What, No Love for Lllamas?
They weren't so clearly defined as their musical contemporaries. (One of whom financed [i]Life of Brian[/i], what they refer to as the most expensive movie ticket of all time, since his stated reason was "because I want to watch the movie.") I mean, John was I suppose the tall one. Michael was the nice one. Terry G. was the American. And Graham is now the dead one. But try to come up with an adjective for Terry J. Or even Eric. And "tall" only goes so far in describing John. I probably know more about them as distinct individuals than most of their fans, in part because I'm so keen to watch documentaries like this one, and of course there are all those shows where the BBC sends Michael to improbably places. (I'm halfway through [i]Sahara[/i], but Rotten Tomatoes won't let me review it.) But really, because they were comedians and not musicians, they're harder to pigeonhole. Once you figure out anything about them at all, I suppose.
This is a six-episode documentary series commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the television show [i]Monty Python's Flying Circus[/i], technically not the name of the troupe. There is one episode about the pre-[i]Python[/i] days, one about the days of the series, one about the days between the series and the movies, one about [i]Holy Grail[/i], one about [i]Life of Brian[/i], and then one about what's happened since. [i]Meaning of Life[/i] doesn't get its own episode, and [i]And Now For Something Completely Different[/i] barely gets a mention at all. Not that I blame them. There are stories told here that have been told many times before, but there are plenty of new ones. And in addition to interviews with the five living members, there are also interviews with their friends and family, with their colleagues and the comedians influenced by them. Or some; there is a strong argument to be made that no comedian since [i]Holy Grail[/i] came out hasn't been influenced by them.
In fact, Steve Martin considers Eric Idle to be his mentor, but there's no Steve Martin here. Most of the people interviewed are substantially less famous. It isn't that they're nobodies; we do get Eddie Izzard and Seth Green. But Eddie Izzard and Seth Green are at the high end of fame for the people interviewed. Olivia Harrison, of course, because you can't talk [i]Life of Brian[/i] without bringing up George, and you can't interview George himself anymore. There's no one here who's going to upstage the people the series is about, but at the same time, it rather makes you think that discussion of how important and famous they are must be ridiculously overblown. I mean, we focus interminable lengths of time on Russell Brand, and I don't even know why we're supposed to have heard of him, and all he seems to have done was to have made the claim that [i]Python[/i] humour is intelligent a suspect one. Okay, they can't interview Elvis (a [i]Holy Grail[/i] fan any more than George Harrison, but come on!
One of the things which struck me as I was watching was the differences among their early lives. Eric Idle was essentially abandoned in a boarding school at age seven. Terry G. was born and raised in Minnesota, for heaven's sake. The other four had variations on Middle Class British Upbringing, but John's father wanted him to be a chartered accountant and Michael's father just basically didn't want him to be a burden on the family. Five of them went to Oxbridge--John studied law and Graham medicine, for heaven's sake--and Terry G. went to Occidental, erstwhile alma mater of Barack Obama and a bunch of people I've known over the years. And in fact, this may well be what was so revolutionary about the group, that difference in perspective. That touch of [i]Mad[/i] couldn't have hurt, at any rate. And Terry G. was the only one of the lot who was influenced by [i]Mad[/i] growing up, because the other five didn't have access to it.
Obviously, I cannot tell you if you'll enjoy this series even if you don't find [i]Monty Python[/i] funny. Probably you 'll have difficulties with it, given that there are clips scattered through the thing. However, it is also an interesting look into what would become a cultural phenomenon. How six guys from two continents changed the face of comedy and made a ton of money. And have angered a lot of people. I do know that it's possible to just genuinely not think they're funny; my mother just genuinely doesn't think they're funny. Though she's been amused by some of the stuff they've done over the years and I think actually understands what they were doing with [i]Life of Brian[/i], which most of the people yelling about it did not. With comedy, there is always the danger that analyzing it will kill it, pinning it down on a card to be looked at but taking all of its life away. Here, I think it just reminds you that comedians are people, too, without getting maudlin. And it does tell you a lot of interesting behind-the-scenes stuff which I always find worth knowing.