Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Chaperone”

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“How to Date Girls, Monkees Style: 7 Steps with Pictures” 

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Step One: Meet a Girl

The Monkees are actually stalking a cute girl, more than meeting her. They take turns watching her through binoculars as she sits outside on her porch. Peter, Micky, and Mike encourage Davy to go to talk to her. Peter tells him to “wail, Davy,” a line that feels like it was ad-libbed. It seems out of character for confident Davy to need encouragement to talk to girls, but this girl doesn’t get out much, so maybe she’s more elusive to him.

Davy approaches Leslie, pretending to take a poll about what television show she’s watching. She rightly points out she isn’t watching anything. Clearly she does like him though; her eyes and her smile convey that she’s charmed by him. Their flirting gets interrupted by her father’s shout, and she has to go. She mentions that he’s very authoritarian and wow, she’s not kidding. The Monkees will find out how authoritarian soon enough. The others mob Davy, and Peter wants to know what program she was watching. Micky’s fourth wall-breaking answer: “Ours, I hope.”

Meet-a-Girl

This farcical, romantic comedy mix-up aired November 7, 1966, written by the Dee Caruso and Gerald Gardner team, and was the first of four directed by Bruce Kessler. There’s lots of witty dialogue and hilarious sight gags. Most of the action takes place in the Monkees pad, giving it a stage play feel because it’s mostly on the one set. I’m not big on storylines dependent on Davy’s love life, but it occurs to me this is the first time in six episodes I’ve made a “Sweet Young Thing” graphic, so maybe there aren’t as many of those stories as I thought.

Step Two: Impress Her Father

Davy goes to the door again, pretending to sell magazines, and gets the father instead of Leslie. Vandenberg is not interested and slams the door on him. Davy and Micky come back disguised as bomb shelter inspectors, their conversation revealing that Vandenberg was a general in the last world war. He states that he’s “left all that behind him.” Davy is looking up at him in this hilarious, adoring way, even funnier because of his helmet and fake mustache. The General slams the door on them again.

Cynthia, a house guest and friend of Leslie, gets their attention from the window above and gives them the scoop; Leslie’s father runs this place like a compound and she’s only allowed to go to chaperoned parties. Ah, but this gives the Monkees something to work with: chaperoned parties!

Meet-Father

Step Three: Plan a Chaperoned Party

This leads to an opportunity to set up a clever scheme. Micky trots out his British twit voice (with a history of WWII book on hand for reference) and calls General Vandenberg. He introduces himself as another military general and invites Leslie and Cynthia to a chaperoned party for his son “Micky.” Vandenberg is dressed in fatigues and army helmet, despite his earlier statement that he left the military behind him. Given this and his later behavior, I think not. [This would be a fairly disturbing image these days – Editor] With this episode, the writers/producers make military types look like idiots. Military characters in film and on TV are frequently treated as awesome action heroes, or tyrannical, comic buffoons.

Step Four: Decorate

The boys decorate their house to the tune “This Just Doesn’t Seem to be My Day” (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart). This is one of the better romps and has some wonderful sight gags. I like that all the action is relevant to the story and the task of decorating for the party, compared to some other romps that had fun but unrelated action. Almost all of this is contained in the Monkees pad, which is also unique for their romps.

Micky rolls in on the unicycle with balloons and tons of popcorn that spills everywhere. Mike does some funny shtick at the camera, getting macho over opening a bag of pretzels with an axe, and gives the trademark wink again when he triumphs. He’s so good with this type of humor, shooting for aggressive but ending up adorably awkward.

Peter looks at the camera when finds a goldfish in the oranges he’s juicing and he also cleans the “used paper plates.” Way to recycle! Micky imitates actual monkeys, climbing up to the second floor balcony to hang decorations. In a bit used in the opening titles, he comes sliding down the spiral staircase, right into the huge cake Mike just frosted. The job is done when they lift a balloon centerpiece above the table, after a bit of a struggle.

Decorate

Step Four: Find a Chaperone

The Monkees don’t have any helpful adults around, so Mike asks the landlord, Mr. Babbitt. Opportunistic, money-grubbing Babbitt wants to be paid by the hour, so he’s out. Fortuitously, the cleaning lady shows up, little old Mrs. Weefers, who has a cockney accent and has already had a few drinks. I always wondered who paid her since the Monkees are always broke and Babbitt is so cheap.

Mrs. Weefers reluctance to attend a “fancy party” inspires a Pygmalion (George Bernard Shaw) parody where the boys take turns teaching her to be a lady so she can chaperone. She’s more interested in drinking the booze from her purse, which has a convenient nozzle. By the time the party starts, she’s passed out cold, just as the Vandenberg’s are knocking.

When I watched this episode as a kid and as a teenager on MTV, I thought nothing of the drinking because the storyline didn’t make a big deal of it other than to set up the problem to solve. Now, I can’t help thinking if a character was drinking on a show for and about young people, they would make it a “very special episode” [Cue the Family Ties theme song – Editor] about alcoholism. I’m glad to be spared that.

Mike and Davy go down to let the girls in and shuffle the General out, but Vandenberg is not having it until he sees the chaperone. Mike, Davy, and Peter stammer until Micky comes down in a dress and a blond wig. This is how the Monkees deal with authority figures: trick them and get around them, instead of openly rebelling or defying them. Story-telling wise this does have more comic possibilities.

The best part is they put something on the camera lens (filter or Vaseline) to make Micky look all dreamy from Vandenberg’s POV. Thinking quickly, Mike introduces Micky as Mrs. Arcadian. They try to get rid of Vandenberg again, but he likes “Mrs. Arcadian.” He pulls out his military medals that decorate his uniformed chest to impress “the chaperone.” So much for leaving the military behind him.

