Monkees vs. Macheen: “Here Come The Monkees”

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“And Now in Gratitude, We Must Play!”

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This is the episode I’m most grateful for because without it there would be no series. I’ve read in various books and articles that the pilot didn’t test well with Audience Studies Incorporated or ASI, a research subsidiary of Screen Gems, until Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider edited in screen tests of Mike and Davy. The screen tests accomplished something the pilot did not: letting the audience get to know the characters a little. From there they got a commitment from NBC to make 32 episodes of the show.

The pilot doesn’t look like the rest of the series. The lighting is darker, they don’t have the Monkees shirts or the Monkeemobile, and the house looks like a real house, not the familiar set. The entire feel is different; it moves very fast and there isn’t much of the Monkees. In the book Monkee Mania by Glen A. Baker, he writes that because the Monkees were mostly inexperienced as actors, they kept the plot to “rudimentary slapstick” and incorporated “arty tricks” to give the pilot an edge, such as under or over-exposed film, reversing the film, the screen titles, etc.

“Here Come the Monkees” was filmed November 13-23, 1965 and aired a year later, November 14, 1966. It was the 10th episode in broadcast order and by that time the audience would have known the characters pretty well. The first episode that aired, “Royal Flush,” moved at a more comfortable pace and shows the Monkees interacting with each other much more, though it didn’t set up the premise as clearly as the pilot. By the time they filmed “Royal Flush” the Monkees had spent time working with James Frawley, improving their chemistry, their timing, and their spontaneity.

The show starts out with the two writers playing characters. Reporter Paul Mazursky conducts a man-in-the street interview with Larry Tucker as Dr. Turner, a character who insists if he ever saw someone on the street being attacked, he would jump in and help. The Monkees enter, three of them attacking Davy, who asks Turner for help. Turner runs away, helping an old lady cross the street to aid his getaway. In a funny and cynical gag, she then charges him for the service. In the background you can see the Rudy and Mr. Russell characters watching. It’s a weird way to start a pilot; it had nothing to do with the story or the Monkees. Maybe it’s supposed to make them look like “seedy characters” to Mr. Russell, but they never refer to this.

bystander

For this post I watched both the broadcast version and the unaired version of the pilot. Where I saw slight differences between the two, I’ll note it. The unaired pilot starts out with the screen tests of Davy and Mike and then a voiceover says: “Well, those are some of the Monkees. And you never know where they’ll turn up next.” They play the theme song with Boyce and Hart performing the vocals. The Monkees come in from various locations, except Davy. There’s footage of the lip-synching to the theme song.

“Here Come the Monkees” was directed by Mike Elliott, commercial director and still photographer for the Screen Gems subsidiary. He doesn’t have other TV show/film credits I can track. Writers Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker apparently wrote themselves parts. Both Mazursky and Tucker started out as actors. Tucker was in the films Blast of Silence, Advise and Consent, and an episode of Route 66. Mazursky’s first film was Stanley Kubrick’s Fear and Desire and he made multiple appearances on The Twilight Zone, among many other credits.

Writers

There’s a Silent film title card that reads “And Now For Our Story.” The unaired version has a card that says “Whew!” first. Record storeowner Rudy tells “Wool Hat” to take the other Monkees over to audition for Mr. Russell, for his daughter’s sweet 16 party. They’re not into it, and Davy pulls out his often used line “you must be joking.” It gets more interesting to them when they hear $150 cash. This is the last episode for Rudy, possibly he was meant to be an adult guide or advisor to the Monkees that they dropped for the actual series.

The Monkees arrive at the Riviera Country Club in a wood-paneled wagon wearing matching yellow shirts and black vests. Inside, Sven Helstrom and the Swedish Rhythm Kings are playing polka. Vanessa and her father are dancing, and she hates the music. More of that generation gap, though I’ve never met anyone of any age that likes polka [Speak for yourself – Editor].

When the Monkees meet Vanessa and her father, Davy and Vanessa fall in love, complete with starry eyes. (Peter Tork joked in the DVD commentary that they would only hire actors whose eyes could do that.) The story is mostly about Vanessa and her father from here on. The Monkees exist to cause Mr. Russell agitation.

The boys play and Davy’s got a guitar instead of maracas. They sing “I Wanna Be Free” (Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart), a slightly up-tempo version with Micky and Davy both singing. In close shots of this and the other stage performances, all the Monkees have different hair so I’m thinking these stage bits were reshot. Once again, the unaired version for this and all the songs mentioned below, Boyce/Hart perform the vocals. Of course Mr. Russell doesn’t like the music at all. Pilot romp is Davy and Vanessa on a date at an amusement park with the Monkees tagging along, including footage from the opening credits: the Ferris Wheel and Mike making Davy’s head hit the bell for instance.

Russell agrees to let them play the party. Davy imagines being married/handcuffed to Vanessa and her laughing maniacally. Another cynical joke about Davy fearing commitment maybe? They don’t go into it. Davy says “I never want to see you again!” and suddenly they’re on a date. It’s weird to me that their shirts match, with white/blue stripes. They haven’t been going out that long!

At the Monkees house, Davy gets ready to go out again, and the other Monkees give him a hard time, acting like nagging parents: “Please son, don’t talk to no strangers after midnight.” Mike throws darts at a Beatles poster.

