Most of the work of the legendary Monty Python comedy troupe is streaming on Netflix now. Beginning on the BBC in 1969 with Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which ran until 1974, the team of Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, and John Cleese have influenced generations of comedic actors, writers, and directors. Their whimsical, irreverent, and clever style of sketch comedy instantly made them rising stars of British media and eventually launched them to worldwide fame.
The entire Monty Python collection, from The Holy Grail to Flying Circus and even Live at the Hollywood Bowl, is available to stream on Netflix.
Long before Netflix could put its own corporate name above its original programming, the name Monty Python was meant to reflect a slimy corporate executive who would have put their name on a show with which they might have had little involvement beyond funding. Other names for the series were considered, like Gwen Dibley’s Flying Circus, which would have put a random British citizen down as the show’s apparent sponsor, and Bun, Wackett, Buzzard, Stubble and Boot, or Owl Stretching Time. Though these titles would have further leaned into the absurdity at the heart of the program, it worked out for the best as Owl Stretching Time would not likely have caught on, as well as a name for the group itself.
The presence of Monty Python on Netflix means that much of the infamous comedy team’s work is more readily available than it had been, though there was at one point a chance of the original sketch series never being seen again. The BBC planned to erase and re-use tapes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, as it did with many programs as a cost-saving measure, including still-lost episodes of Doctor Who. But they were purchased and saved from oblivion by Terry Gilliam.
Gilliam was the only American member of Monty Python, who similarly has other Americans to thank for their longevity. It was a PBS affiliate in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex of Texas, KERA, that first aired Monty Python’s Flying Circus in the United States in 1974, exploding the group’s popularity and ensuring that they had a long and storied career on both sides of the pond. That career expanded after the end of their television program to feature films.
The BBC planned to erase and re-use tapes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, as it did with many programs as a cost-saving measure, including still-lost episodes of Doctor Who.
Netflix currently hosts two of the Monty Python films, which are probably their best. Their second film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is generally considered the quintessential Python movie, with quotations from its many hilarious scenes echoing across college campuses and across popular culture for decades. From the Black Knight who refuses to give up even after having his limbs cut off to discussions of the migration patterns of swallows to French-accented insults like “Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelled of elderberries,” the film is one of the most quoted of all time.
But Monty Python’s third film, The Life of Brian, which Netflix is streaming, represents a more sophisticated (if still absurdly silly) cultural commentary, as well as the troupe’s most famous foray into public controversy. Though it was nothing of the sort, the film was seen by many, especially religious critics, as mocking Jesus Christ. Though the film certainly mocks the ridiculous ways in which people have used and abused the words of Jesus to marginalize and harm outsiders while religious insiders schism into factions against one another, Jesus is never the butt of the joke.
Netflix does not have Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life or And Now for Something Completely Different, the 1971 film that put new versions of many of their TV sketches on the silver screen. But it does include the entire Flying Circus, along with curated collections like Monty Python’s Best Bits (Mostly) and live performances like Live at the Hollywood Bowl. It also features the insightful and hilarious documentary Monty Python: Almost the Truth (Lawyers Cut).
Monty Python’s influence on comedy can not be overstated, with their impact on early internet humor, particularly people quoting The Holy Grail to each other on message boards.
Following the death of Graham Chapman in 1989, the Monty Python group rarely performed together, though they reunited for one last wildly successful tour, Monty Python Live (Mostly): One Down, Five to Go. Both the official tour recording and The Meaning of Live, a documentary about the tour, are on Netflix. With other collections and documentaries as well, the current selection on Netflix gives you, well, almost the full Monty.
If you’re looking for a place to start, try streaming Monty Python and the Holy Grail on Netflix now.