Under the Eye: “Late”

“Late”

We exist in a world where men with machine guns stand on every street corner and watch you. Where women are bound and gagged so they cannot move or speak. June tells us she was asleep when there were “temporary” inconveniences. When the Constitution was “suspended.” When women en masse were denied their jobs and their pay. In a flashback, June and Moira are jogging and getting ugly stares from passersby. Do two women jogging together deserve the incredulous stink-eye? They stop for coffee. June discovers she has no money in her bank account. The barista tells her to come back when she has money. He says, “Fucking sluts, get the fuck out of here,” which is on its face ridiculous and over-the-top in attempting to establish hatred for women. Moira and June? These women do not look like “fucking sluts,” and even if they did, I’m pretty sure the customer service handbook would make a point to advise their employees not to engage people in this manner. The scene is so laughably excessive it doesn’t belong in this show, but if it were true-to-life, someone (let’s say Moira) would be recording this conversation for later posting on Twitter and YouTube. Later, June and her female co-workers are being told they are to be “let go” (a polite word for fired) and to get out. If any of this were recorded and uploaded, I’m sure it would have an effect on the body politic. Creepy Guardians are kind enough to hold doors open for the women and their personal belongings and say, “Under his eye,” as calmly as saying, “Have a nice day.”

“Wanna move ahead but the boss won’t seem to let me, I swear sometimes that man is out to get me”

In the present, people (namely the Martha Rita, and Serena) are being nice to Offred, presumably because they think she might be pregnant. Serena even takes her to see the new baby. This is where I begin to suspect that people never truly change in this world. They can wear masks and pretend to be sheep, but being born a monster makes it difficult to hide that treacherous face. Serena is an object I would never consider for pity, although I do pity her and Commander Fred for their woeful ignorance and maladaption. I don’t pity Serena for her bursts of unwarranted anger and violence against either Offred or Rita. June visits Janine, who teeters on the brink of emotional collapse. She is possessive of her baby, and it is her baby, no matter what any of these ignorant women say. The “pretend” aspect of all of this frustrates me. In another life, Serena could’ve been June’s overbearing boss, and June could tell her to go fuck herself and walk away, but not in this world. This is a world where women are not permitted to read, and they are supposed to pretend that they are unable to read because they are women. June pumps Nick, the driver, for information about Ofglen. Nick is a slug, perhaps well-meaning and distracted, but a slug nonetheless. Another flashback reveals all the money has been moved into men’s accounts; husbands or next-of-kin. This is where we sense Moira’s hostility toward men. She blames Luke for the actions of the terrorists, and in fact, she denies that this is terrorism; that this is what all men want – to control women, to control their lives, and to control their money. As a man, I can tell you that’s bullshit.

“I’m just a girl who can’t say ‘no,’ and I’m in a terrible fix!”

I’ve held back on discussing Aunt Lydia because I view her as nothing more than a lifeless vessel of torture. June is interrogated by an Official while she is poked with a cattle-prod by Lydia. They ask her about Ofglen. They ask if June finds her attractive. If Ofglen ever put the moves on her. If she knew Ofglen was a lesbian. Lydia, out of nothing more than anger, beats June after scripture is quoted back to her, and the only thing that stops the beating is Serena’s intervention, believing Offred to be pregnant. You can imagine the look on her face when she has her period. Now Emily (Ofglen) strikes me as a smart girl. She’s a college professor, for fuck’s sake! Why does she engage in a sexual relationship with a Martha in this climate? Is Emily turned on by housekeepers? Is it an act of defiance? Well, she just got her Martha-girlfriend killed for it, and they make her watch. It is a chilling scene that checks off two strong political talking-points: violence against women, and violence against homosexuals. Emily is then sexually mutilated for her transgression. There is another thoughtless flashback which shows demonstrators in a violent clash with Guardians inappropriately set to the strains of “Heart of Glass.” “Living in the Real World” would’ve been a better choice, but I don’t think the producers listen to much Blondie*. Did the demonstrators think they were making their case against men with machine guns? They are killing people on the streets, unprovoked. What were the protesters hoping to achieve? It’s at this point I start to ask, “Um, why haven’t we left yet? They’re taking our money and curtailing our rights. They opened fire on demonstrators. Is the car gassed up?”

Hang in there, Baby!

Serena arranges to put Offred in a nice bedroom, rather than stay in the “suicide-attic” in which the previous handmaid resided. Offred tells her she’s not pregnant; that she got her period. This infuriates Serena who drags her back to the suicide-attic and throws her on the floor. This is Serena. This is what she is and always will be. In another life, there would be compassion and understanding. Not here. This is a television series that would have to depend considerably upon the concept of “world-building.” That is establishing a world, like a game board, and then putting the players (or pieces) on that board with each new episode accumulating knowledge about that constructed world. The writers ignore the crucial world-building aspect and instead create the players before creating the world, and then expect the audience to play catch-up with their creation. “Late” is the main offender, because the writers believe they are being clever in only letting certain components of that world be revealed at the right time and place, like Lost with it’s frustrating flashback structure that served to mirror current events. We end with a severe close-up of Emily after she is told by Lydia that she won’t want what she cannot have – meaning orgasm from sexual stimulation. She goes from confusion to sadness to anger and finally screaming. Alexis Bledel is truly the unsung hero of this show. Gilmore Girls this is not.

* Where’s Debbie Harry in this world? Good-looking woman, great singer. Is she a Martha in this world? Did she fight the Sons of Jacob? Is she dead? Did she flee to Canada when she saw the troubles? Is she in the Colonies?

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Under the Eye: “Birth Day”

“Birth Day”

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

June distracts herself during the Ceremony by naming off everything she knows about the color blue. We get into a ponderous tradition very quickly with the show about how swiftly the fascism can pierce us so often and with so much aplomb we scarcely realize we’ve been gushing blood until it’s too late. Offred and Ofglen trade stories about their jobs before the “reconstruction.” Offred was an editor, and Ofglen was a college professor. Offred wants to know why Ofglen knows an about an Eye in her house. During this exchange, and as a church is being bulldozed, they witness a minister being brutalized by two Guardians. I forgot to mention the Guardians. They’re the guys with machine guns whom everyone fears. I don’t understand the minister. Why is there a minister walking around like he owns the street? Why are we destroying churches when the property could be put to good use for something else rattling around in the brains of the Sons of Jacob? This is where the efficiency and economy of Gilead escapes me. Driver Nick reveals himself to be the Eye by stupidly telling her to not get too close to Ofglen. He also tells her the Commander wants to see her in his office later that night. The Birthmobile arrives to escort her to pregnant Ofwarren’s (“One-eyed batshit crazy Janine”) delivery.

