TV picks of the week: Pythons reprise holy cow

The stars of Holy Flying Circus try to fill the shoes of comedy legends. Photo / Supplied
The stars of Holy Flying Circus try to fill the shoes of comedy legends. Photo / Supplied

Pick of the week: Holy Flying Circus

As Brian Cohen, the hapless hero of Monty Python's Life of Brian, finds out, it can be tricky stepping into the shoes of someone worshipped by all. And the fear of not passing muster was on the minds of all six actors cast as Pythons for a BBC comedy drama about the release of the film in 1979.

Holy Flying Circus tells the story of the making of Life of Brian, and the righteous fury that surrounded the release of its satirical take on the gospels. It's the first attempt to dramatise the activities of the sextet who transformed British comedy on the big and small screens.

Coming together to play Michael Palin, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and the late Graham Chapman, the performers admitted to feeling odd about playing men who have the status, if not of modern-day messiahs, then at least of comedy gods for their fans around the world.

During the filming of BBC4's Holy Flying Circus, written by Tony Roche, co-writer of In the Loop and The Thick of It, its stars were initially wary of impersonating such famous comics. "We wanted to be affectionate about the Pythons and we all had a sense they were our comedy heroes," said director Owen Harris. "You could feel the anxiety in the room when the actors got together in character for the first time. We had a room full of Pythons."

Comedian and writer Steve Punt, who plays Idle, found the humour of Roche's screenplay guided the performances. "When you are playing someone who is not only an icon of comedy but who is still alive, it does feel pretty strange. But the secret is the script. It is funny and not at all a forensic depiction of the people. It captures the spirit of the Pythons."

While a docu-drama, Holy Flying Circus aims to be a comedy in its own right. "It has a very different tone from other films in that strand," said Harris. "We are calling it a fantastical reimagining." Inspired by Python, the director says the film tells its story in an unorthodox way. "It is non-linear for a start, and has animation in it like Terry Gilliam's work. We took his drawings as a starting point and then applied our own craft. In the end some of the sequences are rather like the American cartoon Family Guy, although not visually."

The new drama centres on a notorious television confrontation that took place in 1979 between two of the Pythons, Cleese and Palin, and the Roman Catholic writer and broadcaster Malcolm Muggeridge, who believed that Life of Brian was a scurrilous attack on Christianity.

"You might say Holy Flying Circus is a comedy equivalent of the film Frost/Nixon, marking a historic TV moment, but that was much more factual and we are playful, although the debate itself is verbatim," explains Harris. "I do wonder whether viewers will realise that, because some of it is quite extraordinary."

Although Life of Brian was a box-office success, it was met with international protest from religious groups. Its plot centred on the unfortunate chain of events that follow the mistaken identification of a young Judean man as a new religious leader. Reluctant to the last, Cohen, played by Chapman, is tragically unable to clarify the misunderstanding.

Where: UKTV
When: Tonight, 8:30pm
What: The Life of Brian's second coming

Fantasy pick: Once Upon a Time

In the action-packed finale of the first season of this fantasy series, bold bail bondswoman Emma (who's actually the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming) finally started to believe her son and realise that the residents of Storybrook were displaced fairy tale characters.

She managed to break the evil Queen Regina's curse with a kiss, and so as season two kicks off, reality and myth start to merge more as the characters begin to regain their fairy tale identities and powers.

Despite the curse being broken, they're disappointed to find that they've not been transported back to the fairy tale world, and that Regina still holds power.

Fans can look forward to the appearance of many more characters in season two.

When: Thursday, 8.30pm
Where: TV2
What: The curse has been broken

Crime pick: Police Ten 7

New Zealand's original, behind-the-scenes reality cop show returns for its 20th season (that's 12 years on air), and to celebrate the team get a bit lovey-dovey. Yes, it's the Valentine's Day special which takes a look at the craziest canoodling couples the police have had to deal with over the years.

The show, hosted by Detective Inspector Graham Bell, wouldn't be the ratings winner that it is without featuring more of the dangerous and crazy antics of the crims. Like the suspended driver who takes exception to the police pulling him over and an enterprising thief who uses a trampoline to escape custody.

As always, Bell is keen to "clean up the streets of New Zealand" with the help of you, the home viewers, by gleaning any information you might have on the cases the series covers.

When: Thursday, 7.30pm
Where: TV2
What: Back on the beat

Comedy pick: Anger Management

After the first 10 episodes of Charlie Sheen's latest sitcom screened in the United States, the order went out for 90 more - here's season two.

This series, Sheen (as a baseball star turned anger therapist) continues to get mixed up in the lives of his patients and infuriates his ex-wife and daughter. Plus he's got his difficult father (played by Martin Sheen) pushing his buttons, too. Of course, the woman who manages to prick Charlie's conscience the most is fellow therapist, best friend and sometimes bedfellow, Kate (Selma Blair). In this season-opener, the pair are forced to evaluate their friendship when Charlie takes Kate to his sister's baby shower (Kate doesn't like babies - "they have no concept of my importance"), to find they're beating married couples at a game called "newlyweds".

When: Sunday, 8pm
Where: TV2
What: The blurry line between patient and therapist

Current Affairs pick: 20/20

TV2's tabloidesque tilt at current affairs returns tonight with its all-female local reporting team of Sonya Wilson, Emma Keeling, Erin Conroy and Hannah Ockelford.

The first instalment has the show hitting the hens' night circuit, and the male strippers who make a living by taking their clothes off in front of groups of screaming women.

Meanwhile, from the United States Nick Watts reports on what it's like to be a less-than-slim assistant to a celebrity - including Kathy Griffin's PA Tiffany Rinehart and John Taylor, the Jonas Brothers' 160kg guitarist.

And on the flip side there's a look at global weight-loss scams - claims backed by celebrities and well-known organisations which are happy to take your money but do little to help people slim down.

When: Thursday, 9.30pm
Where: TV2
What: From strippers to weight-loss scams, to Hollywood interviews

- Observer, TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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