There’s a fair amount of ancillary Monty Python material already out there for fans, but the six-part documentary series Monty Python: Almost the Truth is by far the most complete and fascinating history of the Pythons available.
Featuring all-new interviews from the five surviving members — John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin— as well as a lesser amount of archival interview footage with the now deceased Graham Chapman, Almost the Truth features the best kind of interviews — from people with nothing to lose.
We don’t get any carefully crafted, promotional style softball questions and answers; we get the hilarious, uncensored and often conflicting opinions of the various Python projects. It’s unlikely the Pythons would’ve been any tamer answering these same questions 30 years ago, but it’s heartening to see none of them have lost any of their acerbic wit or absurdist flair in the decades that have elapsed since the last Python project.
The series chronologically tracks the group’s formation and subsequent projects, from the early BBC days when the group landed a gig to perform a little sketch show to their skyrocketing success that led to several feature films, and counted George Harrison and Elvis as fans.
The series gets plenty personal too, as the members discuss their shock at discovering the fact that Chapman was gay and an alcoholic. Their admiration for him is undeniable, but it’s clear that his constant inebriation, especially during the filming of Holy Grail, wore thin on the group’s patience. Chapman himself discusses this in an interview from the early ’80s.
Perhaps one of the best things about the series is there is none of the typical glad-handing that often occurs in retrospectives. (“He was just the nicest guy, and the best actor to work with!”) Not the Python’s style. It’s not done in a backbiting way, but each one has something to point out about a fellow member that’s not the most flattering. Overwhelmingly, the segments are filled with praise, but the fact that the interviews are tempered with some criticism as well makes them seem all the more authentic, and provides an interesting perspective on the Python’s group dynamic.