“If You Can’t Beat ’Em, Annoy ’Em”
Bernie Orenstein is the only writer credited for this episode. He wrote two others, “Success Story” and “Monkees a La Carte” with the team Gerald Gardner & Dee Caruso. Since this is his third and final in the broadcast order, I’ll mention some of his credits: He was a producer and writer for That Girl (1966), The New Dick Van Dyke Show (1971), Sanford and Son (1972), Love, American Style (1973) and What’s Happening! (1976) among other shows. He also appeared in four episodes of The New Dick Van Dyke Show. “Dance, Monkee, Dance” first aired on December 12, 1966 and was directed by James Frawley. There’s some fun, surreal humor in this episode, and with lots memorable dialogue and sight gags.
The story starts off Miss Buntwell, with her big hair and New York accent, calling to offer Peter a free dance lesson if he can answer a question. All Peter has to do to win his dance lesson is to name the eighth president of the United States. After much prompting and a bit of a mental struggle, Ms. Buntwell finally gets him to say “Martin Van Buren” and he races off to pick up his free dance lesson. Through the scene, there was one action that distracted me:
She’s holding a cigarette, never taking a puff, but it still surprised me. When I watched in the mid 80s I thought I didn’t consider this odd because it wasn’t that unusual to see smoking on films and TV throughout the 70s-80s. But in more recent years, it’s not treated so casually. According to “TV Stubs Out Smoking” on parentstv.org, over time, fewer and fewer characters on TV shows are shown smoking, especially if the entertainment is geared towards young viewers. Recently, I can only recall evil characters like the Smoking Man on The X-Files, or Patty and Selma on The Simpsons and all of whom suffer for their habit. Around this time in the mid to late 60s, there was growing information about the health risks of smoking. Even writers on The Monkees seemed to be expressing an opinion about it, calling the smoking Four Swine, “seedy characters” in “Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers.” I’m not sure if they’re saying she’s a seedy character, or if her smoking is meaningless. Radio and TV advertising of cigarette’s wasn’t banned until 1971, so at this time it was still legal.
Now, we return to this episode’s scam. Peter is excited to have won something he never wanted or needed before getting her call. Now, here he is at Renaldo’s Dance au Go Go enjoying his “free” dance lesson with Miss Buntwell, who flatters and flirts with him even though he’s stepping on her feet. Renaldo himself comes in to get what he’s after: Peter’s signature on a lifetime contract of dance lessons that Peter will pay for. Miss B flirts and growls and calls Peter “tiger” and Peter eats it up.
At home, Peter practices dance steps while the others fret about the contract he signed. Peter rolls out the very long document for Mike to look at. It’s a lifetime contract, with option for renewal. Where Peter is standing, we can see the “Money Is The Root Of All Evil” sign over his shoulder, just like it was emphasized in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here.” The Monkees are caught in the web of yet another money-making scheme.
Peter’s insistence that no court in the world would convict him leads to a hilarious courtroom fantasy with Mike as the judge. As the prosecutor, Micky has a headshot of Hal March, who plays Renaldo, and asks Peter if he recognizes him. Peter wonders if this is a “trick question.” Clever, as Hal March was the host of The 64,000 Question in the 1950s, a game show that was part of the rigged quiz show scandal. Throughout the scene, watch Peter’s face as he looks like he’s on the verge of cracking up. Maybe it’s because Mike goes hysterically over the top. Usually that’s Micky’s job, while Mike plays it cool. Here, Mike takes the crazy-ball and runs with it, eating his wig, clubbing everyone on the head with his gavel and maniacally repeating that Peter is “Guilty, guilty, guilty…!”
Micky thinks he can get Peter out of it, because one good hustle deserves another. He goes to Renaldo’s pretending to be Peter’s “solicitor” and says Peter has ballpointitis, making him sign long-term contracts. Renaldo says there are no loopholes, so, in demonstration Micky signs the contract binding him to a lifetime of dance lessons. Micky kind of fell on his own crafty sword there, huh.
Peter and Micky dance together at the pad while Mike watches with concern. He does that cute, striving-to-be-manly-but-ending-up-awkward shtick again. He looks at us and says “Well, I see you can’t send a boy to do a man’s bodge..uh, j’uh, job, badge…” etc.
Mike is tricked into signing the same way Peter was; he gets seduced by Miss Buntwell. In his case, at least he gets to make out with her first. It’s nice to see Mike kiss a girl for once. It’s usually Davy, with Peter a distant second. It’s a good choice, as Miss Buntwell seems a little too mature for any of the other Monkees to handle. However, this is what happens when you send a “man instead of a boy.” He falls for a woman. At home, he tells Davy that he signed the contract and enrolled for graduate work. She must be a helluva kisser. So Micky and Mike, the “smart ones,” are just as foolish as Peter this time. Finally, a possible solution as Davy says what they need is a “man on the inside.”
Davy can dance, so he auditions to be one of Renaldo’s instructors. Renaldo probably sees Davy’s potential in charming ladies and hires him. There’s a clever edit between two scenes while Renaldo briefs Davy, and in the outer room, Miss Buntwell is getting another pigeon to sign a contract. Everything Renaldo says contradicts what Miss Buntwell says. Renaldo says he doesn’t care if Davy has ever taught at all, while Miss Buntwell assures her customer all the instructors have four years experience. Renaldo tells him the three most important words are “just sign here” and “money is everything,” just as Miss Buntwell asks her victim to sign and says, “money isn’t everything.”
Davy’s first lesson is with none other than Mike, Micky, and Peter. Renaldo says he’s leaving the boys in Davy’s capable hands, “or should I say feet.” He laughs at his own joke and The Monkees all mock him. Another note about Hal March, the Internet Movie Database and Wikipedia both note that Hal March died from lung cancer that he’d developed as a result of his chain smoking. Pointing it out so I don’t miss the irony of my earlier paragraph about smoking.
