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Chris Hicks: Python’s ‘Personal’ collections are laughing matter

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Michael Palin, left, and John Cleese in a sketch from "Monty Python's Flying Circus." Four "Personal Best" collections are new to DVD.

Michael Palin, left, and John Cleese in a sketch from “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” Four “Personal Best” collections are new to DVD.

Deseret Morning News Archives

These TV episodes — led by the Monty Python collections that began airing on PBS last week — will be in stores on Tuesday.

"Monty Python's Flying Circus: John Cleese's Personal Best" (A&E, 1969-74, not rated, $19.95).

"Monty Python's Flying Circus: Terry Gilliam's Personal Best" (A&E, 1969-74, not rated, $19.95).

"Monty Python's Flying Circus: Terry Jones' Personal Best" (A&E, 1969-74, not rated, $19.95).

"Monty Python's Flying Circus: Graham Chapman's Personal Best" (A&E, 1969-74, not rated, $19.95).

These hourlong skit compilations (with more footage among the bonus features) are a scattershot affair. While many of the most-famous and beloved sketches are here, these discs are not "best-ofs" in the traditional sense ... not that anyone expects "traditional" from Monty Python.

The titles say "Personal Best," but they're really "favorites" of each participant. So Cleese's choices include many skits he's not even in (the only "classic" has Cleese teaching class members how to protect themselves when attacked with fresh fruit). And, disappointingly, his is the worst disc, largely due to the wraparound sequence that has him playing a "94-year-old" version of himself, barking profanely in a very unfunny manner.

The others come off better. Jones' disc includes the killer joke, little-old-lady delinquents and the fish-slapping dance. And the late Chapman's disc has a more serious documentary feel as the surviving Pythons talk about him, and it includes the first part of the argument clinic, as well as two that seem like odd choices since he's not in them — the Ministry of Silly Walks and the dead parrot.

Surprisingly, Gilliam's may be the best — it's certainly the most well-focused, comprised almost entirely of his animation, with dancing teeth, killer cars and, my favorite, the little old lady who trips a bus! (Of course, these are naughty at times, and there are nude photos.)

Extras: Full frame, featurettes, interactive quiz, subtitles, chapters. (Collections of Eric Idle's and Michael Palin's "Personal Best" episodes came out last year; a set of all six retails for $79.95.)

"Television Favorites: The Drew Carey Show" (Warner, 1995-99, not rated, $9.97).

"Television Favorites: Welcome Back, Kotter" (Warner, 1976-78 not rated, $9.97).

"Television Favorites: Night Court" (Warner, 1984-88, not rated, $9.97). These are each one-disc compilations of selected episodes.

— "Drew Carey" can also be raunchy at times, but these episodes were obviously hand-picked, including the first appearance of Mimi (Kathy Kinney), the delightful opening sequence with animated Daffy Duck tormenting Drew, and a hilarious show in which Drew starts dating his barber — a wild child played with high energy by Jamie Lee Curtis. It's also fun to see the evolution of the opening credits over the years with three different songs (culminating, of course, with "Cleveland Rocks").

— "Welcome Back, Kotter" makes its DVD premiere with shows concentrating on Gabe Kaplan and his sweathogs (including John Travolta), and each one opens and closes with Kaplan telling an "uncle joke." Amusing in an old-fashioned, almost vaudeville way.

— "Night Court" has a first-season DVD set that's been out for awhile, so the pilot here is a repeat. But other episodes are from various later seasons — and one features Teri Hatcher as the sexy neice of Dan's boss, and John Larroquette is hilarious trying to fend off her advances.

Extras: Full frame, six episodes each from various seasons, trailers, subtitle options (English, French, Spanish), chapters.

"NewsRadio: The Complete Third Season" (Sony, 1996-97, not rated, $39.95, three discs). This hilarious sitcom about a radio newsroom full of oddballs was flying high this season, with very funny material and great chemistry between the members of the ensemble cast: Dave Foley, Maura Tierney, Phil Hartman, Vicki Lewis, Joe Rogan, Khandi Alexander, Andy Dick. Look for guest appearances by Jerry Seinfeld, Ben Stiller, Jon Stewart, Norm MacDonald, James Caan, etc.

Extras: Full frame, 25 episodes, audio commentaries, featurettes, bloopers, subtitle options (English, Portuguese), chapters.

"The Beverly Hillbillies, Volume 2" (MPI, 1963, not rated, color and b/w, $34.98, four discs). After a few episodes, this venerable sitcom switches from black and white to color as the Clampetts continue to mystify those around them by not appreciating their enormous wealth.

Extras: Full frame, 27 episodes, audio commentary, new interviews, commercials with the cast, outtakes, chapters.

"Charmed: The Complete Fourth Season" (Paramount, 2001-02, not rated, $49.99, six discs). Alyssa Milano and Holly Marie Combs are joined by Rose McGowan (replacing Shannen Doherty) in this fourth season about young, sexy good witches of San Francisco battling evil spirits and demons.

Extras: Full frame, 21 episodes, language options (English, French), optional English subtitles.

"Elizabeth I: The Virgin Queen" (WGBH, 2006, not rated, $29.95, two discs). This four-hour episode of "Masterpiece Theatre" (in two parts) about the famed queen who loved unwisely and was manipulated by those around her is an excellent costume melodrama.

Extras: Widescreen, printable materials, optional English subtitles, described video for the visually impaired, chapters.

"COPS: The Animated Series" (Shout! 1988-89, not rated, $34.98, four discs). Stilted animation and silly story lines make this futuristic series strictly for nostalgia buffs.

Extra: Full frame, 22 episodes, concept art, storyboards, original TV spots, chapters.

"Super Mario Bros. Super Show!" (Shout! 1989, not rated, $29.98, four discs). Ditto this curio, based on the popular '80s video game.

Extras: Full frame, 24 episodes, featurette, art galleries, storyboards, chapters.

"I Love You Like Crazy Cakes ... and More Stories About Families" (Scholastic, 2006, not rated, $14.95). Stories with animation include the title tale (read by Mia Farrow), "Three Cheers for Catherine the Great!" "Five Creatures" and "Uncle Elephant."

Extras: Full frame, four stories, read-along, chapters.

E-mail: hicks@desnews.com