Python Night – 30 Years of Monty Python

The Life of PythonSynopsis: In a collection of rare sketches and previously unreleased Monty Python material, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and various guests showcase the much-loved brand of Python comedy. Also included in this irreverent program is a hilarious Python documentary as well as a lost “German” episode, brand-new skits, a “South Park” tribute cartoon, John Cleese’s eulogy of fellow Python Graham Chapman and more.

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Python Night – 30 Years of Monty Python 7.5

eyelights: exclusive, NEW Python material!!!
eyesores: the DVD special features-quality of the programme.

After the success of Monty Python’s reunion at Aspen, the group discussed the possibility of doing a 30th anniversary reunion. Various ideas were batted around by the members but, as seemed to be Python’s fate (that is, until 2014), they couldn’t all agree on what form this would take.

In the end, most of the Pythons decided (Eric Idle opted out, and Graham Chapman didn’t have much of a say in the matter) to write and perform new material for the occasion. They also brought on board a bunch of celebrity friends to produce a two-hour television special for the BBC.

BBC2, not BBC1.

The result, ‘Python Night – 30 Years of Monty Python’, was broadcast on October 8, 1999 – nearly 30 years to the day of the first broadcast of ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’. I say “nearly” because their first episode ran on October 5, 1969, a Sunday. Sadly, October 5, 1999 was a Tuesday.

It was bad enough being relegated to the bloody BBC2, let alone celebrating ‘Python Night’ on a f-ing Tuesday!!!

The show consists of a few different programmes tied together by some skits and animation, the first of which is a 50-minute retrospective hosted and narrated by Eddie Izzard called ‘The Monty Python Story’. This one consists of a quick overview of the troupe’s career and familiar talking points by all involved.

Unlike many other Python docs prior to it, this one benefited from an excellent production, featuring rare sketches from the various members’ early days, plenty of visuals such as picture and props and even bits from influential radio and television programmes such as ‘The Goon Show’ and ‘Q5’.

Sadly, it also feels a bit lazy, with Izzard’s routine being lame, second class comedy – nothing that even nips at the heels of Python, and the Python interviews were held separately, depriving audiences of the troupe’s unmistakable dynamic. Even the celebrity interviews felt vacuous, like filler.

Thankfully, the piece is book-ended by a recurring gag featuring Terry Jones as the Mouse Organist and a number that has Cleese introducing the show, only to go on a vitriolic rant against the BBC and then being threatened by its thugs (in the form of Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam).

Throughout the two hours, an exclusive interview with the Pythons is regularly announced by TV host Peter Sissons, only to have his interview relegated to the last moment of the show, and the show often cuts to Cleese, Gilliam, Jones, Palin and guest Izzard (in lieu of Idle) as Gumbies.

Even Carol Cleveland makes an appearance after ‘The Monty Python Story’, on the same set as Cleese’s opening one, except refurbished as an airline agency (presumably the BBC was having financial difficulties and the Python were poking fun at its shameless corporate sponsorships).

The next programme, ‘Pythonland’, is a short excursion to Monty Python landmarks with Michael Palin, now familiar for his stellar travelogues – and which the Pythons (including him) all pilloried right before it began. He went around and talked with locals, and put up plaques to mark the locations’ significance.

Good idea, but at 12 minutes, it felt cheap, like a mere after-thought; there are far more locations that they could have explored, I’m sure. Still, die-hard fans of the “Fish-slapping Dance”, “Hell’s Grannies”, “The Ministry of Silly Walks”, “New Gas Cooker”, “Seduced Milkmen”, …etc., might enjoy it.

There’s a small skit spoofing the game show “Mastermind” which bridges into a skit about gorillas complaining that they’re treated too well, followed by a (small, fictional) biography hosted by Eric Idle about the man called Monty Python. All are okay, but somewhat lackluster material.

Even the archival material from the old days lacked spark: a sketch that the group apparently made for a British May Day special in 1971, featuring footage and narration from the period, wasn’t bad but not great either. And the wraparound bit by Cleese and Palin to introduce it? Meh.

Perhaps some of the best material (and it’s not saying much) is a South Park tribute to Monty Python, spun from the “Dead Parrot” sketch and then going into Gilliam-esque animation. The last part was very funny. And the closing number, a Meat Loaf-hosted bit on the music of Python, was half-hearted.

But it did yield a clip of Gracie Fields performing “Sing As We Go”, the inspiration for “Sit on my Face”. Brilliant!

Still, it’s not much to go on, and ‘Python Night’ ends up feeling much like a series of DVD special features tied together into a two-hour set. None of it is substantial enough on its own to warrant serious viewing, and the lack of laughs becomes tedious after a while. It’s a bit disappointing.

Which may explain why the programme is not available in the Monty Python boxed sets. It has thus far only been released in a  two-DVD set called ‘The Life of Python’. But it is now out-of-print, and largely unwanted by fans (as based on the prices that it fetches on the resale market).

…and by the Pythons themselves, some of whom have since admitted that it wasn’t their strongest effort (although they believe it has a nice nostalgic quality to it). It’s a damned shame, and a waste of a good 30th anniversary. But there would be others, like the 40th, and the 45th.

And likely a 50th (mark my words).

Date of viewing: March 22, 2015

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