This is a series co-written and presented by Terry Jones. I think of Terry Jones as the Forgotten Python. He’s “the fat one,” the one whose name is least likely to be remembered, despite being so common … maybe because it’s so common. All the other Pythons have bits you’ll instantly think of. Graham Chapman was Brian. Eric Idle had the “Nudge, nudge” sketch. Michael Palin had the Lumberjack song, and shared the amazing “Dead Parrot” and “Cheese Shop” sketches with John Cleese … who will always be remembered as the dead-serious Minister of Silly Walks. Terry Jones finally got his moment in the sun in the “Mr. Creosote” section of The Meaning of Life, the fat man who ate so much he exploded, sometimes called the single most disgusting scene in cinema history. Before that he was mostly known for putting on frumpy dresses and speaking in a high-pitched screech. He was the waitress in the Spam sketch.
What most people don’t know is that he directed (or co-directed, with Terry Gilliam) all the Python feature films. Even more importantly, he was the main creative force that gave the Python TV series its surreal aspect, making the sketches tie into one another and, with his writing partner Palin, coming up with some of the wackiest ideas in a series that still absolutely defines wackiness. He is quite proud of the fact that, so far as he knows, Ireland has only banned 4 films … and 3 of them were directed by him! (The Meaning of Life, Life of Brian, and Personal Services, which I haven’t seen. I haven’t been able to find out what the fourth one was.)
He’s also quite well educated (as are all the British Pythons: Oxford and Cambridge), and has done several TV documentaries, of which this is the first I’ve seen. Based on this, I’d eagerly watch others.
We weren’t taught a lot about the Crusades in high school history class, other than that they happened, where the Crusaders went, that Richard the Lion-Hearted was in one of them, and dry stuff like that. There’s nothing dry about these programs. They are, in fact, like the Crusades themselves, blood-soaked. The sheer folly of these misbegotten journeys is almost beyond belief. The cruelty—on both sides, but remember, it was Christians who started the whole mess—almost beggars the imagination. Did you know, for instance, that the Christians killed, burned, and ate children along the way? And this isn’t vile Saracen propaganda; the survivors who returned (what few of them did) wrote of this themselves. Did you know that many of these cannibal meals were Christian babies? It seems that by the time they got to the “Holy Land” (and what a vile concept for mankind that has been) they didn’t much give a fuck who they killed and ate. (I suppose infants and children were more tender, like veal. Did you know that, as a sort of a warm-up to killing heathen infidels, they massacred all the Jews they came across in Europe? Just getting in practice.
How long does it take to absolve a church for sins like these? I’d say 1000 years isn’t nearly enough. I know JP2 apologized for the Crusades around the year 2000. I think he ought to have offered reparations.
(Full disclosure: I was raised Protestant: Lutheran. I’m sure I have some unreasoning anti-Catholic “vile Roman Papist” prejudice in me. Though I try to despise all religions equally—and I know the “Reformation” was accompanied with horrible atrocities against Catholics—the fact is that I hate some more than others, and of the major religions Catholicism is number two with a bullet. Please understand, though I despise Catholicism, Islam, Mormonism, Judaism, Hinduism, the Baptist church, and others, I do not despise Catholics, Muslims, Mormons, Jews, Hindus, or Baptists. I judge people individually, and if they stay out of my face I don’t care what they believe. But I have the right to despise any institution, and the Catholic church is one of the oldest and most despicable institutions on the planet.)
Enough of that. The series itself is pretty clever. Sometimes almost too clever, as when Jones tries to interview a goose, because the Peasant’s Crusade was said to be partly guided by a divinely-inspired goose. Better is when he dons authentic armor and trudges along the hellish paths taken by the holy idiots 1000 years ago. More died of starvation and thirst than were killed by the locals, and the locals killed plenty. They ate the horses, and anything else they could catch.
Some of the visuals are stunning. He visits the sites of the great cities along the way—seeing the modern aspects, as well as the ruins. And Byzantine and medieval mosaics come to life to speak the lines of some of the major players.