I discovered “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” along with “Fawlty Towers” and “Not the Nine O’Clock News,” on my local PBS station when I was a kid. I admit the initial attraction was the fact that they were uncensored, so I’d get a glimpse of a boob or hear a swear word that was verboten on American TV, but I quickly came to grok the humor, especially the Pythons’ brand of absurdist, “life is a comedy” funny business.
Despite my love of the Pythons, I admit I didn’t know a lot about their early days until I reviewed the “Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut)” documentary, and now I’ll confess I had never seen one of their live shows until I watched this “Monty Python Live (Mostly): One Down, Five to Go” Blu-ray. (Yes, I’ve never even seen their Hollywood Bowl show on home video.)
I went cold into this recording of their final show from the 10-night run at the O2 Arena in London from this past July, and I’ll admit I now understand why some people flew to England just to see the Pythons one last time. The show is more than just a greatest hits performance of their best-known sketches: It’s a tour de force of musical numbers, twists on classic comedic bits, and more, with a cast expanded well beyond the surviving Pythons and including Carol Cleveland, who I of course had a boyhood crush on and who still has no trouble playing the straight role.
A few surprise guests pop up too, including Mike Myers during the “Blackmail” sketch, Eddie Izzard (the Bruces sketch), physics professor Brian Cox, and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. Cox and Hawking show up in a funny pre-recorded segment in which the former takes exception with some of the lines in “Galaxy Song” and the latter runs him over in his wheelchair before zooming into the sky and flying through the universe — the video then cuts to a shot of Hawking in attendance at the show.
There are many such pre-recorded segments during the show, including clips of old sketches that allow Graham Chapman to live on. The classic sketches that are performed live typically feature small portable sets decorated in the style used on the show — Even though the Pythons have performed those bits zillions of times in their careers, they still make a few mistakes here and there, particularly John Cleese, but the flubs just add to the joy of the show. It’s kind of like watching an old-timers baseball game: Sure, Steve Carlton isn’t going to throw a blazing fastball, but it’s fun to just see him toss pitches again.
The show runs a bit over two hours, and the Blu-ray also includes about 20 minutes of behind-the-scenes material, including early run-throughs of the sketches, costume fittings, highlights from the other nine performances at the O2, and a glimpse of the behind-the-stage goings-on while a performance is in progress. Finally, you get the full green screen footage of various Pythons as the Pepperpots and the Gumbys, for clips shown at different points during the show. I would have liked a bit more in the bonus department, such as some interviews talking about their reasons for doing the show, their history of doing live shows, and so forth, but that’s not a terrible loss here.
There’s also a nice booklet that includes funny biographies of the six Pythons and Cleveland, along with a list of all their previous tours and some pictures and quotes from that bygone era. If you’re wondering if this will indeed be their final performance, a photo on the back that says “Monty Python 1969 – 2014” confirms it.