Small-Talk

Wow. Micky will go far to help a friend and Mike and Davy seem to find this amusing. Micky restrains himself from decking Davy for calling him “lovely,” because I guess throwing a punch would blow his cover.

Mining the comic possibilities of men in drag is something they loved to do on this show – in “Monkees vs. Machine,” “Fairy Tale,” and “Some Like it Lukewarm,” for instance. The Monty Python and Kids in the Hall comedy teams did this all the time, and it’s the very premise of Bosom Buddies, but I can’t think of too many current shows doing this. Fred Armisen on Portlandia comes to mind, though he is playing a woman, not a man dressing as a woman. There’s a subtle difference between the two. One is the actor trying to get the audience to buy his interpretation of a female; the other is trying to get the audience to believe that other characters would accept the male character as a woman. Either way there’s some comment on how men see women.

Step Five: Party!

This is my favorite of the three parties they had on the show and it may be a predecessor of the “Mod Party” on Laugh-In from later in the 60s and of “cocktail party” on The Muppet Show where music is interspersed with funny one-liners and isolated gags. The music plays straight through, but I still sense an influence.

In one non-plot-related aside, Peter approaches a girl who tells him she wants “a real man to sweep me off my feet.” Cue Tarzan titles from the TV show and Tarzan himself swings by and grabs her. Peter jealously notes to the audience, “He gets more girls that way.” In another, a girl approaches Mr. Schneider and pulls his string for relationship advice.

The boys play “Take a Giant Step Outside Your Mind” (Gerry Goffin/Carole King) while everyone dances. (The two main songs in “The Chaperone” are the same and in the same order as they were in “Royal Flush.”) Among the guests is an old woman in a 19th Century bathing costume, looking at various stock footage through a telescope. Mr. Clean arrives and helpfully cleans the stained glass windows. My favorite is Tarzan and his conquest. She’s sitting on the kitchen counter and Tarzan shows his muscles, dances, beats his chest, and tries to impress her. She cringes and makes nervous and irritated faces. Mr. Clean and Tarzan dance frantically along with all the kids. As trippy as these sight gags are, I’d say “Take a Giant Step Outside Your Mind” was a perfect choice.

Also present at the party are frequent extra Valerie Kairys and Monkees stand-ins David Pearl (Peter), David Price (Davy), and John London (Mike). Micky is somehow playing the song with the other Monkees and also dancing in his “Mrs. Arcadia” dress; the other guests are also in multiple places at the same time, so I don’t think continuity was a concern.

Party-Guests

Step Six: Tell the Truth, Already

After the music, Micky has to hold Vandenberg back from putting the moves on him, so he pushes him, touching his medals. Another anti-war jab: Micky “Oh, my late husband won a ribbon like this for doing something to help shorten the war.” Vandenberg: “Oh, what’d he do?” Micky: “He deserted.”

Mr. Babbitt arrives, uninvited, and also falls for Micky in the dress. Luckily, Mrs. Arcadian has that fan to keep both suitors at bay. Vandenberg overhears Davy explaining who Mrs. Arcadian really is, and Leslie laughs. He must be quite a hindrance to her social life, if she doesn’t mind someone she just met making an ass of her Dad. (My mother was a teen around this time and said her father,also military, would punish her for even speaking to boys.) Fun’s over as the General shuts off the jukebox and forces the Monkees, Leslie, and Cynthia into the kitchen, and marches all the other guests right out the door, with a “Hup, two, three four!”

Vandenberg calls their bluff: he tells them Micky’s consented to be his wife. I love that Micky’s sideburns have been visible for this entire ruse. Micky denies the proposal but then starts daydreaming about honeymooning in Venice. Vandenberg snatches the wig off Micky and yells at the kids for laughing at him. Leslie stands up to him, declaring that his overprotective attitude created this situation. It’s about time somebody confronted him, instead of just fooling him. The Monkees stand around looking embarrassed.

A couple of call-back gags break the tension. Mrs. Weefers appears at the top of the stairs and she’s mastered her H’s! Then, Mr. Babbitt comes back, unable to forget his love for Mrs. Arcadian. She’s quite the belle of the ball, even without the wig.

Pygmalion

Vandenberg is confused, wondering why they didn’t just talk to him. I feel for him. He’s set up to be an obstacle, a cock-blocker for Davy, but to fall for Micky he must be lonely. I think he needs three friends of his own to help him meet a woman. Too bad Millie from “Monkee Mother” isn’t around yet. Mike, always ready with a proverb, says “all’s well that ends well” and he and Micky are staged so close that their noses bump. Micky asks the camera if he has to give back the ring.

Step Seven: Date the Cute Girl

In the tag sequence, Davy is treed because, though Leslie’s allowed out, she’s guarded by a large dog. With a great little touch of cynical humor, no one has learned anything, and Vandenberg replaces one method of controlling his daughter with another. They are at the frequently used park, and the others are out too, Micky with Cynthia and Mike with Tarzan girl. In another call-back joke, Peter is trying to practice Tarzan’s moves on girls but ends up falling in the fountain. [“Everybody gets a girl! You get a girl! And you get a girl!” – Editor]

Dog

The last bit is a musical sequence with “You Just May Be the One” (Nesmith).  (Not credited at the end.) The Monkees are in the fountain frolicking in scuba gear and but most of it is a performance scene, set in what looks like a library. They do look like they’re having fun playing.

Look-Out-For

Sweet-Young-Thing-chaperone

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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