“We don’t follow fashion. That’d be a joke.”
“Monkees à la Mode” is one of my favorites, if not my very favorite from the first season. The storyline plays as a culture war between the Monkees and a high fashion magazine staff. The Monkees are at their best working together, defying authority. There’s no high adventure here. No one’s life is in danger. What is on the line is the Monkees identity and individuality. It’s an important concept for young people – then and now. This was the first episode directed by Alex Singer, who directed five more after this. Episode writers were the usual suspects, Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso.
The action starts, not with the Monkees, but in the offices of Chic magazine; an allusion to Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar. Anna Wintour stand-in Madame Quagmeyer asks her staff for new ideas for their “Young American” issue. The photographer gives Madame Q names of various socialites, all of which she rejects as “stale.” One of his suggestions has the amusing name, “Vernon Equinox.” Toby, a young writer, played by Monkees frequent extra Valerie Kairys, suggests The Monkees. The photographer calls them “long-haired weirdos,” marking the second episode in a row the term was used. Since Chic is a magazine of “style”, of course their hair would cause comment and the magazine’s main audience probably isn’t teenagers anyway. But Madame Q loves the idea and says she’ll make them over in the magazine’s image. She wants fresh and new but plans to turn it into the same old thing.
Let’s have breakfast with the Monkees, shall we? I love these scenes of them hanging out, doing everyday things. Someone has delivered a copy of Chic to their doorstep; a magazine they do not subscribe to. They make fun of the magazine for a bit and then find the letter from Madame Q, saying they’ve been chosen as the “typical young Americans of the year.” Great fourth-wall-breaking gag with the edit-in of the closing title images of all the Monkees making goofy faces.
There’s a knock on the door and Davy dramatically poses and declares, “Hark, I hear a knock upon yon door!” There’s a motif of the Monkees mock “posing” during this episode that compliments the fashion theme. The title image I’ve chosen at the top of the post is a classic example. The visitors are Toby and the photographer from Chic who introduces himself as Rob Roy Fingerhead. Toby explains that Chic wants to do a story about them.
Rob Roy, acting a lot like Ronnie from “One Man Shy,” proceeds to insult the Monkees appearance and taste. He describes their furnishings as “cheap, ugly clap-trap.” The Monkees defensively show Rob Roy a couple of historical items they own, leading to quick George Washington and Paul Revere fantasy sketches. An unimpressed Rob Roy leaves, declaring he’ll do Madame Q’s bidding. Toby, who is obviously a friend of theirs and more their speed, tries to appeal to them to do the story, despite Rob Roy. The Monkees protest that they’re not right for the magazine, because as Mike puts it, “young people aren’t typical anything.” That’s really one of the key points. Toby says the publicity will be good for their career, so Davy agrees they’ll participate. He has to talk the other three into it a bit more after she leaves.
At the magazine, the arriving Peter tries to explain who they are: “Madame Q…You may not remember about us.” Madame Q’s sarcasm-laced response: “Your intuition is faultless.” So many good lines, it’s tempting to transcribe everything. Peter explains they’re the “typical young people of the year” and the editors cue up their faces from the titles again.
She introduces the Monkees to her snooty editorial assistants: Miss Collins, Vassar ’64, Miss Osborne, Bryn Mar ’63. Miss Delessips, Bennington ’62. Mike mocks them by introducing himself as “Mike Nesmith, Eagle Scouts ’61.” (Similar to Peter introducing himself for the gangsters in “Monkees à la Cart.”) Madame Q assigns the sister-school beauties to gather background on the boys. Micky and Davy flirt with the young women of course, while Peter talks to the lamp. Of all the Monkees, Mike is clearly the most irked by Madame Q and her staff. He’s as disdainful of Miss Vassar’s narrow-mindedness as she is of his perceived lack of sophistication.
Rob Roy struggles to prepare the Monkees for the fashion shoot. According to him, Peter has bad posture, and Davy doesn’t know how to pose. The best segment of this is Rob Roy with Micky. Rob Roy instructs Micky on “good taste” in matching clothing by color. At first, Micky ignores him with incessant drumming (sounds like the beat from “Randy Scouse Git”). Rob Roy stops this by unexpectedly threatening him with a gun! Micky looks startled but quickly shifts to mischievous. He responds to Rob Roy’s lessons by manically throwing clothes all over the place while reciting his own take on the “rules.” Rob Roy follows him around, flustered and yelling at him. There’s something so satisfying about watching Micky’s childish rebellion against Rob Roy’s fashion edicts.
Now it’s time for the romp, set to “Laugh” (Medress/Margo/Margo/Siegal), which is a great song choice for this episode. The lyrics are perfect for these characters who take themselves oh-so-seriously. Throughout, The Monkees wreak havoc in the Chic offices as Rob Roy tries to complete his photo spread.
Sometime later, Toby turns over her story on The Monkees to Madame Q, saying it captures them “just the way they are.” Madame Q doesn’t want that so she asks Rob Roy to step in. Rob Roy anticipated this and hands over a story that’s full of lies. The fashionable Rob Roy, by the way, is wearing one of the Monkees plaid suit jackets that show up squiggly on my monitor. Divoon!
Back at the pad, we’re treated to more of the Monkees chilling while they wait for the Chic article to come out. A couple of entertaining moments: Mike prunes the ball on his hat and Davy punches a toy giraffe that refused his offer of cheese. There’s a knock on the door and a classic sight gag when Davy goes to the peephole: He’s too short to see out of it, so he just opens and shuts it for no real reason. It’s an angry girl, coming to give Davy back his friendship ring. Next up is Linda, who comes by just to slap Micky and leave. Mike gets a phone call from a guy who’s clearly not happy with him. Then, someone tosses a rock through the window with a note full of insults for The Monkees, signed, “A friend.” In other words, all their friends hate them now.
