RATED: Not Rated
374 minutes
A Visit to Torquay featurette

The Pitch

John Cleese works at a hotel. Hi-jinks ensue.

The Humans

John Cleese, Andrew Sachs, Connie Booth and Prunella Scales

The Nutshell

Basil Fawlty runs the tiny Fawlty Towers in the heart of Torquay. His wife Cybil helps to run the little country inn alongside trusted servant Manuel. The waitress Polly gives everyone grief, while cracking most of the show’s funnier jokes. Over the course of four years, Fawlty Towers warmed its way into British and eventually American hearts. After all, everyone loves a rather tall British man talking trash.

If you don’t laugh at this, some 40 year old in Hoboken will slam your inferior American taste.

The Lowdown

BBC / Warner Home Video is doing everything in their power to cash-in on the 40th Anniversary of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. John Cleese’s first work Post-Python is on display in a seemingly re-released Complete Collection of Fawlty Towers. Thrill to material that would feel antiquated even to foreign viewers. It’s comfortable material that plays as comedy fundamentals for those that are learning the craft. But, much like other off-the-cuff textbook material…it’s not for everyone.

Cleese tried to learn the Shocker. His failure didn’t amuse Lord Pleasurebottom.

The first season of the show quickly jumps out of introductions and into the heart of Cleese’s solo comedy. Most of the first episodes were about Basil Fawlty’s attempts to keep up impressions. He wants the right people to sleep and eat at his Inn. He wants to keep the staff acting proper. Hell, he wants everyone to jump at this command. What’s left for him to do? In those moments, we see Cleese come to work. Bitching about anything with a stiff upper lip is always funnier than direct yelling.

That’s not to discount Connie Booth’s role as co-creator. Moving away from the safety net of the Python Brain-Trust was a risky move on Cleese’s part. But, playing with a single partner allows for a greater mix of ideas to translate to screen. Cleese and Booth have both talked about it in interviews and commentaries in the past. It also didn’t hurt that they were married at the time.

It’ll be called Newhart. We’ll have an innkeeper named Mumbly Joe. Peter Scolari will show up to belittle the rednecks. Tom Poston will attract woodland creatures. All the while, I further explore the hole in my left trouser pocket. Two more inches and I will have pegged myself.

Americans might be lost in the back and forth that Fawlty claims to be an argument. It’s the sort of tit for tat that feels more accustomed to the Post-War work of a Noel Coward. Going back to the original mid 70s reviews of the show, a lot of reviewers took Cleese to task for such an old-fashioned approach. I have to admit that I’m impressed with Cleese’s decision to aim for classic comedy dialogue. But, it feels weaker than the groundbreaking work on Python. That’s not to say that the other Pythons did much better in the years directly following the show’s end.

John Cleese loves to watch the majestic Mogwai mate. He also likes to draw Sleestak porn. If you catch him during the Monty Python 40th Anniversary Press Tour, ask him for a picture of Chaka cock.

of the second season marks a slow change from the material found in the first few years. Basil seems to be evolving into a meaner, yet true self. The Brits don’t like to push anything past set season lengths, but I would’ve liked to have seen Basil a few years down the road. Even when he’s talking to Cybil, there’s something unfunny about his attacks. There seems to be a growing contempt that almost turns the show into something else. But, the series ended with a search for a pet rat. I love the British. Going to the edge of emotional discovery and then bottling that shit up.

The Complete Fawlty Towers is a wonderful look at where British comedy took it to the next level. The idea of the comedy star as creative auteur was forged here with Cleese’s work. I’d go so far as to say that Merchant, Gervais, Laurie and Fry all owe their livelihoods to the success of Fawlty Towers. Can you think of any successful British comedies that aren’t shaped by the central auteur anymore? No. Hell, there’s even some crossover in America.

British working girls are the best. They’ll bring you a honeydew melon and then fellate you with some dialogue about the tea rooms of Cheshire.

The Package

The Complete Series Collection comes with a ton of new features. There’s a new retrospective and some additional interviews that weren’t on the 2001 Complete Series release. Plus, you get a Torquay travel guide short film that places you firmly in the world of Basil Fawlty. Outside of that, it’s the same actor profiles and other commentaries that were there eight years ago. The A/V Quality also hasn’t improved that much. If you own it already, then stick with what you have. Everyone else might want to check it out.

7.9 out of 10