What more can be said about Monty Python that hasn’t already been said? That’s the problem with a truly iconic piece of comedy history: everyone loves it so much that they’ve already laughed at it, dissected it to pieces, and then laughed at it all over again. But if you’re going to ask some people to talk about it once more, you can’t do much worse than the gang of familiar faces rounded up by UKTV for its series Monty Python’s Best Bits (Mostly).
As Hugh Bonneville explains in true Hugh Bonneville fashion (an overly polite British manner that recalls John Cleese), the series comprises a bunch of famous comedians all talking about their best bits of Monty Python, selecting the bit they think is best and explaining why. The result? Monty Python’s best bits. Mostly.
Taking us through their highlights include such people as Chevy Chase, Bill Bailey, Noel Fielding, Tracey Ullmann, Steve Coogan, Lee Mack and even Jim Carrey. The sheer array of talent from both sides of the pond (although the programme could do with many more female comedians) highlights how wide-reaching Monty Python was, informing, shaping and inspiring all manner of performers and writers. But despite that influence, this series reminds you how unique Python were. As Stephen Fry puts it, when talking about the Argument Clinic: “It’s not classic, it’s just stupid. That’s the thing about Python. You can put “esque” on the end of them.”
Eddie Izzard is on hand to express his admiration that he didn’t think of the idea of Hell’s Grannies – a concept so simple that, he suggests, everyone should have thought of it. Bill Bailey champions the musical bleakness of the Vocational Guidance Counsellor, while Harry Shearer pays tribute to The Albatross. Kate Beckinsale is the one who sings the praises of The Lumberjack Song, while Steve Pemberton has an appreciation for the awkward outbursts of The Restaurant. It’s intriguing to see who picks what, as it reveals a lot about their own tastes, rather than brings fresh insight to Python’s work – Jim Carrey’s love of the Kilimanjaro Expedition starts out with a praise of its surreal silliness, but descends into a love letter to Michael Palin, who, in his words “does something to [his] butthole”.
The result is hardly groundbreaking, particularly when put beside the anarchic original TV creation – it’s telling that each episode has to insert an animated interval halfway through to find a way to incorporate Terry Gilliam’s subversive bursts of colourful, hand-drawn imagination – but it’s a pleasant way to dip into the sketch troupe’s diverse, bizarre and deceptively huge back catalogue. And, as the tributes keep coming, it seals the timeless quality of Monty Python’s Flying Circus (and their feature films, which also get a look in). Regardless of whether you’re being told things you already know about the sketch troupe or not, it speaks volumes that all these years later, people still are talking about them.
Monty Python’s Best Bits (Mostly): Season 1 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.