“Dear God, make me a bird. So I could fly far. Far far away …”

June reflects on her own delivery of her daughter, Hannah. It became such a momentous event that zealots would pray outside hospitals, and lunatics would try to steal babies. The handmaids tell Ofwarren to “breathe,” “hold,” and “exhale” in unison. Given the circumstances of how rare live and healthy birth must be to this world, research and science should have offered choices. They offer choices even now with no such problems existing. Incentives would be offered to those fertile couples to have children. Health insurance would become a device of the past. When no one was looking, a righteous religious fanaticism was building in the people. How this could easily translate into the humiliation, enslavement, and torture of women is anybody’s guess. When you get to talking about the concept of equality to different people, you’re going to get a handful of different philosophies. Some people confuse equality with superiority. Some people confuse equality with convenience and opportunity. Some people will argue that slavery is a state of mind; that if you believe you are enslaved, then you are enslaved. I feel that the people who write and produce the show don’t quite grasp the concepts of freedom, slavery, and equality; that they’re either parroting the current hot topics and trends or they (or some of their more zealous viewers) want to suffer vicariously with the characters they’ve created.

“But I made up my mind, I’m keeping my baby, oh I’m gonna keep my baby…”

This is a bizarre delivery with a Commander’s wife simulating labor pain as Ofwarren experiences it. The mixed message of rape and the joy of childbirth gives the show an uncomfortable distinction. Knowing what we know of the perceived inequality of women, the obvious social messaging at work in the narrative, and the politics at play, The Handmaid’s Tale treads a fine line between leftist and right-wing dogma. All I can imagine is that women have gone mad in a time where their bodies have betrayed them and refused the purchase of a child that would grow inside them. That’s the only explanation I can muster for their advocacy of Gilead. Did they ever intend to enslave themselves in the bargain? This is not the story of men oppressing and brutalizing women for their own sadistic pleasure. This is the story of women willfully and deliberately participating in their own annihilation. These women do not have agency. This second episode is padded to the breaking point before the viewer realizes there were only perhaps two bits and a flashback. June goes down to the Commander’s private office. I realize the show-runners get their jollies off not revealing anything because they want us, the viewers, to be June. I don’t find the Commander frightening or imposing in any way, and I have reason. He plays Scrabble with her and we have to watch the whole game. No wonder the human race is dying off. The next morning, June discovers Ofglen has been arrested as Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” plays. The Breakfast Club this is not.

Under the Eye: “Offred”

“Offred”

Let’s just speculate for a minute. This is our world. This is a world of the Boston Red Sox and Friends on DVD. This is the world of the free press, of Annie Lennox, of Bruce Springsteen, of debit cards, and over-priced soy lattes … but … Our world has gone topsy-turvy. Something has changed, as in all good science fiction. The birth rate has plummeted due to an unexplained crisis. Bible literalists make their move. Through an extraordinary and unrealistic set of circumstances, these people have captured The United States of America. A coordinated series of terrorist attacks has crippled our Lady Liberty and made her impotent. Whomever you are, remember your place in the world when your freedom was deleted. The set-up is astonishing. June (Elisabeth Moss), her baby Hannah, and her husband Luke are running from men with machine guns as they attempt to flee the continental United States. Luke is shot and June and Hannah are captured. Hannah is relocated to a privileged family. June is forced to become a handmaid, the brood mare for a prominent family led by the Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife, Serena (Yvonne Strahovski). She is given a name: Offred, meaning “of Fred.” The property of Fred.

Get used to shots like these.

All of this would work well if not for the persistent confessional-style voice-over of June. Her purple prose comes across like a 15-year-old’s self-mutilation journal. The handmaids are told by their devoted Aunt Lydia that the “plague” was God’s plan; a response to birth control and abortion, drugs and pre-marital fornication. When Janine mouths off, she gets a cattle-prod to the neck and loses an eye. The handmaids have been selected for their fertility. They are to be “adopted” by the families of the powerful and impregnated by their commanders. Handmaids walk together spouting bizarre platitudes as bodies hang high up from railings. These are the bodies of priests, Jews, and homosexuals. There are men with machine guns behind defensible piles of sandbags awaiting … what? Attack? Attack from handmaids? Attack from enemy forces? It’s hard to believe in this total nightmare dystopia anyone survived the ferocious assault of the Sons of Jacob. That’s what they call themselves. They call the land they have stolen Gilead. The Republic of Gilead. Even though this is not a republic. This is not America. This is occupied land. The people may look like Americans, act and speak like Americans, but they are the Programmed and they intend to program the handmaids. There are cult-like sessions where handmaids are shamed, judged, and punished by their fellow handmaids until they are broken and then re-built into baby-makers.

“Respect the cock and tame the cunt!”

The Ceremony is a stylized ritual of rape. Creepy organ music plays as Waterford reads a passage from the Bible justifying this action. In strict interpretation of the Bible, Jacob had two wives, Rachael and Leah. Jacob loved Rachael more than Leah, so God rewarded Leah by taking away Rachael’s fertility and giving it to Leah. These Sons of Jacob have re-written their Bible so that Rachael instead gives Leah to Jacob as a “handmaid” so she will bear Jacob’s children, hence the Bible Literalists are not so literal with these sticky digressions. As with every cult, they highlight the passages that advocate their beliefs and disregard others, namely the love, mercy, and compassion present in many passages. Unimaginable cruelty is the name of the game in Gilead’s Bible. I say this as a proud atheist: you cannot mock what you don’t understand. Margaret Atwood’s, and by extension, the writers and producers of the series view, of religion (Christianity, in particular) is sadly warped and misguided. I have no doubt there are practices and sub-practices of different denominations that embrace cruelty and violence. We hear of them on occasion, but these are the exceptions and not the rule. At some point in the story, June’s old friend and lesbian, Moira, escapes from the handmaid orientation facility, but we won’t see the circumstances of the escape in this episode. June believes her to be dead.

“Mongo only pawn in game of life.”

