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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > British TV > Sketch > Monty Python - Eric Idle's/Michael Palin's Personal Best

Monty Python’s Flying Circus - Eric Idle’s Personal Best + Michael Palin’s Personal Best


Picture: B-     Sound: B     Extras: B-     Programs: B+

(Scores valid for both discs)



Monty Python’s Flying Circus has legs.  12 of them.  And they’ve carried the series — and its stars — to fame and fortune.


Eric Idle has had a decent career since Circus wrapped up through the present when he oversaw the formation of Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Spamalot.  Terry Gilliam has enjoyed one of the most fascinating careers filmdom has seen over the past 20 years with such classics as Brazil, 12 Monkeys, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  Michael Palin has cultivated a reputation for globetrotting and documenting his adventures.  Graham Chapman, before his untimely death, was acting and working steadily.  Terry Jones’ name pops up in writing and directing credits from time to time.  John Cleese, well, no one really knows what happened to him.


But while the Pythons have utilized the talents cultivated on the BBC in the ‘60s, another force has been mining Flying Circus for wholly different reasons: marketing.  A year hardly goes by without some newly repackaged Python material, be it an updated special edition of one of their films or a re-release of Flying Circus itself.  This year has seen not only a re-release of the entire series in box set form—at least the second such box in the DVD format — it also has seen the release of six individual volumes of Flying Circus material under the Personal Best banner, one disc for each Python.


The Personal Best discs represent an interesting entry into the Pythons’ home video lexicon.  One on hand, they are extremely satisfying.  The Eric Idle and Michael Palin discs, for example, cull many of their best clips from the show together in a nearly hour-long program.  Spanning the entire series, and even the Pythons’ live show at the Hollywood Bowl in the early ‘80s, the Idle and Palin discs are extremely satisfying overviews of their Flying Circus CVs.


On the other hand, however, they are merely overviews.  The Pythons’ skills worked best on Flying Circus because it was part of a whole.  One sketch bled into another, which bled into another, and so on, and what these Personal Best sets do is take the parts out of context.  In some instances, you can actually see the beginnings of the next sketch, only to be thrust into an entirely different sketch from a different episode.  It’s not a deal breaker as far as enjoyment from the sets goes, but it does dampen the experience, which is a shame because the Pythons—at least Idle and Palin, anyway—filmed new intros and outros for these sets that perfectly capture their Python sensibility.  So when taken with the iffy nature of the main programs, the nifty openings and closings merely balance off the problems of the programs themselves rather than prime the pump for an excellent romp through Python land.


That said, though, everything on these sets is nice to look at.  The 1.33 X 1 video is clean and crisp, with the lone exception being those Hollywood Bowl segments.  In those, the video can be a bit on the muddy side and difficult to watch.  Audio-wise, the Dolby Digital 2.0 sound quality of the discs is very good, with original mono being stereo boosted for this series.  Clear and precise, the programs aren’t hampered by any distortion from poor audio sources, including the Hollywood Bowl segments, interestingly enough. And on the extras side, both discs come with “Personal Second-Bests,” which is about 10 minutes of extra sketches, and a 15-question trivia game that utilizes the DVD remote.  Both are fun additions that are nice inclusions on sets that would probably have remained barren as far as extras go if released by another company.


Overall, these aren’t bad sets, simply underwhelming.  Stated on the back of the DVD is, “For the PYTHON lover, they’re concentrated joy. For the novice, a dangerously addictive substance to be administered with care.”  That’s at least half right.  These sets are designed for people totally new to the Python universe.  Die-hard fans will likely have these sketches already, though they might be interested in the new openings and closings.




-   Dante A. Ciampaglia


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