I'm lucky. I got to see Monty Python before most Americans - both on TV and live.
Over the years, this long-time newspaper TV critic has been asked: What's your all-time favorite series? Without hesitation: Monty Python's Flying Circus, the brilliant BBC series marking its 40th birthday this week with a series on the Independent Film Channel.
The timeless comedy was brilliantly written and acted, and that's largely why it still stands up and still doesn't look dated.
Why did I get to see Python before most Americans? I moved to Montreal in 1970 just as the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) was beginning to air the iconoclastic British import. (It finally premiered in the U.S.on PBS in 1975 -- after it had ended its BBC run.)
Plus, the Pythons did their only North American tour in Canada in 1972.
I was at Dorval Airport in Montreal when Python Eric Idle stepped off the plane, spotted downtown Montreal's distant skyscrapers, and announced, "Ah, this must be so the capitalists can be closer to God."
Python member Terry Jones told MSNBC's Keith Olbermann this week (I had no idea Olbermann was such a huge Python fan, but am not surprised): "We did the show without agents, without network interference, and without regard for ratings."
That, plus talent, of course, are the keys to the show's success - and precisely why it will probably never be matched in sheer intelligence and creativity.
When I first saw the then-new CBC import in Montreal, the show's offbeat title intrigued and confused me. The freeform show left me shaking my head at first (if I'd been doing recreational drugs then, it might have helped). I'd never seen anything remotely like it.
But I soon got hooked, and as a columnist at the Montreal Gazette, I also had the privilege of spending time with the Pythons during their 1972 tour, when they were greeted like the Beatles in some Canadian cities. I had never met a group of entertainers like this before: To start with, they were highly educated and articulate. For another, they were actually talented. In other words, they were a complete fluke.
It's been noted that television is an art form trapped within an industry. The Pythons, almost uniquely, circumvented the television industry.
I became a lifelong Python fan. Both our children were raised watching the series and memorizing Python sketches.
Oddly, I even had a role in bringing Monty Python shown in Hawaii for the first time.
It was 1976, and I had taken the job as TV columnist for far-off morning daily the Honolulu Advertiser. I made it a mission to persuade Mary Bitterman, who then programmed Honolulu PBS affiliate KHET, to debut the British show in Hawaii. She relented.
Over the years, I've found myself photographed with many TV stars. But only one of those photos is displayed on my office wall - one of yours truly with the Pythons, taken after their hilarious show in Montreal's Place des Arts.
Monty Python: Almost The Truth (The Lawyer's Cut) airs all next week on IFC, and it includes new interviews with the troupe's five surviving stars.
I wouldn't -- couldn't -- miss a minute of it.
For one time only, the stars were perfectly aligned for this series. Because of its unequaled mix of talent, intelligence, and artistic license, Monty Python's Flying Circus is, and remains, as good as TV comedy ever got. I don't think we'll ever see its equal.
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