The handmaids are gathered in a central meeting place to kill a man accused of rape. They each take turns stomping on him and ripping him to pieces. Why would the handmaids be required to execute this man, if only to make them all complicit in a murder without due process? In a flashback, we see June and Moira in more normal times when June informs her she is pregnant. There is talk of the danger of having children in these times, but there is no talk of the coming onslaught, the dark cloud of Gilead, perhaps because no one could ever believe it would happen. Along the way, June gets little indications that not all the handmaids have been programmed (the “true believers”). Her assigned traveling companion Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) clues her in by revealing her favorite ice cream (salted caramel) is better than sex. It occurs to me the character moments hold together better than the world that is being built. Ofglen informs June there is an “Eye” in her house. An Eye is a spy, a secret agent working for the higher-ups who’s job it is to keep tabs on Commanders, Commander’s wives, and Marthas. Marthas are essentially “the help.” Infertile, older women who cook and clean the palatial homes the Commanders have stolen from their rightful owners. June learns in short order the Commander’s wife, Serena, hates her, presumably for her ability to have children and the jealousy of “sexual contact” with her husband. June tells us she intends to survive for her daughter.

Monkees vs. Macheen: Peter Tork (1942-2019)

There is only feeling
In this world of life and death
I sing the praise of never change
With every single breath

Just a few weeks ago, I was writing about James Frawley; now Monkees fans have the one-two punch of grieving for the loss of Peter Tork. There is plenty of biographical information available about Tork on the internet, so I won’t spend much time on that. I’ll just do some basics. Peter was born Peter Thorkelson on February 13, 1942 in Washington D.C. He was a struggling folk singer in Greenwich Village and then Los Angeles. According to the book, Monkees Day by Day (Andrew Sandoval), he was working as a dishwasher when musician Stephen Stills (who also auditioned for the show) recommended Tork for The Monkees. The producers were impressed with his sense of humor and cast him.

Since this is a blog about The Monkees, this will be all about Tork’s performance as the charming, adorable band member character, created for the show. Monkees writer Treva Silverman mentioned in an interview that the writing team couldn’t decide if Peter should be an idiot, or a genius. They took a vote and decided on “idiot.” After recapping 58 episodes, I think that’s a little too narrow. Peter was more childlike and naive than anything, with many flashes of pure genius. Certainly, he was one of the funniest performers, though frequently he had the thankless job of being the punchline of one-liners and sight gags. The character’s innocence, gullibility, and misunderstanding of situations was always good for a laugh. His questions to Mike or Micky would often provide exposition to the audience. Tork may not have always liked playing or being identified with the character. 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. Peter was possibly the most likable Monkee; certainly he was the easiest to root for. The band was a group of underdogs and Peter was the underdog among them.

One of the best episodes featuring Peter was “The Devil and Peter Tork,” a story based on “The Devil and Daniel Webster” by Steven Vincent Benét. In this episode Peter nearly loses his soul to the Devil because of his love of playing the harp. Tork captures Peter’s childlike wonder when he first sees and then falls in love with the harp. When the Devil supposedly gives him the talent to make beautiful music with the instrument, I smile when I see his face light up as he plucks the strings. The Devil comes calling to make Peter pay his part of the deal and, thanks to Tork’s acting, I completely buy that Peter’s intentions were pure. He didn’t care about the fame and fortune he received; he just wanted to make people happy with music. Tork’s natural gift for inspiring sympathy from the audience went a long way towards making this episode work.

As a viewer, I don’t want to see the kindest Monkee doomed to hell, and I actually felt frightened for him. Fortunately the other Monkees rally around their friend and Mike convinces him that he can play the harp without the Devil’s power. Tork is convincing in the climax of the episode, showing us his anxiety and fear and then his gentle happiness when he realizes he’s really playing! Peter Tork’s success in these performances might have something to do with the fact that he wasn’t previously trained as an actor. His portrayal comes off as genuine, not practiced. He’s the kid in all of us, and he nicely contrasts the smoother Davy and cynical Micky and Mike. Peter Tork also did well miming the harp performances. Though he did subsequently learn to play, he did not know how at the time, and he watched Harpo Marx for inspiration on faking it.

Peter Tork wasn’t usually the star of the episode and many of his best moments were as part of the ensemble. One of the funniest episodes of season one was “Monkees in a Ghost Town,” and Peter Tork contributed many entertaining moments. In one bit, Peter lists the events of the plot so far, setting up Micky for the fourth-wall breaking line, “That’s for the benefit of any of you who’ve tuned in late. Now, back to our story!” Next, Micky gets an idea and Peter holds the light-bulb over Micky’s head. Both of these gags are over the top, and could have failed, but Peter sells them with sincerity and energy. Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz made dynamic comic partners and among their best scenes is their attempt to impersonate gangsters. Micky’s Cagney impression is a scene-stealer, but Peter backs him up as gruff-voiced sidekick, Spider. For the few moments while the illusion lasts, Peter Tork captures Spider’s physical stance and aggression and he and Micky Dolenz nail the comic timing. After the duo are busted, Peter resorts to his usual little boy demeanor, protesting to the real gangsters that they can’t step on a spider because “…it’ll rain.” Again, such a silly line could have easily been a groaner but Tork could always say that kind of stuff like he meant it. At the climax of the episode, when Peter gets a hold of the gangster’s gun, even big, bad Lenny is rooting for him and prompts him with his own famous line, “You guys ain’t goin’ nowhere!”

I could go on forever, mentioning memorable performances of Peter Tork’s from the series. But, in the interest of time, here’s a quick list of 10 more of my favorite Peter moments:

“I’ve Got a Little Song Here”–After a few failed attempts, Monkee Man Peter finally learns to fly.
“One Man Shy”–Peter gains confidence in his ability to win over the ladies and gets them all to kiss him in a game of spin the bottle.
“Too Many Girls”–Peter as The Amazing Pietro: “Notice that my fingers never leave my hands.”
“Find the Monkees”– Peter comes up with the idea to “be” the band that television producer Benson Hubbell is trying to find.
“Monkees a la Mode”–Peter sweetly menaces Robroy and blocks him from leaving the stage.
“It’s a Nice Place to Visit”– Peter’s surprises Micky, Mike and the audience with a cool, gun-twirling maneuver.
“Hillbilly Honeymoon”–Peter as Uncle Racoon pulls off an over-the-top hillbilly accent and gives marriage advice to the lovelorn Jud.
“Monkees Marooned”– Peter is miraculously able to communicate with Kimba of the Jungle, learning his entire life story from the word “Kretch.”
“The Card Carrying Red Shoes”–Peter evades amorous Natasha, who chases him around the pad. “Well, I love you and my face loves you, it’s just my body that’s out of shape.”
“Monkees on the Wheel,”–In a rare out-of-character moment, Peter as “The Professor” uses his “system” to trick the gangsters into getting drunk and passing out.

