Monkees Vs. Macheen: “Captain Crocodile”

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“The Monkees Should Not Be Allowed on TV”

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In “Captain Crocodile,” a lively and entertaining episode, the Monkees struggle to get into show business again. The Monkees vs. showbiz episodes are always good ones. This time, their antagonist is a jealous TV host, the title character Captain Crocodile. Writing credits go to Gerald Gardner & Dee Caruso and Peter Meyerson & Robert Schlitt, from a story by Peter Meyerson & Robert Schlitt. This is the largest amount of writers that worked on any Monkees episode. If this is what it takes to have such a good show, I’m all for it. James Frawley directed “Captain Crocodile” and it aired February 20, 1967.

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The Monkees arrive on the set of “Captain Crocodile,” expecting to play their music. The host of the show, Captain Crocodile himself acts pleased to meet them, but then mutters vague threats about them playing on “his show.” The show crew dresses the Monkees up in smocks and the hats used by The Jolly Green Giants of “Find the Monkees.” Howard, the producer, holds up signs telling the kids in the studio audience when to cheer. (Note the “Standby/On the Air” sign is the same as the one used in the “Too Many Girls” talent show.) The bipolar Captain Crocodile calls his loyal audience “rotten” kids and then gets giggly and jolly as he greets the camera. He enthusiastically throws pies at each of the Monkee’s faces.

Captain Crocodile is meant to be a fictional version of Captain Kangaroo, Howdy Doody, and hosts of children’s television shows in general. Even his name is a vicious variation on Captain Kangaroo, a show I used to love as a kid. Captain Kangaroo was certainly a lot more mild-mannered than Joey Forman. I suspect that Captain Crocodile might have had an influence on the Krusty the Clown character from The Simpsons. There’s a similar cult-like devotion from the kids, while the host himself has a demeanor not at all appropriate for children. In a funny way of course. But a little sad too.

Back to The Monkees, they’re in the office of a Junior Pinter who has asked to see them. Their matching plaid suits really distort and confuse my monitor. I hope we don’t see those too often. The secretary looks at them like they’re biggest freaks she’s ever seen in her life. Meanwhile, the Monkees think an invitation from a Television executive means they’ve made it. [So naive – Editor]

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When they get into Pinter’s office, they’re surprised to find he actually is a little kid, the son of the President of the Network. I wondered if the writers were having a sly joke at producer Bert Schneider’s expense, who was the son of Abraham Schneider, then president of Columbia pictures, and the “prince of the court” in Michael Nesmith’s words. He would have been in his 30s at this point, but they turn “Junior” into an eleven-year-old in short pants. Junior Pinter would like the Monkees to play on Captain Crocodile’s show every week. The Monkees turn to exit, as they don’t want any more pies in their faces. Junior gets his Dad on the phone, who tells him to handle it like a “real executive.” Junior hangs up and promises that they will get to play music, and no more pies will be thrown at them. That was a really delightful scene with sharp acting from Joey Baio as Junior. He swings from cocky, swaggering executive to insecure little kid with ease and enthusiasm. Adding some fun is watching the Monkees navigate the tiny chairs and shot glasses of milk in Junior’s office.

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The Crocodile Corp, which are the Captain’s tiny, obsessed fans, chase the Captain into producer Howard’s office. He tells Howard he got the memo from Junior about the Monkees and he fears he’s being replaced. The Captain is similar to Victor and the circus performers from “Monkees at the Circus,” fearing that he’ll be replaced by this newer, younger form of entertainment. If he wasn’t so wicked, you could almost feel bad for him and his sad but maniacal eyes.

Unlike the Circus folks, Captain Crocodile fights dirty. The next series of scenes involves The Monkees trying to play on his show, and the Captain finding various ways to sabotage them. Tactics include: introducing them and then cutting away before they can play, throwing a net on them when they’re about to play, and rigging an explosion when Micky starts to drum. The Captain pretends to give Micky a shot to introduce himself, but hits him with so many stage instructions that usually quick-witted Micky is completely flustered. Throughout these pranks are cutaways of Captain Crocodile looking pleased at screwing them over.

Finally, Mike loses his temper and screams at the Captain, “Either you let us play or we quit.” Kind of a foreshadowing of his threatening to quit if The Monkees didn’t get more control over their albums? I’m kidding, sort of. It couldn’t have been a thought in the writers’ minds at the time as this was shot October 18-21, 1966, before the famous incident with Don Kirshner, The Monkees music supervisor,  occurred in 1967. But it’s an unintentionally subversive joke, made sweeter by the later mention of Kirshner in the episode.

The performance is “Valleri” (Boyce/Hart) with footage that was shot separately and added into the episode. They almost matched the outfits of the band, but not quite. Davy and Peter’s pants are the wrong color and Mike has a different shirt under his jean jacket. I’ll mention, since I was talking about Mike Nesmith and the Monkees rebellion, that this was a tune created under Don Kirshner’s supervision.  Nesmith supposedly hated this song and called it “the worst record ever.” (It’s not my favorite, but I do like the fuzz guitar.)

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When they finish, Mike excitedly approaches the stage manager and asks how they did. The stage manager, played by Larry Gelman, who also pops up in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here” and “The Christmas Show,” informs them that the show’s been over for five minutes. The Monkees still haven’t been on TV. They sit in the audience and Peter cries about their failure. The other three try to cheer him up by fantasizing that they can be on TV some other way.

Their fantasy is the centerpiece, and my favorite part of the episode. The Monkees parody various TV shows. I was not yet born in the 1960s, so I have no real frame of reference for most of the television shows featured. But this is what makes The Monkees classic: These bits are still funny, whether you’ve seen these other shows or not. They’re not topical or dated because you don’t have to be “in the know” to find the lines and acting hilariously funny.