Davy brings Vanessa home. Title card reads “But Inside, All Is Not Well.” Vanessa is in trouble for not studying and then she flunks the history final. On the beach, Jill updates the boys. Vanessa gets to take a make-up exam but the only thing on her mind is Davy. Davy walks around on the beach looking sad with the soundtrack plays slow version of “I Wanna Be Free.”

Musicians

The Monkees have a fantasy board meeting with costumes and a boardroom table set. The final decision is that Davy must be the one to help. Mike does a rare British accent, telling him “You’re the only one qualified.” Then he bangs the gavel so hard it breaks. Davy says “You must be joking” again and points out that he’s not allowed in the house.

Cut to the Monkees disguised with overalls and mustaches, executing their first filmed con. They’re carrying a donated cabinet from Mr. Russell, which unbeknownst to him contains his daughter. Russell goes to the record store and tells Rudy that Vanessa is missing. Jill is there and she confesses that the boys are trying to help. It’s never stated, but apparently Jill is Rudy’s daughter and the Monkees friend. She and Rudy may have been intended to be recurring characters but the only real recurring character they ended up with was Mr. Babbitt.

The Monkees help Vanessa study at the beach. Buried in sand, they sing about Patrick Henry. “United we stand, divided we fall!” [This bit was used as a promotional piece for IFC’s recent run of episodes. – Editor] At the park, Mike and Micky act out the Aaron Burr/Alexander Hamilton duel and scare the crap out of picnickers because their pistols were loaded (!). Mr. Russell shows up and chases the Monkees off.

Vanessa aces the test. Later at the party, her History teacher explains to Mr. Russell that the Monkees helped Vanessa but Mr. Russell isn’t having it. Outside, the security guard tells the arriving Monkees to beat it! They leave, but Mike steps back into frame to tell him “You’re Evil!” Inside, Vanessa is crying because her father refuses to let them play and gets her mother crying too.

Crying

Russell caves and tells the security guard to let the Monkees in, but they are already sneaking in over the wall. The guard catches them in his flashlight and there’s a quick-change into prison clothes and a prison break fantasy. I love Micky’s complete freak-out here.

Now we get to the centerpiece of the episode, this insane chase sequence which takes 2.5 minutes of the relatively short story. Russell chases the Monkees, accompanied by silent movie-style piano music. The boys run into the club’s Card Room, and it turns in a western saloon costumed card-playing fantasy. Russell is on their trail, stopping to ask a drunk if he’s seen any “monkeys”. (According to The Monkees film and TV vault, this episode was passed over for repeats on CBS and ABC Saturday Afternoon, because Broadcast Standards and Practices objected to the drunk at the Riviera Country Club bar. Interesting if true, because there was no similar information about “The Chaperone,” which also had a clearly drunken character.)

Russell continues his pursuit. Monkees run by the bar and the drunk tells them to stop. The editor helpfully halts the film. He asks if they’re the Monkees: they shake their heads, wearing monkey masks. Next, they stop to play ping pong in fast-motion. The Monkees, the guard, and Russell all end up in the ball room where Vanessa excitedly shouts, “the Monkees!”

Russell “betrays” his country club by declaring the Monkees invited. Davy kisses both his cheeks and says in gratitude that they must play. Or, you know, because that’s what he was paying them for. The story wraps in about 17 minutes, and the rest is just decoration.

Micky wants to know how they’re going to get the Swedish Rhythm Kings off stage, but Mike’s already on stage at the microphone. He announces that Norway has declared war on Sweden. “All Swedish Nationals must report to the embassy.” They march off. Boy, are they going to be pissed when they realize it’s a lie.

The Monkees play “Let’s Dance On” (Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart) and the crowd of country-clubbers and teenagers do so. The music has jokes and lines cut in, like The Muppets cocktail party sequences (as in “The Chaperone), and makes fun of adults and teenagers alike. The interviewer from the beginning runs around the crowd, begging people for an interview “Don’t be that way to me, look I can do it!” In the unaired pilot, the interviewer isn’t in the scene. The drunk is dancing with his drink, and scares off the teacher. Dr. Turner and the old lady from the opening are partying “And to think we met crossing the street!” Vanessa tells her dance partner “Hey, you really swing!” An enthusiastic female dancer gets screen titles “A typical teenager?” “No, a friend of the Producer!”

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A title card reads “Suddenly, Trouble Looms” as Davy gets starry eyed with a new girl in the crowd. The Monkees freak out and chase him out of there, beating him with balloons.

Next, Micky and Peter in their “Son of a Gypsy” episode costumes set up the screen tests. Micky does all the talking and Peter mimes along to whatever he says. In both screen tests, Bob Rafelson asks Mike and Davy questions on the set of a show called The Farmer’s Daughter. Davy seems calm; he handles all the questions with good humor and confidence. Mike has a different approach, he seems openly defiant instead of answering Bob’s questions. Interesting tactic, but I guess it worked. He wore the wool hat, unintentionally creating a trait for the “Mike” character for many episodes to come.

screen-tests

The unaired pilot ends with the theme song over footage from the episode and all the credits. Micky is credited as Micky Braddock, his stage name when he was on Circus Boy. There’s a shot of them in gangster gear used at the end of “The Spy Who Came In From The Cool.”

Dedicated with gratitude and respect to: Bert Schneider, Larry Tucker, Paul Mazursky, Allyn Ferguson, Tommy Boyce, Jill Van Ness, June Whitley Taylor, Joe Higgins, Bing Russell, Richard St. John, and David Jones.

Whew!

Producers

Look-Out-For

Sweet-Young-Thing

by Bronwyn Knox

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