Of course I don’t want to end this post without talking about music. Peter Tork was, rightly or wrongly, considered one of the two “real musicians” of the cast. He’s the musician behind the memorable piano lick on “Daydream Believer” (John Stewart). Though he didn’t get to sing as much, I always enjoyed the duet with Micky Dolenz on “Words” (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart) and what the heck, I even liked the novelty-folk song, “Auntie Grizelda,” (Diane Hildebrand/Jack Heller) which was certainly well-used for romps on the show. I’m also a fan of his songwriting contributions to the Head soundtrack, “Can You Dig It?” and “Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?” (Interesting that both song titles are questions.) “Can You Dig It” is one of the strongest tracks. Last but not least, one of my favorite Peter Tork-penned songs was on the album Headquarters, “For Pete’s Sake.” This tune was the closing theme in the second season and one I remember fondly. Though I was often sad to hear it because it meant the episode was over. The song has lovely lyrics and captures the psychedelic feel of the second season.

In this generation
In this lovin’ time
In this generation
We will make the world shine

After the show ended, Peter Tork was the first to leave the band in 1968. He worked as a solo musician, formed other bands, even tried his hand at a recording and film production company. He reunited with the other Monkees several times for tours, albums, the 1997 special, and the fifty year reunion album, Good Times!. He contracted adenoid cystic carcinoma in 2009. He died of complications from the disease on February 21, 2019 in his home in Connecticut.

The Monkees universe and the world in general is a sadder place without this funny, charming, brilliant man.

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examined the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.

Monkees vs. Macheen: James Frawley (1936-2019)

Title-image

I was sad to hear of the recent passing of James Frawley, director of 28 of the 58 Monkees episodes. Born in 1936 in Houston Texas, he died of a heart attack on January 22 at the age of 82, in Indian Wells California. He is survived by his wife Cynthia. Frawley was an important figure in the history of The Monkees television series. I’ve frequently thought of him as a “fifth Monkee” and after writing the recaps of all the episodes, I came to appreciate how grand his contribution was to the creativity and spirit of The Monkees.

Frawley started out his career as an actor, trained by renowned teachers Strasberg and Meisner. He was a member of the Actors Studio and made his Broadway debut in a Tony-nominated production of Becket, which starred Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn. He also performed in New York with an improv group known as The Premise.

Outer-Limits

A year or so ago when I was on a 1960’s television kick, I stumbled across a couple of his supporting roles. Thanks to MeTV, I caught him in two episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: once as  Lieutenant Manuera in “The Giuoco Piano Affair” and again as Max in “The Dippy Blonde Affair.” (Fellow cast member of “The Dippy Blonde Affair” Robert Strauss appeared in Monkees episode “Alias Micky Dolenz.”) Frawley’s performance in both episodes of U.N.C.L.E. was top-notch, though I was especially fond of his portrayal of the angry young crook, betrayed by his father-figure in “The Dippy Blonde Affair.”  I also enjoyed seeing Frawley in The Outer Limits episodes, “The Inheritors Part I” and “Part II” in which he gave a moving performance as Private Robert Renaldo, a soldier who gets shot in the head with a meteorite fragment and consequently develops a beyond-genius level of intelligence.

Son-of-a-Gypsy

Of course what I’m actually here to talk about is Frawley and The Monkees. A little history I learned on how Frawley got the job: Frawley shot and edited two short 16mm films that attracted the attention of Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson. They were further interested in him because of a his experience with comedy and improv and thought that he would be a good fit to direct The Monkees. Frawley helped create the spontaneous comedy and the unique way the performers related to the viewers. Before the show started filming, he worked with the four Monkees for a few months in their own improvisational workshop, where they developed the humor influenced by classic comedy teams such as the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges. Like many directors of The Monkees episodes, Frawley had no previous television directing experience, and he gave the producers credit for allowing him room to experiment. The first episode he directed, “Royal Flush” (also the debut of the series) won an Emmy for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Comedy Series, 1966-67.  Not too shabby for a first-time director. He was also nominated in the 1967-68 season for the episode, “The Devil and Peter Tork.”

Monkees-Blow-Their-Minds

Frawley directed some of the strongest episodes in the run of the show. One first season favorite, “One Man Shy” in particular captured the essence of The Monkees for me. It’s a “slobs vs. snobs” story in which Peter Tork competes with rich guy Ronnie for the attention of Valerie, a young woman who Peter fears is out of his league. The Monkees friendship is undeniable and touching as the other three rally around an underdog of their own ranks. The story is good, but the Frawley-directed performances make it awesome. A particular example of Frawley-directed chaos is the party at the end of the episode. Mike, Micky, and Peter rush in with one of their patented, disguise-and-funny voice cons, each playing a different “employee” of Peter. They are both zany and transparent in their attempts to convince Valerie that Peter is rich and successful. Of course the performance of the guest cast is important as well, and Frawley got a perfect arrogant-but-insecure characterization of Ronnie from George Furth.

Another memorable Frawley-directed first season episode was “Captain Crocodile.” This classic Monkees vs. showbiz story pitted the boys against a maniacal children’s television host. There’s plenty of witty dialogue (Micky: “So this is the world of television.” Peter: “Funny, it doesn’t look like a vast wasteland”). But the truly outstanding moment is the parody sketch of television programs of the time, complete with comic book heroes, game shows, and a special-effects-enhanced weather report. Each Monkees steps up and nails their part with enthusiasm. This fantasy sequence is a riot, whether you remember the shows they’re imitating or not. It’s their comedic chemistry that makes it so much fun. Of course, the Monkees would be nothing without their foils, and Joey Forman’s performance as the paranoid, crazy-eyed Captain Crocodile is brilliant.

