Friday, July 1, 2011

The 2011 Summer Re-Watch: Monty Python's Flying Circus "Man's Crisis of Identity in the Latter Half of the Twentieth Century" Review

"Man's Crisis of Identity in the Latter Half of the Twentieth Century" is one of the more insane, stream-of-consciousness episodes in the first season (or series as the Brits term it). Whereas I tried to connect sketches and themes in other episodes, the fifth episode's utterly absurd. The episode jumps between sketches without rhyme or reason. One second, various characters opine about prejudice or customs regulations, then the episode transitions into a sketch about a police constable who mixes up marijuana and sandwiches. It's a madcap 28 minutes of television that's equally bewildering and entertaining.

The sketches throughout the episode are spectacularly written. Each sketch subverts the audience's expectations. Each sketch, besides the bewildering Confuse-a-Cat sketch, begins one way and ends in a completely different way. The troupe were anti-punch line but the majority of the sketches conclude with a quasi-punch line. Several sketches parody middle-class life and BBC shows with seemingly iconic figures in either the health profession or law enforcement profession. Other sketches feels like mid-70s American sitcoms in the set-up and delivery of the punch line, which suggests Hollywood executives and writers ripped off the Pythons because this episode aired in the fall of 1969.

The Confuse-a-Cat is among the most bizarre, bewildering sketches in the four seasons of the show. I watched it, for the first time, several years ago and felt bemused afterwards. The sketch features a veterinarian who speaks directly into the camera when he's making a great point, sort of like TV detectives and doctors who seemingly communicate directly with the audience when someone worthwhile's worth nothing. The veterinarian’s called in by a middle-class British couple who worry about their cat, who sits around and does nothing. The vet believes the cat needs to be confused into action, so he calls in men who professionally confuse cats. The company construct a stage, then perform in the style of the vaudevillians on that constructed stage. The editing's fantastic during the montage of performances. All the while, the cat looks on without emotion. When the company's finished with confusion of the cat, the cat marches off--a job well done. I suppose the point of the sketch is confusion because I'm confused every time I watch the sketch.

The middle portion of "Man's Crisis of Identity in the Latter Half of the Twentieth Century" is the episode's strongest because of the 'lizard, duck and cat sketch,' the 'police raid' sketch,' the 'smuggler' sketch, the 'erotic film' sketch,' and the 'silly job interview' sketch. Each sketch's structure is similar save for 'lizard duck and cat' which segues into 'man on the street' stuff. The police raid begins with a police constable, portrayed by Graham Chapman, accusing a successful actor of possessing illegal substances. The constable tries to frame the actor until he realizes he brought sandwiches with him, immediately wondering what he ever gave the wife. The smuggler sketch, which precedes 'police raid,' is a back-and-forth between a smuggler and a customs agent. Michael Palin's smuggler denies needing to claim anything. The customs officer questions the validity of the smuggler, and the smuggler tries to convince the officer that he IS a smuggler. The smuggler's dragged off for annoying the officer, not for smuggling. The officer then takes a priest into custody for smuggling. In both sketches, the audiences expectations are subverted. Who would expect the cop to mix up sandwiches and drugs or the smuggler to argue that he is, in fact, a smuggler?

The 'silly job interview' always been a favorite of mine because of Chapman and Cleese's performances. Chapman, in particular, always played tightly wound, nervous characters on the precipice of losing it amazingly. Of all the silliness in the show, Chapman perfected silliness, as evidenced by the silly noise he makes when Cleese's interviewer counts down from five (expecting something). The entire sketch is complete silliness. It's fantastic.

Well, I have nothing left to offer about the episode. Every thing else would be variations of how unique sketches were or how silly and great they are. Scour YouTube and watch some of these sketches.

Also, I love the episode title.

UP NEXT--"It's The Arts"


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About The Foot

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.