Monkees vs. Macheen: “Royal Flush”

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“This Is Supposed To Be About A Band, Right?”

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The Monkees television show debuted 49 years ago, and as the 50th anniversary approaches, I wanted to write a little bit about each episode of this amazing show that makes me laugh as much now as it did when I first saw it in syndication as a tot. “Royal Flush,” the first Monkees episode, aired September 12, 1966 on NBC. It was the third episode shot and the first directed by James Frawley, who went on to direct 32 of the 58 Monkees episodes. Frawley won an Emmy for “Royal Flush”; Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Comedy Series, 1966-67. He worked with the Monkees for a few months before the show started to develop the spontaneous improvisational style that defined the Monkees humor.

“Royal Flush”  was written by Robert Schlitt and Peter Meyerson. The story begins, as so many of these episodes do; with the romantic British pop star character Davy Jones falling for a pretty girl. He saves Princess Bettina of the kingdom of Harmonica (where?) from drowning and then meets the first of many Monkees bad guys: her Uncle Otto and his bodyguard Sigmund. Otto and Sigmund clearly want to eliminate Bettina and possibly Davy as well. The actors playing the bad guys are really funny. I never appreciated the guest actors enough when watching this as a kid.

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After the opening theme we see the first shots of the Monkees beach house, accompanied by the Harpsichord version of The Monkees theme, composed by Stu Phillips. Inside the house, we see the famous Monkees décor. Micky helps Davy find Bettina in the newspaper while Mike talks about their lack of jobs and money, setting up a central show premise. Mike tells Davy not to get involved but the Monkees go into a fantasy sketch, dressed for a military invasion. Micky’s got his British military voice on, and he leads them through the plan to break into the hotel where Bettina is staying.

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The Monkees arrive at the Rich, Swank Hotel in individually styled gray suits. These scenes are the best part of the episode, with the Monkees doing what they do best: using their wits to con their way into or out of trouble. They get the maid to leave and spy on Otto and Sigmund. After they find out he is indeed up to no good and get it on tape, Micky uses a phony salesman-voice to get Otto to come to the room to look at some thrones. Otto and Sigmund show up and Micky dazzles them with his spiel and appeals to Otto’s vanity, while Davy sneaks off to warn Bettina. Davy and Bettina figure out Otto wants to get rid of her before she officially becomes queen that night at midnight, so he can take the crown. This takes a while because Davy sucks at operating tape recorders. The Monkees distract Otto and leave the hotel.

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Next we get the Monkees traditional musical sequence, this time to “This Just Doesn’t Seem to Be My Day” (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart). There are some pretty funny moments while Mickey tries to evade Sigmund and Bettina and Davy frolic on the beach. Micky jumps into Sigmund’s arms, mimicking Bettina and Davy. Peter digs a hole and as he goes along progressively sillier signs warn: “Danger Hole Started,” “Watch Out Half Hole,” and then “Caution Whole Hole.” Sigmund, of course, falls into it.

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Outside the Monkees house we see the “Keep Off the Grass” sign for the first time. Inside, Micky rigs a safe on a rope to trap Otto, but it fails. Bettina tells Otto she’s sent a letter to the embassy, to be opened if she doesn’t arrive at her own birthday reception. Otto takes Bettina away, leaving Sigmund with the Monkees to make sure she behaves. Later, The Monkees try to get away from Sigmund, who jumps up and blocks the way. Catch Micky’s look to the camera to tell us, “He’s fast!” The safe finally falls, and the Monkees split.

At the birthday reception, Otto sees the Monkees and tries to abscond with Bettina. Bold little Davy jumps in front of him and they have a duel to the song “Take a Giant Step,” (Gerry Goffin/Carole King) complete with instant Errol Flynn costume changes. During the fight on screen captions during the fight read “We can’t go on meeting like this” and “It always worked for Errol Flynn.” Otto corners Davy and is about to go in for the kill, but Peter calls for “the time.” (Remember before the days of cell phones and digital cable boxes, you could call for “the time” if you wanted to set your watch?) It’s midnight and as Bettina’s first official act as Queen, she has Otto arrested.

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In the tag sequence, The Monkees go back to the hotel room and run into the maid again, who now owns the hotel. There’s an interview sequence because the show is one minute short, and 11 more would be featured on the show. Peter thinks Davy’s too short to do a fencing scene. This begins the running gag about Davy’s height.

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I love watching the Monkees trick the bad guys with their logic-defying, Marx-Brothers style antics. Many of my favorite gags originated in this episode such as breaking the fourth wall by looking at the camera, the screen caps, and the fast-motions scrambling around. I only wonder why they chose this episode as the debut, since the story has nothing to do with them as a band. It’s barely even referred to, which is an interesting choice for a show about a rock group.

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by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examines the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.

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8 thoughts on “Monkees vs. Macheen: “Royal Flush”

  1. Excellent first entry! Congratulations on your new venture, I’m eager to read more. Special props for pointing out the oddity of this being the premiere episode–no hint of a band. Not even a glimpse of instruments. The Monkees could be any four guys who happen to share a beach house.

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  2. When I interviewed writer Peter Meyerson (who wrote Royal Flush with his then partner Bob Schlitt) Peter said their episode was chosen to go first because the producers judged it the best one/funniest one in the can at the time the choice needed to be made. Of course, he admitted he was a bit bias being he had written it (but he did go on to co-create Welcome Back, Kotter so he did have a handle on comedy writing.

    I like what you are doing with this blog – but would put in a request that you name the writers of the episodes you discuss since they did do a lot of this comedy on the page and deserve as much credit as the directors. To be transparent, my academic career is focused on reminding viewers that writers are equally important in the creative process to directors. Frankly, I attest they are more important, but I’ll settle for getting them back on equal footing right now. Meyerson and Schlitt are also responsible for Monkee Mother, one of my favorite episodes, as well as the highly regarded Fairy Tale.

    Dr. Rosanne Welch

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    1. Thanks for your interest and your comment! Due to space limitations, and the fact that this was her first entry, Bronwyn was testing various ways to present the information in the piece. Her next entry will have notes on the respective writers.

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