It was announced last week the entire Monty Python catalog will soon find its considerably silly way to Netflix beginning in April. This is excellent news for people who want another reason to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail or Life of Brian for the umpteenth time, but I’m most excited that all 45 episodes of the groundbreaking sketch series Monty Python’s Flying Circus are coming to the streaming service. Now there’s no reason not to check in to the “Argument Clinic” or buy a “Dead Parrot.”
But everybody’s seen those sketches. People always talk about “Nudge Nudge” or “The Lumberjack Song.” How about the sketches people never talk about? What if someone compiled a list of between eight and nine of these underrated sketches? Would that person be the Beatles of lists or just the Rolling Stones? I guess we’ll find out! Below are 8-and-a-half of my favorite Flying Circus sketches that don’t get talked about enough, in order of appearance.
“Restaurant Sketch” Season 1, Episode 3
Early on, the Pythons didn’t really bother coming up with elaborate or even descriptive names for their sketches. This one also has the alternate title of “The Dirty Fork,” and it finds Graham Chapman and his lady friend, played by usual go-to supporting cast member Carol Cleveland, at a fancy restaurant. When the waiter (Terry Jones) comes over to see how things are going, Chapman mentions his fork is a bit dirty. In typical Python fashion, this escalates very quickly as the rest of the team come out one after the other as a different, higher-up member of the staff, apologizing profusely about the tragedy of the dirty fork.
“Blancmanges Playing Tennis” Season 1, Episode 7
The episodes would often have themes or through-lines connecting everything, even if just on the surface. Some of their repeating sketches are among my favorites, as I’ll talk about later. They rarely did a connected story, but when they did, it was magic. The entire second half of this episode is devoted to a single idea made up of several smaller sketches; it’s a send-up of ’50s science fiction movies. In this one, giant alien French pastries from Andromeda come down to Earth and turn every man, woman, and child into Scotsmen, specifically to win Wimbledon, since everyone knows Scotsmen “can’t play tennis to save their lives.” It’s so ridiculous it couldn’t be anything but a classic.
“Déjà Vu” Season 2, Episode 3
Season two is when I think the Pythons really hit their stride and were doing especially weird and adventurous comedy. A ton more recurring bits, a lot more location filming, and they weren’t afraid to let premises go on and on and then not have a punchline. One of these happens in the third episode of that season when Michael Palin hosts a show called “It’s the Mind” which, this week, is talking about the phenomenon of “Déjà Vu.” Very quickly, Palin starts repeating himself, then things keep happening again and again, such as a phone ringing and a stagehand giving him a glass of water, until eventually the entire show starts over again, and only he seems to notice. Then he goes off to talk to a psychiatrist from the episode’s earlier “Psychiatrist Milkman” sketch, and it goes on much longer and more repetitiously than you think it will.
“Ken Clean-Air System” Season 2, Episode 5
One of the best things the series did was to parody the BBC’s news or documentary programs; they were all the rage at the time. This gave us all-time classics like “Piranha Brothers” and “Election Night Special.” This one in particular is a profile on the boxer, Ken Clean-Air System (played by a hunched and slack-jawed John Cleese), who trains for a big fight against a little girl by rubbing gravel in his hair by the side of the road, and puts a plate of liver under his chair and goes back to bed. It’s just a string of absurdity making fun of the extreme ways athletes prepare; the sketch is as pitch-perfect as it sounds.
“Fish License” Season 2, Episode 10
This sketch is one in a series of sketches the troupe did about a silly person going into a government office or business requesting a silly thing. It comes toward the end of an episode where the first 3/4 are just a documentary on the making of a movie called Scott of the Antarctic and features John Cleese as his plastic-Mack-wearing character Mr. Eric Praline and Michael Palin as the put-upon clerk at a post office. Praline wants to obtain a license for his pet fish–something nobody actually needs. This leads to a prolonged argument about what animals do or do not need to be licensed, and the “Well, actually” nature of Praline leads to some exasperation. It consistently makes me laugh.
“Anne Elk’s Theory on the Brontosaurus” Season 3, Episode 5
With the exception of Carol Cleveland, Connie Booth, and a few other recurring actresses, all of the women characters on the show were played by the members of the troupe themselves, in thoroughly unattractive drag. Usually this would be old ladies or occasionally strangely lascivious ones; in this instance, we just have Cleese playing a woman named Anne Elk who has a new theory (and it’s hers) about the brontosaurus. She shares it on a chat show with Graham Chapman. The entire sketch is just her not saying her theory and instead clearing her throat or setting up the theory via her name and the name of the theory over and over again.
“Thripshaw’s Disease” Season 3, Episode 10
Another Chapman/Cleese sketch, this one leading from a bit where a man has a medical condition where he says words in the wrong order. Cleese is the doctor who diagnoses the disease and names it for himself, “Dr. E. Henry Thripshaw’s Disease,” which then turns into the doctor going on a chat show with Chapman’s host with strange syntax to show a clip from the movie based on his disease, which is just scenes from public domain gladiator movies. It sounds convoluted, but it’s worth it for Chapman’s “Let’s take a…look at this new…filum……….CLIP.”
“Dennis Moore” Season 3, Episode 11
In this one, a very silly recurring sketch set during the 1700s in the time of masked highwaymen, the titular Dennis Moore (Cleese) sets out to rob from the rich to give to the poor, but all he ever does is steal lupines–yes, the flower–from the same group of rich people every day and give to the same poor and sick family every day. We come back to this multiple times throughout the episode and it gets more and more absurd. Each attempt is accompanied by a very funny theme song with these lyrics:
“Dennis Moore, Dennis Moore
Riding through the night.
Dennis Moore, Dennis Moore
with his bag of things.”
“The Cycling Tour” Season 3, Episode 8
This is the one that counts as a half, because it’s the entire episode and not all of it is funny. But the episode follows Michael Palin as a supremely nerdy and annoying man named Mr. Pither (“like ‘Brotherhood’ except ‘P-I’ instead of the ‘B-R-O’ and no ‘hood'”) as he goes on a cycling tour of North Malden, where he falls off all the time because his pump gets caught in his trouser leg. The best running gag in this episode is he meets a friendly man (Terry Jones) who repeatedly gets hit on the head and thinks he’s famous people, going from Trotsky to Eartha Kitt to British Prime Minister Edward Heath. The whole episode isn’t the best, about about half of it is.
Truly, these are just some of the amazing and bizarre sketches to be found in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, all of which will be available on Netflix beginning April 15!
Images: Python (Monty) Pictures