The Monkees was at the top of its game when it came to spoofing Hollywood genres. Frawley directed the Western-themed “It’s a Nice Place to Visit,” a dynamic second season opener. The episode starts off as a typical Davy-in-Love story, but really heats up when Mike, Micky, and Davy, try to pass themselves off as bandits in order to rescue Davy from the terrifying El Diablo (Peter Whitney). Their swaggering bluff as they pretend to be cold-blooded killers is top-notch. Frawley also gets a great performance from Dolenz in the climax of the story, as Micky becomes the traditional Western hero in white. (Mickey: “That’s right. I showed up for the showdown.”) Everything worked together to make “It’s a Nice Place to Visit” one of the funniest episodes: The production values, the sight gags, the dialogue, and of course the performances.

Monkees Marooned

Frawley also performed to one degree or another in multiple episodes. He loaned his voice as Mr. Schneider, characters calling on the telephone, and other odd talking objects. He often pulled double duty as an actor and a director. You can catch a glimpse him as the Dragon of the Moat in “Fairy Tale,” a Yugoslavian guest in “Son of a Gypsy,” and Dr. Schwartzkov in “Monkees Marooned.” In a meta-moment, he played the frustrated director in “Monkees in Paris” (directed by Bob Rafelson.) The biggest chunk of camera time he had came from the episode “The Monkees Blow Their Minds,” directed by David Winters, in which he played dim sidekick, Rudy Bayshore. All of those performances were uncredited.

Of course, Frawley directed numerous projects after The Monkees. One that’s close to my heart is The Muppet Movie (for which he also made a cameo appearance). Jim Henson hired Frawley on the basis of his work on The Monkees and because of his experience as an actor. I always thought that the humor on The Muppets television show had certain similarities to The Monkees. It was also a weekly musical comedy that did showbiz parodies and had humor to appeal to both kids and adults. Going to see the Muppets on the big screen was a huge deal for me. I played the soundtrack as often as possible on my dad’s car stereo.

muppet-movie

Frawley also directed films such as The Christian Licorice Store, Kid Blue, and The Big Bus. Most of his work was for television, including the pilot for Ally McBeal, episodes of That Girl, Chicago Hope, Law & Order, Grey’s Anatomy, American Gothic, Columbo, Magnum, P.I., and Scarecrow and Mrs. King. That’s just to name a few. He retired around 2009.

All of the above is my humble attempt to pay tribute to a talented director who knew how to get the best from his performers. I’d say he’s an unsung hero of The Monkees. When I watched the show as a kid, I never gave a thought to the artists behind the scenes. I tended to credit the actors themselves as just being naturally funny, but ultimately a director can make or break a film, television episode, etc.  It’s the unique comedy and the lively performances that made The Monkees a joy to watch again and again. James Frawley will always have a place in my heart and mind.

Monkees in Paris

Full list of episodes directed by Frawley.

Some Like It Lukewarm (1968)
Monkees Race Again (1968)
The Devil and Peter Tork (1968)
The Monkee’s Paw (1968)
Monstrous Monkee Mash (1968)
Fairy Tale (1968)
Monkees in Texas (1967)
Hitting the High Seas (1967)
The Card Carrying Red Shoes (1967)
Monkees Marooned (1967)
Hillbilly Honeymoon (1967)
The Picture Frame (1967)
A Nice Place to Visit (1967)
Monkees on the Line (1967)
Monkee Mother (1967)
Monkees Chow Mein (1967)
Captain Crocodile (1967)
Monkees in the Ring (1967)
Son of a Gypsy (1966)
Too Many Girls (1966)
Dance, Monkee, Dance (1966)
One Man Shy (1966)
Monkees à la Carte (1966)
Monkees in a Ghost Town (1966)
Success Story (1966)
Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers (1966)
Monkee See, Monkee Die (1966)
Royal Flush (1966)

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examined the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.

Monkees vs. Macheen: Head (1968)

“Have It Cleaned and Burned.”

Head was released November 6, 1968, directed by Bob Rafelson, and written by Rafelson and Jack Nicholson. That’s right, Jack freakin’ Nicholson wrote Head. Apparently Nicholson was a huge fan of the film when it was finished. Hey, it’s good to be proud of your work.

According to the book, Monkeemania by Glen A. Baker, Columbia Pictures gave Raybert a $750,000 budget, expecting a teen exploitation film, something very similar to the weekly show. Apparently, this was not what Rafelson or the Monkees had in mind. Rafelson thought he’d never have another chance to direct, so he wanted to emulate every type of Hollywood movie all at once, make a “movie about movies” and expose the showbiz process. The Monkees wanted to direct the film themselves, but Rafelson, Schneider, and Nicholson were against this idea. Instead, they got creative input, resulting in a brainstorming session (on acid) where they put every crazy idea they had for the movie on a tape recorder. Nicholson organized the tapes into a script.

I was confused and disappointed with this movie when I first saw it; if you’re a fan of the show, it’s not the film you’re expecting. I always thought Head could have been a more “adult version” of The Monkees (“bigger, better, longer, and uncut”) and still tackled the same themes: the war protest, killing their pop star image, the plastic and manufactured products of Hollywood, the Media. Perhaps a still subversive but tighter, wittier film with a plot, related to the show but using the more permissive medium of film. On the other hand, if Head had featured a fictional band that was created just for the purposes of this movie, or featured another real-life band of the time, I would have no expectations of what the humor, characters, and story should be like, and I would probably have liked the movie on first viewing. I like weird, surreal, and subversive and I like the themes that Head gets into. There are a lot of funny moments and moments to appreciate in Head.

I. Opening Ceremony

Music: “The Porpoise Song” by Gerry Goffin/Carole King.

The Monkees interrupt an opening ceremony for a bridge, running for their lives through the red ribbon. Micky jumps into the water to escape it all and swims around with some mermaids. The film transitions from Micky underwater to Micky making out with a woman back at the Monkees’ house. She kisses each Monkee in turn. Two lines explain everything. Mike: “Well?” Woman (making a so-so gesture): “Even.” Multiple Monkees have made out with the same girl before, like in “Hillbilly Honeymoon,” but on film, with the slow lingering shots, it feels so much sleazier. Thanks, Bob.

Music: “Ditty Diego-War Chant” by Jack Nicholson/Robert Rafelson.

