A mountaineer with double vision can’t understand why his expeditions keep failing (“We were trying to build a bridge between the two peaks”). A lumberjack belts out a rugged celebration of his deeply un-lumberjackish lifestyle (“I put on women’s clothing and hang around in bars!”). A mentally ill Northerner plans to be the first man to jump the English Channel. A nerdy handyman repairs the bicycles of hapless superheroes. Bank-robbers mistakenly stick up lingerie shops (“Just a pair of panties then, please...”). A gaggle of braying aristocrats compete in games to out-idiot each other. Blancmanges from space take over the world by playing tennis. Then there’s the man with a tape recorder up his nose...
And when the mentalness hits critical mass or the ideas start to sputter? Simply wheel in a man wearing a suit of armour to bop someone on the head with a chicken. Or cue up one of Terry Gilliam’s creepy-surreal chop-job animations (human hands push up and blossom from cartoon hillsides; carnivorous prams devour luckless coochy-cooers; a pink-faced man named Conrad Poohs makes his teeth do a little merry dance in his mouth).
Welcome to Pythonworld where, after those bitty compilation DVDs and hasty Region 1-ers, it’s finally time to ditch the scruffy, 10-year-old VHS copies-of-copies and embrace something completely, digitally, different. But in a move Graham Chapman’s Colonel would surely condemn as “very silly indeed”, they’ve forgotten to include any of the extras. No commentaries, featurettes, nothing (the one star is for individually selectable sketches).
There isn’t the faintest impression that anyone has bothered to put a call in to Cleese, Idle, Palin, Jones or Gilliam. Given the (over)familiarity of the material to fans, it’s a monstrous fumble.
Luckily, the material still sparkles brightly enough to stand alone – despite the fluffed lines, rickety sets, lo-fi feel... The Pythons’ confidence was boosted by their revue background, but they didn’t really nail it in terms of ideas and performance polish until series two. Mostly, though, the coltish charm just makes it funnier.
And even if it feels like you’ve been there, sniggered at that or quoted the sketch with the albatross-selling usherette a thousand times before, re-watching early Python is still a rare pleasure in itself. It’s like spooling back to a washed-out Britain hovering in cultural purgatory between the groovy ‘60s and gloomy ‘70s. Bowler-hatted commuters; upstanding bobbies; beach-shy Brits with knotted hankies on their heads (henceforward known as ‘Gumbies’); Play For Today; brown, beige, black-and-white TV; net curtains; flowery carpets; flowerier wallpaper; Austin Allegros; Triumph Toledos...
And Christ, the sideburns.