How is Renaldo hooking all these people? He’s not preying on the hope for success like Bernie Class. It must be sex, not actual sex, but the promise of becoming sexier after these lessons, and being around the hot dance instructors. The Dancing Smoothies are comic, stereotyped lady-killers, even down to naming them “Smoothies.” Renaldo’s using seduction on these men and women and they go for it. Ms Buntwell wears a flashy, tight outfit and is flirty and sexy. She implies Peter will become studly after the lessons, and you can see his smitten look. Is Miss Buntwell a crook too? She seems to be in on the set-up, but comes to Peter’s defense when Renaldo calls him a sucker. She is clearly afraid of her boss, so maybe she desperately needs a paycheck.
Davy “teaches” them to dance in a romp of “I’ll Be Back Up on My Feet” (Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell). They do various dances, including the iconic footage of them dancing up the side of the rooftop in tuxedos and top hats. At the end, three of The Monkees say how fun it all was but Davy breaks the fourth wall with, “You must be joking. You know how much it costs for those sets and costumes.”
At home, The Monkees try to figure out how to get out of the situation.
This leads to Micky breaking the fourth wall in an extended bit. He walks off set and into the “writers’ room” for a fast, hip, groovy idea. The writers are older Asian men with long mustaches, and traditional garments. There’s a young guy in the back with a whip. That’s the part that kills me. The “writers” were a surprise, but the implication of the other guy? This is so absurd, subversive, not very PC, probably offensive, and very, very funny. You could almost miss the guy in the back, but once I thought about, it gave a weird edge to what I was seeing [Especially when I note the whip-master is white. – Editor]. [That could be your modern cynicism acting up again – Editor’s wife.] The writers start frantically typing and hand Micky paper. Micky takes the idea back to the set, say it’s terrible, and the writers are overpaid.
No problem, because Davy has seen Renaldo’s ad in the paper and says tomorrow the studio will be filled with suckers. Peter says “all day” and pulls out an all day sucker. Micky gives me one of my favorite quotable lines when he says: “Little joke. About that big,” and shows the tiny space with his fingers.
At the studio, Davy sets Mike up to keep Ms. Buntwell busy. This leads to the segments of Mike chasing Buntwell around the office, like he’s Pepe Le Pew, and she’s the painted cat [I never understood why a skunk would be attracted to a cat. – Editor]. The soundtrack aids the cartoony feel with zany music and sounds. Of course Mike just wants to occupy her, not actually catch her, and since Mike is more awkward than aggressive, this isn’t as creepy as it could be. In addition to the the funny dialogue, the thing that kills me about the scene is that both actors are incredibly expressive and huge with their facial expressions. We never forget it’s a comedy.
In the ballroom, Davy sets his plan in motion to chase off the potential customers. (You can hear a lady whisper “isn’t he cute” about Davy when he enters.) Similar to “Monkees vs. Machine,” the Monkees are here to ruin a business. Davy tells the ladies that the teachers are patient with mistakes. Peter comes out in a dress, and Micky pretends to be an angry, threatening instructor. Next, Davy tells the crowd they’ll learn all the latest dances and Micky and Peter contradict this by dressing and dancing as cavemen. Davy assures the ladies that the instructors are all perfect gentlemen. Micky’s in drag and Peter chases him, pulling his hair and pestering him for a kiss, while Micky shrieks a lot. Davy gives a big over-the-top wink to the camera.
Meanwhile, Mike’s got Miss Buntwell trapped on the table. Renaldo comes in and tells her to go talk to the new applicants. He’s smiling angrily with lots of white teeth. He’s looks like a mad game show host, and I thought this is before I knew he hosted The 64,000 Question.
Renaldo talks to the women in the ballroom, attempting damage control. Miss Buntwell prepares the Smoothies: four identical male dance instructors with matching outfits, mustaches and poses. The Monkees see them and approach, after plotting together with a round of “rhubarb, rhubarb. Mike offers to teach the Smoothies the Magooma: “first you raise your right arm, then you raise your left arm.” Smoothies raise their arms, and The Monkees hold them up at gunpoint. Probably toy guns, but if not:
Our boys come out in the Dancing Smoothies clothes and take over the ballroom, to a romp of “I’m a Believer” (Neil Diamond). Renaldo recognizes them and is horrified. The Smoothies appear in underwear and loose ropes. I guess The Monkees are bad at knots. The Monkees play volleyball against The Smoothies, and there’s lots of dancing and running around. Mike coaches the women and gets them to surround Renaldo and The Smoothies. The Monkees tie them up with the “Renaldo’s Dance Au Go Go” sign.
Tag sequence where the Monkees go into Renaldo’s office and jump around, annoying him. Renaldo rips up their contracts to get rid of them. Mike says the contracts are binding, and they’ll show up for every lesson unless he tears up all the lifetime contracts. Renaldo heads for the filing cabinet and they all start throwing papers all over the floor and tearing up the contracts. They love tearing up papers!
That was a lot of fun. There are a few elements to this episode that play differently now then they did when I watched them in reruns in the ’80s, and I imagine they played differently in the ’60s as well. I like that all four Monkees work as a team, none of them takes the spotlight or dominates the action. One thing about the storyline, they don’t really mention them as musicians or in a band at all. If this was the first and only one you watched, and you didn’t know the premise, you wouldn’t have a clue after this episode. Like Royal Flush, they seem like four guys just occupying a house. It’s another con-artist plot, but the comedy is satisfying: weird, and frequently over-the-top in both the jokes and the execution.
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.