First up is their version of Huntley-Brinkley Report, a 15-minute news program. Each Monkee gives his name as some variation of Huntley or Brinkley (“Chuck Weekly,” “Dank Barkely”), until Mike blows it with “John Smith.” (Love his sheepish look when Micky calls him on it.) Next, Mike pretends to be weather forecaster Tex Nesmith and gets attacked with wind and rain.  Then, they start a parody of What’s My Line calling it “What’s My Scene” (A better parody of this is Woody Allen’s “What’s My Perversion” from Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex But Were Afraid to Ask) but deciding it’s boring, they go into a fake To Tell The Truth that they call “To Tell a Fib.” (Apparently, they’ve recently revived To Tell the Truth.)

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The best of the best is the comic book/Batman sequence where Mike and Micky are robbers and Davy and Peter are heros “Frogman and Ruben the tadpole” wearing the scuba suits from “Monkee See, Monkee Die” romp with Monkeemen capes. The camera angle is slanted the entire time and the sound effects are given as onscreen graphics, “Foo” “Bing” “Bong” etc. Mike is hilarious with his delayed reactions to Peter’s attacks and it’s amusing that Peter is clearly trying not to break up laughing the entire time.

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After the fun is over, Captain Crocodile continues to have a nervous breakdown over his perceived threat of the Monkees. He tells Howard he has “evil thoughts” and it leads to a scene where Junior Pinter is showing the Monkees their hate mail. This doesn’t make a lot of sense given that they’ve only probably been on TV a few seconds, thanks to the conniving Captain. Who knows them well enough to hate them? But Pinter shows them the 27 letters they received from people calling them “long haired weirdos”, “loathsome teenagers” etc. This is the first of many times on The Monkees they’ll be called “long-haired weirdos.” It’s another element that has a real life resonance because as Micky Dolenz mentioned in the documentary, We Love the Monkees (2012), it was a big deal to have young men with longer hair (we’re talking a little past the collar here) on TV at all at the time. Junior mentions the letters were “written in crayon” so they’re presumably fakes created by Captain Crocodile’s pint-sized disciples.

Pinter tells them the Programming Chief J.J. Pontoon has called a meeting to discuss the problem. The Monkees counter by crashing the meeting, disguised of course in fake identities. Micky pretends to be a TV pollster, spouting some gibberish about network ratings going up thanks to The Monkees. Mike plays a janitor whose kids only watched “Captain Crocodile” to see The Monkees.  Peter and Davy come in dressed as little kids, threatening to hold their breath if the network takes The Monkees off the air. Junior backs them up on this. J.J. Pontoon, who is played by Oliver McGowan previously seen in “Monkee See, Monkee Die,” tells them all to go away so the network executives can make a decision. The Captain (in a sly nod to The Caine Mutiny] plays with little metal stress balls.

The Captain decides to utilize his secret weapon, the Crocodile Corps He asks them to “get the Monkees” so the children chase after the band to a romp to “Auntie Grizelda” (Diane Hildebrand, Jack Keller). The romp has some footage that appears to have been shot at the same time as the “I’ll Be Back Upon My Feet” romp from “Dance, Monkee, Dance.” The kids terrorize the Monkees with rifles and hatchets, yikes. Eventually, the Crocodile Corps chases the Monkees all the way back to the “Captain Crocodile” set. I like that this show wasn’t terribly precious about children.

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At the birthday house, Micky gets the idea to tell the kids a story. All they have is a dictionary, so they have to improvise, “Once upon a time, in the land of Kirshner.” The kids sit in the audience seats, and each Monkee takes his turn “reading” to the children. They’re making little sense but the kids are loving it (of course they are). See, they just want to be read to, like any kids. Peter gets his turn and as always, he’s a step behind so he actually reads the dictionary. The children don’t mind and would clearly watch these guys do anything. The Captain loses his temper and reveals his true nature to his fans,“You double-crossing brats, I hate you!” They turn around and attack him instead! That about wraps it up for Captain Crocodile’s career. Bravo to Joey Forman and his gleefully nasty portrayal of Captain Crocodile. [“Amazing.” – Editor (a hundred points to anybody who gets that reference!)]

 Tag sequence where the “Captain Crocodile” show has been changed to “The Monkees Menagerie.” The little sign they put up on the clubhouse looks like it came off the back of one of their cast chairs. Hurray for the Monkees, they’ve finally made it! But no, the host of the show is the former “Captain Crocodile” producer, Howie Needleman. Instead of hitting them with pies, the new trend is spraying them with seltzer. Ah, the cynicism of this show and how the older adults are always untrustworthy and/or crazy. 

This is such a great episode, and a decent companion piece to “Find The Monkees” where they also struggle to “make it” as TV stars. This episode is a little darker though, in a good way. The story and dialogue makes fun of Hollywood and the notion of youth vs. establishment. Captain Crocodile, representing the establishment, is paranoid and brings about his own demise. Having the Monkees’ one champion played by a kid is subtle way of emphasizing “youth vs. experience.” When The Monkees manage to turn over the ruling class, a new identical regime comes in to replace it. That’s a sharp, cynical touch. And on top of that, there’s the pure entertainment value. The TV sequence alone makes this episode worth it. I know the Monkees were working very hard, long hours on this show and were struggling to be considered seriously as musicians at the same time. I do hope they occasionally had as much fun as it looked like they were having.

Happy 50th anniverary to The Monkees TV series, which debuted on September 12, 1966 with the episode “Royal Flush.”

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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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