As the Monkees chant, the screen turns into a multiple televisions, showing various scenes yet to come. The lyrics pretty much spell it all out for the audience:

Hey, hey, we are the Monkees
You know we love to please
A manufactured image
With no philosophies

We hope you like our story
Although there isn’t one
That is to say, there’s many
That way there is more fun…

II. War

Music: “Circle Sky” by Michael Nesmith.

All the televisions fill with an iconic image from the Vietnam war (General Ngoc Loan executing Viet Cong suspect Nguyen Van Lem.) A girl screams but not in horror; she’s at a rock concert with other screaming fans. The next scenes juxtapose images of war, explosions, etc. with scenes of the Monkees performing and the hysterical reactions of the crowd. There’s also a sketch with the Monkees as soldiers, the highpoint of which is Peter running for ammo and getting photographed for the cover of Life magazine. The horrors of war become a media spectacle; Vietnam was known as the first televised war and those images made the war incredibly controversial. Since I’m putting this out on Election Day, and we’re living in such politically charged times, I’ll mention that when Head was released, 50 years ago, it was one day after the election of President Nixon. It was a volatile election year, with the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr, Robert F. Kennedy, and widespread opposition to the Vietnam War.

At the concert, girls rush on stage to tear the Monkees apart. You could replace the Monkees with any hugely popular rock band and the image would still work. There are terrible things, war and tragedy, but all that matters is the Monkees are on stage (or the Stones or Beatles etc.).Once the girls start ripping them to pieces, they are revealed to be mannequins, referring to the notion of them as “manufactured.”

Continuing the television theme, an unseen person flips through the channels of various black and white television and film clips . (the Oliver Stone movie, Natural Born Killers certainly owes a huge debt to Head.)The viewer settles on a scene of Micky stranded in the desert. Dying of thirst, he finds a Coca-Cola machine. Finding it empty, he proceeds to beat the crap out of it. In this scene, look out for William Bagdad (“Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik” ) and Vito Scotti (“The Case of the Missing Monkee”) as an Italian soldier who surrenders his tank and weapon to Micky.

One of the most satisfying moments in Head is Micky blowing up the Coke machine with the tank. With great anti-establishment spirit, he takes down an iconic American corporation. It’s also the fantasy of seeing someone get back at a frustrating situation. The Monkees are caught up in a corporate machine throughout Head; this is one of the rare scenes where they get revenge.

Music: “Can You Dig It?” by Peter Tork.

III. Hollywood

The Monkees loved to satirize, parody, and spoof every type of Hollywood movie genre. Head pretty much rips down the fourth wall, exposing the fakeness of movies with more anger than humor. Among the different genres mocked here are: War, Western, Live Action Disney, Horror, gangster films, etc. In the middle of shooting a Western scene, Micky calls bullshit on everything and walks off set, Mike following behind. They find Davy in the midst of shooting some Disney-type film, and take him along. The Monkees spend most of the rest of film walking in and out of various sets and onto the back lot of Columbia studios. Terri Garr, Annette Funicello, and Tim Carey are among the guest stars in these scenes.

Mike, Micky, and Davy end up in the studio commissary. The other patrons rush out, muttering they can’t eat with them around, long hair, etc. I read somewhere that when the young actors were shooting the first season of the TV show, patrons of the Columbia studio cafeteria didn’t like having them around because of their long hair. Once everyone else is gone, the throaty-voiced waitress sarcastically calls the Monkees “God’s gift to the eight-year-olds.”

Most of the other characters in Head seem to hate the Monkees, including the Monkees themselves. The Huffington Post article about the film notes that the Monkees were tired of the show, tired of being a teen idol band, and wanted to be taken seriously. Writing, producing, and playing all the instruments on Headquarters didn’t get the job done. Head was their way of breaking with their own image. Rafelson and Schneider were tired of the Monkees as well. This was Raybert’s way of destroying their creation.

The waitress smacks Davy, transitioning into the boxing scenes, in which Davy gets the crap beat out of him by (real-life boxer) Sonny Liston. Mike and Micky have bet money based on him throwing the match and have an argument about who’s “the dummy.” This leads to Micky freaking out and punching everyone, including cops and the blonde moll-type (real-life stripper Carole Doda). Peter appears out of nowhere and meta comments on the “Peter” character he played on the weekly show:

This boxing scene segues into Peter back in the commissary, where he punches out the waitress (who is revealed, to no one’s surprise, to be played by a man.) The filming breaks and we get “behind-the-scenes” of Peter worrying about his “image” to the director Rafelson (breaking the fourth wall and acting as himself). Jack Nicholson is in the background of the scene (as is Dennis Hopper briefly).

Music “As We Go Along” by Goffin/King.

Monkees wander various landscapes, a beach, a flower garden, reminiscent of “Monkees on Tour”/”Monkees in Paris,” also directed by Rafelson. This segues into the Monkees on a factory tour. We never find out what the factory makes. Maybe the Monkees themselves since they are “manufactured” per the lyrics. Prescient line from the tour guide, as things become more automated and humans do less and less for themselves, and as people consume more television and other types of media.

“A new world, whose only preoccupation will be how to amuse itself. The tragedy of your times, my young friends, is you may get exactly what you want.”

IV. The Black Box

The Monkees are shut into a dark room and forced to perform as Victor Mature’s dandruff for a television commercial. From this point onward in Head the Monkees are, with a few exceptions, passively moved from one situation to another by the editing. They’re sucked into a vacuum where they find giant tacks, buttons, a needle and a joint. Davy’s not with them, so they make a human ladder to crawl back up and look for him. The dialogue here would almost have fit in on the show.

Micky: Somebody has to be on the bottom.
Mike: Well, I’m the tallest and the strongest.
Micky: So you’re the bottom.
Mike: I—oh, well…
Peter: Everybody’s where they wanna be.
Micky: That was a particularly inept thing to say, Peter, considering that we are in a vacuum cleaner.

Music: “Daddy’s Song” by Harry Nilsson.

Davy performs a song and dance number with choreographer Toni Basil (“Hey Mickey!”). In this fantastic scene, the dancing, the song, the editing with the two different backgrounds and costume changes; it’s perfect for him. Also, it’s hard not to tear up when he says “The years have passed and so have I,” given his death in 2012. This scene is an example of how intricate the editing in this film is (Michael Pozen and Monte Hellman). Throughout Head, each crazy sketch leads brilliantly into the next, though there’s no storyline to support the transitions. It’s a bit like the Monty Python film, And Now For Something Completely Different.

