Monty Python: The Other British Invasion is a collection of two documentaries and two short featurettes that deal with how the famous comedy troupe came together and their effect on American TV comedy.
The first doc, the [appropriately] black & white Before the Flying Circus, looks at how the members of the group came together and what their influences were. The five remaining Pythons and various key figures in their evolution are interviewed at length and these interviews are juxtaposed with photos and clips that illustrate that evolution. The second, Monty Python Conquers America chronicles the stealth comedy bombing of American comic sensibilities and how the troupe’s literate silliness changed American TV comedy.
Before the Flying Circus covers the comedy trail the Pythons took – from The Goon Show [Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe] to That Was The Week That Was, with stops for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, A Clump of Plinths and Beyond the Fringe [Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, Allan Bennett and Jonathan Miller]. It charts the course of the five Brits and one American as the tides of comedy inspiration, influence and chance bring them all together – right up to the moment the shipwrecked Eric Idle crawled ashore for the opening credits of the first episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Monty Python Conquers America deals with the slow, unsteady course Monty Python took in becoming one of the most beloved of cult comedy shows in the U.S. before almost literally rocketing to mainstream prominence through the release of their first film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail – and features interviews with such American comedy talents as Carl Reiner, David Hyde-White and Luke Wilson [whose Python connection is that his father broadcast the first episode of the Flying Circus on the PBS station in the progressive, liberal city of Dallas, Texas – where it promptly beat one of the Big Three in the ratings]. Again, the five living Pythons contribute their remembrances of that whole period – which, in a way, culminated with their four-night run at the Hollywood Bowl.
Reiner, Hyde-White, Judd Apatow, Matt Stone & Trey Parker, Hank Azaria, Jimmy Fallon and others talk about how Monty Python changed the course of American TV comedy – with Stone & Parker noting that they owe a lot to the cut paper animations of Terry Gilliam [words like took, stole and such dot their interview].
Various producers, PR people and PBS station heads talk about how this out-there new comedy troupe went from producers of a record that pretty much tanked, to the cult smash of the Python TV series [which became a staple during pledge weeks], to the phenomenon it became after Holy Grail – and how differently it had to be marketed.
Both docs present more than a few “What were they thinking?” moments and contain a lot of new material for Python fans to pore over. Both mix serious reflection with Python silliness in a way that makes them possibly even funnier than they are informative.
Features: Animated Gilliam [Terry Gilliam talks us through the program’s four seasons’ distinctive animated opening credits sequences]; Politically Incorrect – the infamous “A Party Political Broadcast on Behalf of the Conservative and Unionist Party” sketch which only appeared once on TV.
Grade: Before the Flying Circus – A-
Grade: Monty Python Conquers America – A+
Grade: Features – C
Final Grade: A-