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Why did Python make me laugh? I've forgotten

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It's true what they say about old TV shows: You can't go home again.

I was pretty jazzed about today's column because it was going to be about Monty Python's Flying Circus, which returns today (Comedy Network, Monday to Friday at 4:30 p.m.) before nestling into a regular Monday-night timeslot next week.

Screening tapes were kindly provided and I was excited because it meant a chance to re-view a show I thought terribly cool nearly 30 years ago. Finally, a chance to screen something I might actually watch. I even picked up snacks.

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I had only giddy boyhood memories of Monty Python. The Brit sketch series turned up in Canada around 1972, a few years after it was a hit over there. It was bought by the CBC, bless 'em, and aired Wednesday nights, I believe.

Well, at my high school, we all thought we'd gone to heaven. We were obsessed. This was pre-VCR, remember, so we'd watch every week, then replay it the next day at school. We would do the Silly Walk, talk like Dinsdale and play out the dead parrot sketch. We were idiots. It's all horribly embarrassing to think about now.

Problem is, when I sat down to watch Monty Python the other night, it just didn't seem all that funny any more.

There was a bit about sheep who thought they were birds and a TV interview with a man who had three buttocks. Okay. There was a skit about Queen Victoria and a man playing a xylophone of mice with a hammer. I began to fast-forward.

To be truthful, I kept fast-forwarding. There were a few moments that brought back that old feeling -- like the "Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink" sketch -- and some of Terry Gilliam's animated sequences are still nasty and clever, but it all seemed like broad, silly, aimless foolery.

Sure, that was always the idea behind Monty Python, but I didn't recall it being this pointless. It kind of depressed me, actually.

It was probably naive to expect it to change my life or pH balance. Back in the day, we thought this stuff was hilarious, but that was because it was different. Some of the top comedies on TV at the time were All in the Family, Maude and M*A*S*H, so we high-schoolers were ravenous for anything.

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Please don't let this spoil your fun, however. It's likely just me. The times, they are a-changing and a lot of things don't seem funny to me any more.

The other night, I saw a M*A*S*H rerun in which Hawkeye and two pals took a jeep for a spin and decided to split a bottle of liquor. They careened back into camp, smacked into a pole and fell out drunkenly. The laughtrack roared. That used to be funny, too, I suppose. Crusade: The Life of Billy Graham (Vision, 9 p.m.) is an extended profile of the TV preacher, written and hosted by Biblical scholar Randall Balmer, and it is most reverential.

The two-hour documentary is a sentimental time line of Graham's life, from selling mops and brooms to a very respected evangelist who gets face time with presidents and world leaders.

There are no sex or finance scandals here. Billy's kept his nose clean for 83 years and good on him. Of course, there was that tape that came out a while back, from a conversation in the Oval Office with then-president Richard Nixon, in which Billy made some anti-Semitic remarks, which is touched on briefly in the program.

There is also footage of ol' Billy in action at one of his stadium revivals and he is quite something, all full of fire and emotion. The followers are rapt. You don't have to buy into his message to realize he is a great orator. Also tonight:

Biography (A&E, 8 p.m.) begins their curious "New Cultural Icon Week" with a profile of comedian Jerry Seinfeld. The lineup for the rest of the week: Madonna, Rudy Giuliani, Samuel L. Jackson and Timothy Robbins. (These are icons?)

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Spying on Saddam (History, 9 p.m.) is a chilling Frontline report about the eight-year effort by the United Nations to locate and disarm Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, a campaign that eventually failed.

The low-brow series Spy TV (NBC, 9:30), which debuted last week to depressingly impressive ratings, returns tonight. Scheduled hidden-camera stunts include a young man informing his parents he's become a father and a payphone that spews out choking smoke. Stop! My ribs are aching!

If your friends are still babbling on about HBO's Six Feet Under -- and they are telling the truth, it really is brilliant -- Season One starts from scratch again this evening (The Movie Network/Movie Central, 9 p.m.). The series will run two episodes every Monday until August, followed by the second season.

The Passionate Eye (CBC Newsworld, 10 p.m.) has the excellent documentary Tokyo Girls, profiling four young Canadian women who worked as highly paid "hostesses" in Tokyo clubs and bars. Dates and times may vary across the country. Please check local listings. John Doyle returns June 24.

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