers popping from people's headless necks or pateless heads, and mustachioed bobbies with buxom bosoms. Definitely not everyone's cuppa.

It takes a very special kind of person to be convulsed by a man arguing indignantly with a pet-store clerk who's sold him a dead parrot and won't admit it, a TV interviewer trying to persuade a guest to "prove" he has three buttocks, a confectioner detailing with pride the appalling ingredients he puts in his chocolates, sheep trying to fly by jumping from trees, and a hunky-looking lumberjack vocalizing about the joys of transvestitism. I'm one of those who think Monty Python's a riot, and, judging by their continued popularity 28 years after they disbanded, I'm not alone. This boxed set is for us.

This 30th-anniversary set—officially released on October 5, the date of the first broadcast—covers the entire first season, episodes 1 through 13, and includes many of everybody's favorite skits. Most of these programs were released on laserdisc some years ago in, as I remember, disappointingly soft-looking transfers with annoyingly intrusive laugh tracks. (My local stores unloaded their rental LDs, so I couldn't confirm that.)

These DVDs, though, are everything DVDs should be but rarely are. The audio, although mono, is beautifully clean and natural, without sizzle or dullness, and the picture is consistently very sharp—maybe not as sharp as I've seen, but close. And the color, if a bit undersaturated on some discs, is so good that, after noting how good it was, I didn't pay attention to it again. The extras are odd. But then, why not? They range from informative through funny to, well, odd.

If you're a Pythonite, don't pass this up. A suggestion, though: Don't watch them all at once. Exercise some self-control and limit yourself to one episode a day. They'll last longer, and you'll enjoy them more. Take my word for it.

Answer to Trivia Question: John Philip Sousa's "Liberty Bell" march.