Davy wanders back out onto the lot where he runs into The Critic, who is leading a cow. (Frank Zappa, who also appeared in “The Monkees Blow Their Minds.”)

The Critic: “That song was pretty white.”
Davy: “Well, so am I, what can I tell ya?”

On the back studio lot, Mike, Micky, and Peter slowly emerge from a large black box and get hassled by a cop. They find themselves repeatedly back in this box throughout the rest of the film. Again, per Monkeemania, during the shooting of The Monkees there was an actual “black box” lounge area they were “kept” at times when they weren’t needed on set. This was the producers answer to the problems caused when the Columbia/Screen Gems executives didn’t like seeing the “long-haired” youths wandering around on the back lot.

After Davy and a corp of soldiers march the cop away, Davy excuses himself to use the bathroom. There are quite a few scenes in the bathroom, apparently a huge deal because films/television at that time pretended bathrooms didn’t exist. Cleverly edited sequence where Davy’s in a horror movie, and Micky’s in a jungle picture where the natives chain him to the wall along with Mike and Peter. The wall revolves and they’re back in the white-tiled bathroom with their hands up (where they would’ve been chained from the previous scene.) The cop hassles them some more.

V. The Real vs. The Imagined

The next sequence is called “The Cop’s Dream,” but would have made more sense if it was Mike’s dream. Mike’s nap gets disrupted by the door buzzer. Peter finally answers it but Mike can’t go back to sleep because first Peter, then Davy and Micky are all missing. He wanders around the Monkees house in his pajamas, and it’s cut to look like a horror film with creepy music and effects. He opens a creaky door and finds three robed men/Monkees who sing happy birthday to him. The whole scene bursts into a wild birthday party set to music. Everyone but Mike is dancing.

Music: “Do I have to do this all over again” (Peter Tork)

The song title is an excellent question. After all, the end of the film is the same as the beginning, I’m guessing these Monkees personas do this same thing every single day. Get chased around back lots, trapped in the black box, try to drown themselves, get taken back to the studio and repeat.

After the song, Mike yells at the crowd that he hates surprises “and the same thing goes for Christmas.” This makes the crowd gasp dramatically. (Ha!) Everyone starts laughing, assuming Mike is joking. Lord High n’ Low enters rolling in a wheelchair. He stands up, then staggers around and collapses, slurring his words. The Monkees start laughing hysterically.

They’ve been inserted into a Western where High n’ Low fires a rifle and tells them not to make fun of cripples. There’s now a montage of b/w interviews with various people explaining why it’s wrong to laugh at others and the possible punishments you should get for doing so. The Monkees wake up in a jail as a voice whispers “guilty.” This dissolves into a Yogi in a sauna who lectures about beliefs and conditioning. He speaks about the real vs. vividly imagined experiences to his student, Peter.

In the studio backlot, Mike and Micky are in a crowd, looking up at a woman who’s about to jump off a building and they make bets on whether she’ll go through with it. The Monkees are very unappealing in this movie, compared to their television show fictional personalities. On The Monkees, the characters were goofy and cowardly but friendly and always willing to help the underdogs. They had a strong friendship and they were also agents of chaos. They fought back. They caused trouble. The Monkees in Head on the other hand are tools; unlikable because they never try very hard to get out of this circle of hell. They have no charm, they aren’t engaging, they’re mostly humorless, they have no empathy for each other or other characters in the film. I don’t care about these characters as they continue to get destroyed by the ridiculous circumstances. It’s another way Head kills off the Monkees image.

The four of them end up back in the black box. Mike is impatient, angry with Peter who he thinks knows the way out. Peter takes charge and relays his conversation with “The Master.” He makes the point that the brain is almost incapable of telling difference between the “real and the vividly imagined.” Sound, film, radio, etc. He paraphrases the yogi’s speech, ending by saying he’s knows nothing.

Maybe this is obvious, but I like the theory that this is all happening in the Monkees minds or “heads” if you will; the ridiculous situations, constantly being trapped in their image as a bubblegum, teeny-bop band. Throughout the film, they never do escape.

The idea that the brain can’t tell the difference between the imagination and the reality is the point because the Monkees played characters that were “fictionalized” versions of themselves. They had their real names, etc. The actors in the show went on tour as a real band. They played live and made records outside the scope of the television show. Not to mention on the show episodes there were those frequent flips between the reality of the plot and the Monkees shared fantasies.

Then, of course, there is the audience. We all like to think we know the difference between fantasy and reality but do we always? I’m not talking fake news here, I’m talking about the things we convince ourselves of everyday, and how sometimes memories of books or movies get mixed up with memories of real life. We have to walk a very careful line with the amount of stuff that gets dumped into our brain constantly. Analyze it, sort it out.

VI. Finale

Davy gets angry that Peter has no real solution so he becomes an action hero, punches and breaks out of the box. The other three follow suit and they all fight the factory workers. Lee Kolima (“The Spy Who Came in from the Cool,” “The Devil and Peter Tork”) plays a security guard in this scene. The Monkees burst through the painted wall into a Western scene. Lord High n’ Low and his posse threaten the Monkees, but with a gift from the editors, Davy suddenly has that often used cannon and blasts them away. (Peter: “Where’d he get the cannon?” Heh.)

Speaking of fighting, the Monkees themselves staged one more fight at the start of the production of Head. On the first day of Head, Micky, Mike, and Davy didn’t show up for filming. They were protesting that they wouldn’t get more money for the film as their contracts hadn’t been renewed. They were appeased with $1,000 a piece and the production resumed.

A giant Victor Mature appears in the sky like a b-movie monster, and the Monkees end up back in the box again. A helicopter drops it off in the desert, where it breaks open. The Monkees face a line of extras from the film who chase them until Giant Victor hits the Monkees with a golf club and whacks them back into the back lot. There’s more chasing, wacky clips, a silent movie/Keystone Cop bit where they’re on the conveyor belt, Vietnam clips paired with TV commercials. The Monkees try to escape in a yellow jeep but Victor kicks it over. Genius editing.

