Named with a joke, then another joke topping that first joke, making the cumulative joke less funny than the original joke, Monty Python (Mostly) Live: One Down Five To Go (Gold Sunday, 7.30pm) indeed proved to be mostly live, thanks to broadcasting restrictions nixing the notion of full exposure to The Penis Song. But wasn’t it awfully nice to have a specially filmed insert by a dragged up Michael Palin to act as a fig leaf over the rude bits? Even though there were no real laughs therein. Recorded the previous Wednesday, this presumably means UKTV can boast the last ever new Python material was written and produced under their sponsorship.
The channel threw all it had at this curtain call for the “Python boys”1, sending Dara Ó Briain through the curtain to reverentially peep into the “quick-change booths” or stalk the corridors whence Gilliam trod. In truth, there’s nothing worse for TV than a backstage party, and that was borne out as Dara – like a party host desperately marshalling the conversation in a prescribed direction – garbled at high volume about how influential Python were on Spinal Tap, while Harry Shearer parried back that in fact they weren’t at all. Scrunched up on a sofa, Martin Freeman tilted forward to try and hear over the convivial hubbub. “If I don’t laugh that much I don’t want my money back,” he said, notching everyone’s expectations at low.
That the final ever Monty Python performance demanded extra hoopla and reverence cannot be denied. But, we come back to the fact that both backstage and parties are hostile territories for live televison. It’s either a credit to Gold that they went there, or sheer folly. Certainly the interval proved a far more successful foray. A hand-wringing Dara expressing perfect embarrassment at the bleeping foisted upon the channel2, and actually stealing a little time with the “boys” themselves, rather than the by-standers. “We’re going to leave you now,” he said to a doorstepped3 Eric Idle. “I’d be very grateful if you would”. Back on the sofa, a wodge of Lee Mack, Warwick Davis and Steve Coogan; the latter unselfconsciously doing that nerdy thing of showboating his Python knowledge in the most joyless tone possible. That’s a true fan.
As for the performance itself, I’ll say little, because the world doesn’t need my opinions ladled on top of everyone’s. But I thought it was great – far better than it needed to be. Far better than Martin Freeman would have us expect. This was a grand, global event and a huge credit to Gold that it was they who’d captured it. A pop cultural moment for a generation, there was a whiff of Live Aid as everyone tumbled out onto the stage – Freeman, Coogan, Brian Cox – during the last refrains of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. If only someone had wrestled their way to a microphone to instruct this singalong to “Let them know that springtime is coming – SPRINGTIME IS COMING”. The comparison holds true if we cast Dara as a hapless David Hepworth, with Cleese – who’s been constantly moaning about his alimony payments of late – making the brusque demands for money.
And talking of brusque demands for money (oh, what linking material!) here’s Dragons’ Den (BBC2 Sunday, 8.30pm) already back for another series. As ever, the opening sequence has had another tweak, and one that I think reveals the production team’s quiet enmity for the quintet of reptiles, placing them slightly too close together in the show’s fictional lift. No one making eye contact, as if Duncan has just guffed. Further bits are dropped in, each seemingly designed to erode those corporate veneers. A cutaway of Peter nibbling a crisp, Deborah (who makes half-jokes and laughs loudly after each) becoming a visual metaphor for herself by trundling around in a little tank, Piers wiping his shirt after embracing a new partner, Peter diligently writing “The best dragon” on a trainer4 with felt-tip as though it were his pencil case.
These side-orders are all very pleasing, particularly when pragmatism kills a moment of drama. When it’s revealed the couple touting low-fat crisps are facing crippling debts, the Dragons melt away. Except for Peter. “That’s me doing it then,” he says. A shiver. But a moment later, he’s also out.
The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway (BBC2 Wednesday, 9pm) continues, and who knew there could be a real TV genre in people wearing high vis jackets? I don’t say that altogether facetiously, because I love these shows. Tonight’s instalment, detailing Crossrail construction under the Thames near Woolwich and widening a Victorian Tunnel at the Royal Docks, couldn’t hold a candle to last week’s which took a giant boring machine through Tottenham Court Road, 85cm above an active tube line and 35cm below the escalators. Nonetheless, we met Mary, a 150-metre long, 1000-ton, tungsten carbide toothed drilling machine. And also Peter Bermingham, who at 70 is on the cusp of retirement, and looking back at a career that has seen him tunnel under the Thames 10 times. So much alliteration. So many endeavours on a scale so monumental, to try and even imagine them seems tiring.
Here’s a dull fact about me – I have Virgin Media’s TiVO service, and sometimes it ‘suggests’ programmes I might like. Delving into that subfolder this week, I found Crimewatch (BBC1 Tuesday, 9pm)5. “Catching the criminals protecting the public,” said Kirsty Young. Oh, hold on, it’s: “Catching the criminals, protecting the public”. Next month, the show will be marking 30 years on screen. But in those three decades, I don’t think it’s ever quite squared off its public service duties alongside its desire to entertain. Criminals caught on camera breaking and entering are described as “the dastardly duo” because one of them is wearing a Batman baseball cap. They escape in a car. “Hardly the Batmobile”. Police hope the public can help identify them. “We need you to be a superhero”. Is this added value, adding limp comedic riffs to such material? Does it make the process of watching bad things happen perhaps a little chucklesome? It’s always seemed a little bit uncomfortable for me. Although, not so much that I’m going to have nightmares.
- A phrase only ever used by John Hannah in Sliding Doors and now Palin in that sketch ↩
- “Did you hear about the pommie bastard who took Viagra instead of his sleeping pill?” No. “BLEEEEEP!” Oh. ↩
- Was there a union issue that prevented Dara from actually entering the dressing rooms? ↩
- Apropos these trainers – the big idea is kids can customise them with pens. During a demo, one child silently says much by simply writing “Nike” on their pair. ↩
- I’m blaming Traffic Cops for steering my logarithm this way ↩