(Side note to mention that Mike is excellent with the physical comedy in this scene, from answering the phone awkwardly through the staircase, to unwrapping the note around the rock, he does it all in a way that’s funny.)
Another knock and Davy repeats the sight gag with the peephole. Toby arrives with the article, and Mike guesses that all their friends have already seen it. She reads it to them. According to Rob Roy and Chic, the boys are gourmets who enjoy pheasant under glass, their favorite sports are polo and croquet, and their taste in music runs from chamber music to organ recitals. Obviously these are silly and trivial but they are still lies. It’s also a meta-comment since real life publicity and magazines will exaggerate and make up little fibs to make their famous subjects fit a certain image.
Toby tells them she quit her job in protest. Madame Q sends them a telegram reminding them to be at the banquet that night, to receive their “Young Americans of the Year” award. (Goofy face titles again.) Micky and Davy respond with a telegram of their own, “Monkee telegram 26A: You can take your trophy and…”
We’ll just have to imagine what they want her to do with the trophy, as they cut to the banquet scene. Madame Q is on stage at the podium and her speech lets us know these stuffy middle-aged adults dressed up and sitting at the tables are Chic’s advertisers. Even if you were watching this for the first time, you had to know that the Monkees aren’t going to behave. What’s fun is to see how they’re going to wreck her day.
As much as I love the drama here of The Monkees versus fashion elite, there’s also an interesting bit of serendipity. This episode aired on the same date that Don Kirshner was fired from Colgem records, and as the Monkees music supervisor, supposedly for choosing the next single (“A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You”/”She Hangs Out”) without the Monkees (or Raybert’s) knowledge or agreement. In “Monkees a la Mode” the boys are rebelling against being told what they are, and what they should be by Madame Q and Chic. The conflict echoes the real life struggle of The Monkees, who were tired of the music for their albums and the show being produced without any input from them.
Madame Q announces that Chic is awarding the “Fine Young American” trophy to four young people who are the “epitome for everything the magazine stands for.” The Monkees, who are seated on the stage off to the side, stand up and greet the room with an off-key Three Stooges “Hello” harmony. The Monkees have all the power here since they have nothing to lose.
Each one makes a fool of Madame Q by clownishly contradicting her introduction. She calls Peter the “picture of grace” and he proceeds to stumble all over the podium. She declares that Davy embodies the “chic coiffure.” He removes an obvious wig and reveals a smooth, sham bald head, making him look like a toddler with a cocky swagger. Madame Q describes Micky as the “paragon of quiet gentility.” He jumps to the mic, performing a similar hack-comedian shtick like he did in “Too Many Girls,” “I’m kinda new in town, can you direct me to your apartment?”
When she gets to Mike, Madame Q is twitching from humiliation and has clearly had enough of the Monkees. She gives him the trophy and tries to get rid of him fast. Stylish hats-off to Patrice Wymore, who played Madame Q. She was delightfully unlikeable and haughty throughout. Madame Quagmeyer is also a great Dickensian name, resembling the “quagmire” she got herself into.
Mike pushes her aside and insists on speaking. He announces that the trophy should really go to Rob Roy Fingerhead since he’s the one who “made them what they are today.” Rob Roy tries to sneak away. Peter, maintaining his characteristic sweet expression, stands up and physically stops him from exiting the stage. This is as innocent as anyone has ever looked while menacing another human being.
Rob Roy accidentally sits on and breaks his camera. He’s so upset, I almost feel sorry for him. Micky says, “It was a mercy killing.” I want to know what it was made of that you can break it that easily. I could understand it bending slightly with the weight, but the whole thing falls to pieces.
Madame Q yells at Rob Roy to get rid of Monkees before she loses her job, but it’s too late. Thanks to the Monkees, Madame Q and Rob Roy are ruined. They caused their own problems by creating a false version of the boys that their advertisers would find acceptable. Advertisers, then and now are a powerful force in any kind of media. The Monkees head out into the crowd to create more chaos, stacking dishes and taking flowers off the table etc. Hysterical Madame Q has to be physically restrained by the wait staff.
Tag sequence where The Monkees go back to the Chic office to see if they can get a retraction. To their surprise, Toby is now in charge of the magazine. She firmly refuses their request and her new attitude and style is exactly like the old Madame Quagmeyer. Davy points out that it’s a big responsibility, but Toby reveals her new assistants are none other than Madame Q and Rob Roy. It’s a cynical touch since these two haven’t learned anything. They’re stuck in the bottom of their own machinery, and Toby is now one of them. Next, the performance of “You Just May Be the One” (Nesmith), previously seen in “The Chaperone” and “One Man Shy.”
One of the reasons for my everlasting-love for this show is because the Monkees are nearly always creating chaos and fighting against various representations of establishment and authority. “Monkees à la Mode” is the quintessential example of this kind of story from The Monkees. This episode also stands out as the Monkees display more anger than usual toward the villains, and I like that. But should they be angry? They could have backed out of the Chic article once they saw what Madame Q and Rob Roy were like. Instead, they were hostile participants. The episode resonates in a similar way for me as “One Man Shy,” which is another story about class war. The antagonists aren’t really evil, just threatened by anything that challenges the status quo.
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.