While I was clocked in! Minus the cab chase ... and fear of murderous intentions.
This Sunday, the five surviving members of Monty Python gathered at London’s O2 to say bon voyage to future windows of follow up reunions, announcing this event as the very last time (“probably”) they will appear together on stage. Titled “Live (mostly),” the show will be simulcast to theaters worldwide via Fathom Events, several months before the 45th Anniversary of Monty Python’s Flying Circus's debut is recognized if not celebrated with plate smashing.
Given that Live (mostly) is billed as a final farewell, however, the fact it happens in 2014 instead of sooner/later gives reminder that this year is anniversary to another somber period in Python history. This fall also marks 40 years since the Pythons aired their fourth and concluding season of Flying Circus before moving on to more cinematic and individual endeavors.
Due to off-screen issues amid the members (John Cleese would refrain from taking part in the season), that run of 6 episodes in 1974 is remembered today as a major transition period in where the troupe would go, or in other words, their first farewell. The series’ initial syndication to American TV audiences and their first "non-sketch" film made the Pythons international stars by mid-1975, yet the airing of “Party Political Broadcast” that December marked a coda to the group’s weeknight presence on British sets.
It signified the issue of patience running out among the remaining members on the written material, which got thicker and thicker in recycled, dragged out dialogue (to the point that the latter issue itself was likely mocked through the "Tinny Word" sketch and Teddy Salad’s lines in “Mr. Neutron”). It was perhaps the expectation of higher bars set in absurdity than the first two seasons, however, that can be blamed for such decried "weaknesses." Not that this was wrong, given how ahead of the times Python was in such narrative content. Such expectation, however, undermines the fantastic delivery of the cast that made numerous sketches deserving classics despite noticeable regurgitation.
So here’s a look at some sketches from that season that deserve more love; well, at least more than the ilk of ”Cheese Shop” and “Silly Job Interview”.
The Court of George III/Zeppelin (Episode 40, “The Golden Age of Ballooning,” air date 10/31/74)
Anachronistic because it’s Python, the episode premise follows historical innovator siblings the Montgolfiers, who just want to enjoy stereotypically "French" (wife-snatching) and not so "French" (bathing) pleasures. Working to their disadvantage, however, is a “royalty” figure out to grab their revolutionary blueprints who fails to iron out the wrinkles of his cover story. The shining moment comes when the plans are proposed to King George III and dissolved over one Montgolfier’s arrival into a chaotic mix of scuffling and R&B music; enough to make poor George prematurely loony. The children’s story intro works hilariously with Graham Chapman’s facial expression, the Python trademark of sending up the Scottish is refreshed, the Encyclopedia Britannica throw-in is worth applauding, and the moment of randomness works thanks to the running gag cues.
The later-occurring airship sketch is even more riotous, with Chapman unloading over noun use mishap and creating carnage that leads downward into a German family’s home, all of which might have been the group’s way of taking the piss out of their prior Fliegender Zirkus associates with no ill intent (I think). Just be patient with the drawing room follow up, there’s a snicker inducing slideshow to follow. Bonus points for Palin's "No, I'm fine here, thank you, oh..."
Woody and Tinny Words (Episode 42, “The Light Entertainment War,” air date 11/14/74)
The comedy is actually straightforward, with the only hint of surreal imagery coming from the house servants; the silly occurrences are kept offscreen until Michael Palin’s bantering pilot shows up. Here the trivial subject matter is vocab-related, but the pacing of the main three speaking parts frequently garners the right reaction. The dialogue is easily followed no matter your word depth, the punchlines are solid, and the ending maintains a clear transition instead of a crowded mess.
Bogus Psychiatrists (Episode 43, “Hamlet,” air date 11/21/74)
The sketch imposes that identity theft can be just as laughable as it is scary, though the same can be argued of today’s Horror genre output. Terry Jones (impressively fit this season) holds it together against Chapman, Palin and Eric Idle’s personality shifts, but the selling point has to be Terry Gilliam’s “doctor” barging in and cutting to the chase without false buildup.
Post-box Ceremony (Episode 44, “Mr. Neutron,” air date 11/28/14)
Palin’s gusto deliverance of the repeated word should put this in the Pantheon of Python moments, and thanks to the language flips, few mid-sketch narration segues during the show’s run were better than the following: “But soon, this quiet pattern of life was to change irrevocably.”
Most Awful Family in Britain (Episode 45, “Party Political Broadcast,” air date 12/5/74)
Who else but Chapman could inspire a million future punk rock girls, and Gilliam for all his limited speaking moments gets the benefit of delivering the final season’s (disputably) most memorable line: “I’VE RUN OUT OF BEEEAANNSS!” Yet the highlight line of this sketch? "I think it's disgusting, you a member of Parliament!"