Series 1, Episode 2: Sex & Violence, originally broadcast 12 October 1969. What I find interesting about the second episode is that it’s much funnier and more coherent (such as Pythons can be coherent) than their debut episode, but it’s actually the first one they filmed. There are quite a few memorable gems in this one.
After the It’s Man introduces the show (it takes him 33 seconds this time, crossing grassy dunes with unexpected hallway and door sound effects every time he’s out of shot) and the opening credits, a City Man (Jones) meets a surprisingly erudite Country Bumpkin (Chapman), whose sheep are ‘laboring under the misapprehension that they’re birds’ which proceed to fail to fly. It’s revealed it’s the fault of the ringleader sheep, Harold, who’s put the idea into the flock’s heads. The conversation between the two men is interrupted by two French boffins sharing a fake mustache (Cleese and Palin), explaining the possibilities of sheep aviation with increasingly outrageous gestures.
After a few linking bits (including Idle providing the very first use of their soon-to-be-famous tagline “And now for something completely different…”), Cleese interviews a man with three buttocks (Jones). The Pythons shift this simple joke wonderfully by cutting away briefly; upon return, the whole sketch is started all over again until Cleese stutters to a halt, mumbling…”wait…didn’t we just do this?” (Jones’ response is “I thought this was the continental version!”) They then shift it even further by providing a variation — a man with two noses — and then returning to the joke later in the show with a man with three noses!
Meanwhile, Palin introduces us to a man who claims he can play ‘The Bells of St Mary’ on his “mouse organ” (and proceeds to play said organ rather violently with mallets, until he’s tackled out of the shot by a cameraman), and quickly cutting away once more to the Marriage Guidance Counselor sketch. This is Eric Idle at his finest, writing a devastatingly uncomfortable-yet-hilarious sketch, completely taking advantage of Palin’s limp noodle of a man in crisis. It truly shows that while the other Pythons are adept at absurdity and silliness, Idle prefers to go straight for the jugular while still being funny. [The skit ends with another visual gag that will get repeated use: the knight in shining armor boffing someone on the head with a rubber chicken for ruining the sketch.]
After another link (a Candid Camera style filmed sequence that doesn’t quite work, and was later edited out of the US version of the episode), Idle returns in another sketch: The Working-Class Playwright. The roles are wonderfully reversed here in this kitchen sink drama pastiche, with the rebel son coming home from his honest job as a miner to his angry and jaded playwright father and socialite mother. It’s a brilliant skit and executed with pinpoint timing.
We’re then given a handful of short links that not only brings a handful of open-ended skits from this episode to a close (the man with 3 noses, an animation of Harold the Sheep being chased and shot down) but one that ties in with a skit we won’t see for quite a few episodes (Cleese as A Scotsman on a Horse). This is another Python riff – returning to the joke much later, and often unexpectedly. It’s followed by Cleese’s riff on late night TV debate, mixing the argument for the existence of God with wrestling. The bit falls a bit flat but is saved by more animated Gilliam strangeness.
The final skit is a hilarious riff on dramatic human interest documentaries (in this case, drug use) by focusing on The Mouse Problem: people who think they’re mice. Written by Cleese and Chapman, it does not hold back by continually punching upwards. This is the brilliance of their skits; when the easier approach would be punching down, say, only making fun of those with the alleged problem. But it also hits hard on the vox pops comments and the so-called experts that obviously have no empathy towards these mice people.
This second episode works so much better than the first, with much smoother segues and links and related skits. There are still a few slow moments, but they’re definitely getting there.
It’s the third episode, in my opinion where they finally hit their stride and delivered one of the best episodes of the first series.
Coming Up: Episode 1.3: How to Recognise Different Types of Trees from Quite a Long Way Away