Monkees vs. Macheen: “One Man Shy” aka “Peter and the Debutante”

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“We Attack” aka “War is all around us, my mind says prepare to fight…”

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Ah, Peter. The dumb one. The naïve one. The shy one. The emotional one. The quiet Harpo Marx character type who gets relegated to sight gags. You could almost miss him in some of the episodes. He’s the main character of “One Man Shy” and like the storyline from the previous episode, the Monkees are banding together to help an underdog who is one of their own. “One Man Shy” was written by Gerald Gardner, Dee Caruso and Treva Silverman and debuted December 5, 1966, directed by James Frawley. In an interview with Silverman, she mentioned that at one point the writers couldn’t decide if Peter should be an idiot, or a genius. They took a vote and decided on “idiot.” I think Peter’s a little of both [I think he’s more innocent, childlike – Editor]. Micky Dolenz said in the Monkees documentary, Hey, Hey, We’re The Monkees (1997), that Peter Tork had the toughest acting job, since he had to play a character the least like his real-life personality.

“One Man Shy” starts off in the same set where “The Chaperone” ended: a fancy parlor-type room where the Monkees are playing “You Just May Be the One” (Michael Nesmith) for Valerie and Ronnie. That seems fitting, since both episodes were about one Monkee needing help with a girl from the other three. Valerie, a pretty, young debutante, hires them to play for their party. Her friend Ronnie is appalled and even more so when Peter keeps staring at Valerie. After she leaves, Ronnie keeps insulting the Monkees to their faces. I think he’s terrified of them.

Ronnie is supposed to be a relatively young man, though clearly not as young as the Monkees. He comments with disgust on their hair and “primitive” music instead of being curious or even tolerant. Remembering that long hair and rock music were relatively new at the time, Ronnie represents the establishment and is disdainful of the Monkees youth culture. He’s similar to the characters in “Monkee a La Mode,” who’ve decided they know what good music and style is and the Monkees don’t pass muster. For Ronnie, the Monkees pose a threat. Not just because Peter likes Valerie, but the Monkees challenge his way of life. What if everyone adopted the Monkees hair and music style? He wouldn’t be superior anymore. He’d have to change, or at least open his mind. The Monkees have decided to take Ronnie personally.

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In the car, the Monkees discover Peter has stolen Valerie’s portrait, so they speed off in the Monkeemobile. At the pad, Peter continues to talk to the portrait, causing the others concern. Mike tells Peter he should try actually talking to Valerie. Micky has an idea to help him, Cyrano de Bergerac-style. They go back to her house and Peter stands on the lawn, miming words of love spoken by the others. Valerie is on her balcony, but can’t hear them so she goes back in. The gardener does hear them, and punches Peter when he gets the wrong idea. Micky points out it didn’t work for Cyrano either.

Valerie and Ronnie pay the Monkees a visit, and the boys do not want to get caught with her portrait. They scramble around to hide it before letting them in, putting it behind a mirror where Mike pretends to comb his hair. Valerie came by to see what music they were planning to play for the party. She catches Peter’s eye and smiles. Peter returns the smile. Good grief, he’s adorable.

Ronnie strolls in and proceeds to insult their home. He notes Mike combing his hair in front of the “”mirror”” and he does the same. They compare comb sizes and Ronnie’s is bigger. Mike, unperturbed, gives him a sarcastic wink, but then he fumbles the mirror and reveals the painting. Busted!

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Peter confesses to taking the portrait but Valerie is sweet about it and says he can return it at the party. She orders Ronnie to leave with her. Valerie is clearly in charge of this relationship, whatever their relationship is. Ronnie waves a riding crop in the air in a comically threatening way and follows. Once they go, Micky has a mini-fit over Ronnie. Mike is the voice of reason but the others launch into one of my favorite bits that I love to quote when I meet someone I don’t like too much.

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An attack from the Monkees involves disguises and making a fool of Ronnie. Davy pretends to be a waiter at the café where Ronnie has taken Valerie for some champagne. Davy jams the cork into the bottle with a hammer, and there’s a huge struggle to get it out. It shoots into…black and white footage of a collapsing building and they all look horrified. Ronnie tries to impress Valerie with his knowledge of art while they’re on a walk in the park. He wants to buy a crazy contraption of pipes and tubes, calling it a “comment on our over-mechanized society.” Mike, posing as a maintenance man, says it just turns the fountain on and squirts Ronnie in the face. Strike two for Ronnie.

On the street, they run into “street merchant” Micky, selling baby dolls. To refute Micky’s accusation that he doesn’t like kids, Ronnie picks up a doll, which Micky rigged to squirt him and scream at him. Later, Ronnie gets a photo of the Monkees and shows it to Valerie, pointing out that they were the waiter, the maintenance man, etc. Ronnie is one of the rare characters who can spot the Monkees in disguise and calls their antics, “a feeble plot to discredit me.” Valerie seems mildly amused. Notice Peter is not involved in any of these tricks.

Ronnie decides to strike back; he invites the Monkees over for lawn games, challenging Peter to skeet shooting, archery, and badminton. Each time he calls Peter over, a different Monkee takes the task instead. I crack up when Ronnie calls Peter over for archery and Mike shows up, Ronnie says “Tork, you look exactly like Nesmith.” Smug, smarmy prick. I enjoy the sarcastic humor in this episode and I’ve got to hand it to George Furth. He is hysterically, enthusiastically unlikable. If you’re going to be insulting, you’d better be funny. Especially since he’s picking on the kindest, gentlest Monkee.

