TV Retro Review: Do Not Adjust Your Set
Do Not Adjust Your Set was a variety show featuring many performers who would go on to found Monty Python. While I’m glad they got all their unfunny bits out of their systems early, it doesn’t exactly make DNAYS compelling entertainment.
While we were covering Broken Lizard’s triumphant return in Super Troopers 2, we came across an interesting factoid: Broken Lizard was founded as a sketch comedy theater group out of Colgate College. As big fans of sketch comedy groups, learning where some of our favorite comedians come from is always interesting; to us at least. So when Amazon Prime clued me in to not one, but two vintage comedy shows featuring members that would go on to create Monty Python, I knew I had some awful BBC rubbish on my docket. First up: Do Not Adjust Your Set.
Do Not Adjust Your Set (1967-1969)
Do Not Adjust Your Set is a sketch comedy/variety show featuring the talents of Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Denise Coffey, and David Jason. In addition to skits, the show had an in house band: The Bonzo Dog Dooh Dah Band.
Lost In Transition
At first it took me some time to wrap my head around what Do Not Adjust Your Set was trying to be. Then a little reading cleared up the confusion: this was a show originally designed for children that grew more and more adult as it picked up steam. I had figured that the show was a generational missing link: some middle space between “Good Old Fashioned Family Values” programming like Ed Sullivan and controversial counter culture shows like Laugh-in or the Smothers Brothers.
You know, like the Beatles after they found pot but before they found LSD.
As such, the skits are more silly than satirical. They often are adult situations, but without the adult humor. Skits about a man mistakenly coming home to the wrong wife and an aviation company that builds boats always end with a safe, PG punchline. Even the most popular running skit on the show “Mr. Fantastic” was a tame take on the gussied up adventures of a seemingly plain man. While I’d be willing to bet that Mr. Fantastic was the progenitor of future british skits (most notably Mitchell and Webb’s “Adventures of Sir Digsby Chicken Caesar”) with more bite, the character never really made me laugh, and was running on fumes by about the third show.
Oh! Dooh Dah Day!
The one area where the show seemed willing to be controversial was with the house band. The Gonzo Dog Dooh Dah Band were experimental jazz-rockers, putting out subverted takes on such hits as The Monster Mash. The problem with them is that they seemed like a collection of “the guy in college that mistakes being provocative with being thought-provoking”.
From weird visuals, crediting Adolf Hitler as their vibrofone player, and playing a set completely in Black-Face, the band seemed eager to shock. Apparently they went on to cult classic status, and had a fan in Paul McCartney. They landed one hit single: “Death Cab for Cutie”, so I guess we can thank them for being the inspiration for the 2000’s alternative band. Hooray.
While their actual music was not half bad, the band’s penchant for controversy combined with their lack of natural stage presence to create a tonal oddity for Do Not Adjust Your Set. It would be like having GWAR as the house band for The Muppet Show: noticeably jarring.
The Python Before It Had Teeth
It’s possible to note some proclivities on the part of Eric Idle, Michael Palin, and Terry Jones that would be fully realized in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Idle can be seen tossing off silly songs and playing “the Polished Professional in bizarre situations”. Michael Palin has several bits playing a fast talking huckster, something he’d perfect in “The Dead Parrot Sketch”. And Jones can be spotted in a skit donning what would become the Monty Python trademark “Mr. Gumby” uniform.
Little things like that make Do Not Adjust Your Set interesting in an academic sense. It’s just not all that funny. The humor is toned down in both bawdiness and insanity; as such you might think that these black and white episodes were bleached of comedy as well as color. I can’t really recommend the series, even for fans of The Pythons. Better to just imagine that they sprang fully formed out of the comedy universe’s version of Zeus’ head.