fans rejoice! This renowned BBC series, created and written by Python stalwarts Michael Palin and Terry Jones, provides more of the same surreal, bawdy, tastelessand absolutely gut-splitting hilarity you know and love. The nine lavishly produced half-hour comedieseach starring Michael Palinspoof the stirring adventure stories that were a staple of Edwardian schoolboy life. Plucky heroes triumph over adversity (or not) in such varied settings as Victorian London, Depression-era Yorkshire, WWII Germany, Peru, and India during the Raj.
The Episodes: Tomkinsons Schooldays The Testing of Eric Olthwaite Escape From Stalag Luft 112B Murder at Moorstones Manor Across the Andes by Frog The Curse of the Claw Whinfreys Last Case Golden Gordon Roger of the Raj
Not as well- known as Fawlty Towers
or The Rutles
, Michael Palin and Terry Jones's Ripping Yarns
is poised for discovery as among the best of the post-Python
projects. The release of the complete series on DVD is ripping good news. Palin essays a gallery of colorful (or colorless, as in the case of one of the series' best episodes, "The Testing of Eric Olthwaite"), archetypal characters drawn from the storybook adventures that thrilled English schoolboys back in the day.
Palin and Jones take a Python
-esque delight in turning genre convention on its head. In "Tomkinson's Schooldays," a series benchmark, woeful students must endure such corporeal punishment as being nailed to the school walls, and it is the enviable position of school bully where the real authority resides. "Murder at Moorstones Manor" presents a baffling mystery with a large body count and a rash of self-proclaimed murderers. "Whinfrey's Last Case" and "Escape From Stalag Luft 112B" are tales of wartime espionage and (attempted) derring-do. Ripping Yarns
is an excellent showcase for Palin, who is at his funniest portraying characters either obsessed (a soccer fanatic in "Golden Gordon," an ill-fated car buff in "Manor," and an amateur amphibian-enthusiast in "Across the Andes by Frog") or dreadfully dull (Eric Olthwaite, who is so tedious and boring that his own father speaks French just so he won't have to communicate with him). Jones makes a brief appearance in "Schooldays," and John Cleese fleetingly cameos in "Golden Gordon" as a pedestrian. Beloved British comic actor and Richard Lester veteran Roy Kinnear (Help!
, The Three Musketeers
) costars in "Escape." As with Monty Python
, Ripping Yarns
has a tendency to get silly (in a couple of episodes, Palin hilariously strains for credibility as a hapless, caped host), but the lavishly produced yarns themselves are played to their best advantage without a nudge-nudge, wink-wink. Choose the preferred option to view these episodes without the intrusive laugh-track. --Donald Liebenson
Stills from Ripping Yarns (click for larger image)