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By Brad Cook | October 27, 2009

Like a great sports coach whose philosophies reverberate through a league as his assistants move on to their own head coaching jobs, so too has Monty Python’s influence cascaded through the world of popular culture. It has resulted in such films as “A Fish Called Wanda,” “The Rutles: All You Need is Cash,” and Terry Gilliam’s “Time Bandits” and “Brazil.” Also included are the works of Douglas Adams (he received a writing credit on one episode and appeared in two others), Michael Palin’s travel documentaries, and many more endeavors that I can’t cram into this paragraph. Heck, even the word we use for junk e-mail comes from a Python sketch.

As the nearly six-hour “Almost the Truth” proves, Python was also a major influence on a generation of comedians who have carried forward the group’s penchant for absurd situations and biting satire. Bill Jones (son of Terry) and Ben Timlett spoke with not only Python’s five surviving members but also a wide variety of guests, including Iron Maiden lead singer Bruce Dickinson (not a comedian, but obviously a huge fan), Seth Green, Dan Akroyd, Eddie Izzard, Stephen Merchant, and many others. Graham Chapman is represented through archival interviews as well as comments from his partner and others who knew him.

The personal stuff takes up the bulk of the first of “Almost the Truth’s” six episodes, delving into the Python members’ childhoods before moving on to their college careers, their early involvement in BBC TV, and how they ultimately came together to create their seminal show. Not knowing much behind-the-scenes information about the group before now, I enjoyed the documentary’s progression through the next five episodes as it covered the TV series’ growing popularity and export to America, the live shows and movies, and more. Your mileage may vary, depending on your level of interest in Python and how much you already know about the group. (Elvis was a big fan; I have to admit that threw me for a loop.)

“Almost the Truth” takes up the first two discs in this set, while a healthy serving of bonus features fill the third platter. They include outtakes from the documentary (the SPAM Museum is a great example of product marketing in action, which may be why it was cut, while Dickinson’s “I wish to register a complaint” story takes customer service to a new level – or depth, depending on your view), extended interviews with the five surviving Pythons, a gallery of Terry Gilliam’s unique images, and complete versions of the most famous sketches discussed during the documentary.

By the time you’re done, you may feel like Mr. Creosote, stuffed to the gills and unable to eat another bite. That’s when I would suggest a wafer-thin mint: perhaps another viewing of a favorite sketch (might I suggest the oft-overlooked “Fish Slapping Dance”?) or a complete episode from the series, which is also available on DVD. Or how about indulging in one of their movies?

I’ll get the bucket….

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