Sunday, July 20, 2014

My (brief) thoughts on the Monty Python finale

Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Carol Cleveland, Terry Gilliam, and John Cleese together for the last (?) time.

I have just returned, my lovelies, from the local cineplex, where I paid $18 for the privilege of seeing a group of paunchy, jowly, sagging septuagenarians shuffle through some ancient sketch comedy for three hours (with a half-hour tea break in the middle). I would not have missed this opportunity for the world. These affable old-timers, you see, were the five surviving members of Monty Python, and the occasion was the British comedy troupe's "farewell" performance, which was staged at London's O2 Arena and then simulcast to movie theaters around the world. The rapidly-deteriorating comedians tell us that this is "it" for the team. Monty Python is no more. Bereft of life, you might say, it rests in peace. Or in pieces.

So how was the big finale? Was it worth $18 of anyone's money? Oh, sure. I laughed throughout the entire running time, which felt good to do even though I'd heard most of these jokes dozens of times. I even got a few chuckles from the 30-minute intermission, during which the screen went blank apart from a clock counting down the minutes and seconds, because the movie-going audience had not been briefed of this in advance and thought for a few minutes that it might be some kind of high-concept prank. (It wasn't.)

An ad for the concert
As for the rest of the program, it was quaint, sentimental, and nostalgic. The innovators and provocateurs of yesteryear are now the established old guard, and this was a chance for them to cycle through their greatest hits and bits. Some of these golden oldies were conflated: "Vocational Guidance Counselor" became "The Lumberjack Song," "Dead Parrot" melted into "Cheese Shop," etc.

The fact that the show was the brainchild of the group's hammiest and most mercenary member, Eric Idle (the self-described "Greedy Bastard"), was plain to see. This was a slick, Broadway-style revue with a heavy emphasis on production numbers and fit, lean chorus girls and boys leaping and tumbling around the stage as the doddering oldsters watched in appreciation.

For me, though, the highlights of the show were the quieter, more intimate moments when the five surviving Pythons (Graham Chapman died a quarter-century ago) simply took pleasure in sharing the stage with one another. The venerable "Four Yorkshireman" sketch, in which a quartet of wealthy old geezers try to outdo each other with outlandish tales of childhood suffering and poverty, has a special resonance in 2014 because the comedians performing it now really are the age of the folks they're parodying.

As you'd expect, the show ended with a group rendition of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from Life of Brian, and I can't have been the only one who got a little misty-eyed during that. After all, Monty Python has been a huge part of my life since the 1980s, when I first saw their BBC sketch comedy series in reruns on MTV. This really felt like a way of saying goodbye to the boys, plus Ms. Carol Cleveland, the honorary female "seventh Python." Perhaps now, they can be packed up in crates and shipped off to that warehouse from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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