Who is Ronnie, anyway? He acts like he is Valerie’s boyfriend, but she behaves otherwise. My theory is that he is a friend of the family. I speculate that her parents and his parents are friends, and they are the same social class. Ronnie knew Valerie all his life and he just assumed they would marry. He treats her like she’s “his” but gets distressed when she shows independence.

Back to Peter, he’s at home, looking sad and the other Monkees apologize for failing him. But it’s not their fault really; they’re just bad at lawn games. Valerie tells Ronnie off for shaming the Monkees and she calls Peter and asks him to be her date for her party. She called him up and asked him out. I’m guessing this was a big deal in the 60s. Maybe not so much in progressive, liberal Hollywood, but to the TV audience possibly.

Peter is not as happy about this as you’d think. He’s anxious because he doesn’t know how to behave on a date. The other Monkees agree, but decide he could learn. Cue the romantic romp to “I’m a Believer” (Neil Diamond) where the Monkees show Peter how to treat a lady, with Valerie herself as a demonstration model. It doesn’t go too well as he throws her coat in the mud, slams her ankle in the door, and nearly burns her with a blow torch. This is intercut with scenes of Valerie and Peter having a romantic day at the park, and ends with them kissing in the sunlight. Taking these in broadcast order, this is the first real bit of kissing, other than Davy and Vanessa in the pilot.

Peter is still discouraged so the other three promise to think of something. In a weird, cute line Mike says they’ll sell candy or greeting cards, like Peter needs a fundraiser. They invite a girl over to play spin-the-bottle and hopefully improve Peter’s luck with women. Peter says the bottle always points to Davy and sure enough, he’s right. Mike sends Davy out to improve Peter’s odds, but when the girl spins again it flies up and sticks to the door Davy’s standing behind. Peter is despondent so he goes to therapy with “Freud,” aka Micky.

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Guitar wipe to the painting at Valerie’s house and the party in full swing. Peter is floundering in his attempt to make conversation with Valerie. He starts recapping Hamlet, and the Monkees, looking on, decide they better do something. They go for a similar plot device that was used in “Success Story,” trying to make Peter look rich. Each of them pretends to work for Peter: Micky as an accountant, Davy as a personal tailor, and Mike as his yacht captain. They have costumes and disguise their voices of course, but I get the feeling Valerie is pretty sharp. She pretends to be surprised but looks charmed and amused that they’re going to the trouble. (I want to know what voice Micky is doing: sort of a sputtering, squeaky, lisping character, but I don’t recognize it as a reference to anything.)

Uh-oh, here comes Ronnie, wearing one of the Monkee Men capes with his suit and looking like a vampire. Ronnie declares them “5th rate musicians” and hilariously, Micky comes back with “3rd rate!” Ronnie also calls them “fraudulent frauds.” Pardon me Ronnie, but wouldn’t that mean they’re frauds at being frauds? Peter admits his friends were lying because of “how much she meant to him.” Valerie explains to Peter that he’s enough just being himself. He gives her that adorable smile and I just melt. She smiles back while nearby Ronnie eats his cape in frustration.

On stage, Mike misspeaks his own song title as “You May Just Be the One.” Peter wants the first dance, but Ronnie tries to claim it. Peter tells Valerie to decide. Duh. Valerie had already decided. She’s the smartest person in the story. Peter held her in such high esteem that he convinced himself he could never be good enough for her. Ronnie plays right into Peter’s fears, trying to prove Peter doesn’t fit in her world and rich people should keep to their own kind. The Monkees are so busy trying to help Peter look good, they never stopped to think maybe he didn’t need that. Valerie knows there are more important things than money. Maybe Valerie doesn’t know Peter well enough to know this yet, but Peter is sensitive, gentle, and has a good sense of humor. She isn’t an object to be won; she made her own decision.

The Monkees play the song and the performance is mixed with a romp of Peter beating Ronnie at various games that are Peter’s speed: arm-wrestling, hopscotch, lifting a dumbbell, shooting toy guns, boxing, fencing, marbles etc. Valerie watches, smitten with Peter, who has confidence now, so he wins these contests in his mind.

In the tag sequence, the other Monkees tells us about the change in Peter thanks to all this. Davy misquotes the old expression “Which proves more than ever, it’s not how you play the game, it’s whether you win or lose.” I don’t know about that. I think Peter played fairer that Ronnie did. The conclusions of these episodes often don’t have any consequences. Indeed, we never see Valerie again, but after this Peter does show character development and he successfully relates to girls.

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Well, that was a fantastic episode and deeper than I first thought. It’s not just a fairy tale about shy Peter gaining some confidence with women. It is that, but there’s also a subtle culture clash and some feminism suggested here. Ronnie has more significance than a romantic obstacle and part of a love triangle. It’s easy to see him as the bad guy, but he’s also a man who fears he’s losing his hold, not only on the girl he wants, but on the world as it changes around him. Wow, I never would have thought I’d be sympathetic to Ronnie.

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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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