The Monkees wind up back at the bridge opening ceremony, chased by the supporting cast. This time they all jump off the bridge and into the water. “The Porpoise Song” re-plays for their symbolic suicide as they sink. Ultimately, they end up trapped in the black box which is now a fish tank, symbolic of their celebrity lives in front of the Media. Victor Mature, the personification of the forces acting on the Monkees, sits in a director’s chair on the back of a truck that drives the tank away. Presumably back to the studio to “do this all over again.” Credits.

Rafelson did of course go on to do other films. Head was just the beginning of “new Hollywood.” He went on to produce Easy Rider, and the success of that film gave birth to BBS Productions. He directed Five Easy Pieces (for which both he and Nicholson were nominated for Oscars), Stay Hungry, and The Postman Always Rings Twice. He produced those films as well as Easy Rider, and The Last Picture Show. Nicholson went on to be, well you know, Jack Nicholson.

Though Rafelson used his Monkees money to finance his films, Head was a flop at the time; the film made less than $20,000 at the box office. It does seem like no one was especially interested in the film being popular, considering the weird trailer/ad campaign created by (Andy Warhol Factory) producer John Brockman. The ads featured his “head,” though he’s only actually in the film for a few seconds during a clip montage. It would be hard to tell this had anything to do with The Monkees. None of their hit songs were used in the film, it had all original music.

I can see why they had trouble gaining an audience at first. For a Monkees fan the non-commercial nature of the film might not be so appealing. An avant-garde film buff might not have been into the Monkees. Since the theatrical release however, it seems the film has achieved cult status. I can certainly see it working well as a cult film; it fits in with the Midnight Movie set. It took me a few viewings to get into it, but the film is funny; a different kind of humor from the series, but I get a few chuckles out of it for sure.

Thanks again to everyone who’s been reading this and all the recaps of the show!

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examined the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.

Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Frodis Caper” a.k.a. “Mijacogeo”

“I’m as puzzled as the Oyster.”

Here we are at the last episode of the series and the end of these regularly scheduled recaps. I’m full of conflicting emotions because I don’t want this to end, yet I’m glad the series went out with this bizarre and fun episode. “The Frodis Caper” a.k.a. “Mijacogeo” aired for the first time on March 25, 1968 and was directed by Micky Dolenz, written by Micky along with Jon C. Andersen on the story, and Dave Evans on the teleplay. Evans wrote eight other Monkees episodes, mostly in the first season. Andersen penned four that were filmed in season two. The subtitle, “Mijacogeo,” was made up from the first couple of letters of each of the Dolenz family member names, “mi” for Micky, “ja” for his mother Janelle, “co” for his sister Coco, and “geo” for his father George. It was also the name of the Dolenz family childhood dog.

The episode begins with a montage edit of tight shots on the various parts of a Rube Goldberg-style alarm clock, activated by the heat of the rising sun. This culminates in a record player needle dropping onto “Good Morning Good Morning” by The Beatles. It was unheard of to have songs by popular recording artists on television shows in the United States at the time, let alone a band as big as The Beatles. Of course we know the Monkees had hung out a bit with The Beatles the previous summer and were present for some of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band sessions.

Mike, Davy, and Micky wake up and notice that Peter is not in his bed. Flash-cuts to the empty bed as the others wander around calling for him. They agree to search the premises and meet back there at 0800 hours (That would be a long time to search because their individual alarm clocks read 6 a.m.) There’s a double edit from two different angles as Mike says “Okay guys, let’s go” and Micky and Davy move to leave but then rewind back to Mike. The editing freezes the action and there are screen captions that read FREEZE FRAME.

In less than one minute of episode, there were already tons of editing tricks drawing attention to the fact that it’s a filmed television show. These flash-cuts, captions, close-up shots, unusual angles, montage edits, and fourth-wall-breaking moments permeate the entire episode. Of course some of these techniques were used by the directors/editors throughout the series; Dolenz threw them in all in at once. He does get credit for one fully original touch. In the DVD commentary for this episode, he mentioned that he chose to use a two-camera setup to shoot “Frodis Caper” and points out that this was never done before on sitcoms. On the commentary, Dolenz indicated that it made the shooting go faster and gave the episode its unique look. Even after this, a two-camera setup wasn’t done very often, if at all, and I can’t think of an example offhand. In other words, after all these years, this episode still really stands out.

My husband, a casual Monkees fan at best, loves this episode and even showed it to his film-making partner to illustrate both the directing/editing techniques as well as the surreal humor. Dolenz made directing into a secondary career. Starting in the late ’70s and early ’80s, he directed for television in the U.K., notably a couple of comedy sci-fi kids shows, Metal Mickey, and Luna. He also directed episodes of Boy Meets World, Television Parts (Michael Nesmith’s Elephant Parts spin-off TV movie), and “The Box,” a short film starring Terry Jones and Michael Palin of Monty Python.

The Monkees look around downstairs for Peter, ignoring the fact that he is sitting there in plain sight. While Mike and Micky screw around, performing a “Lost and Found” sketch with flash-cuts to Peter’s opening title picture, Davy finds a weird “statue.” Mike and Micky quickly figure out that the statue is indeed Peter. He’s been hypnotized by the television, which is showing a crudely animated eye making a pulsing sound. The other three somehow manage to shut off the television before it hypnotizes all of them.

After the opening titles, the Monkees (without Peter) scramble around the neighborhood to see who else was affected. Mike and Micky find the whole Parker family mesmerized by the television screen. This appears to be commentary from Micky Dolenz and the other writers regarding television and its ability to brainwash the masses. (And once again, The Monkees was way ahead of its time. This is frighteningly relevant today.) There’s a great comment from Micky Dolenz in this article, a list of “10 Interesting Facts about The Monkees TV Show.” “Most TV is like dope,” Micky Dolenz told Seventeen magazine in 1967, “It’s just there to put people into a state where they’ll believe anything anybody says— like the announcer of the six o’clock news. Our show gives you the idea of being an individual. That’s what we represent to the kids: an effort to be an individual, an attempt to find your own personality.” [“I’ve always found it fascinating that you can identify the problem while being part of the problem.” – Editor’s Note] Mocking the media/television and its effects on society and culture was an overall theme of The Monkees, such as with “Captain Crocodile,” “Monkees a la Mode,” and “I Was a 99-lb Weakling” (to name a few).

Davy, Mike, and Micky rush over to the television station KXIW (the same television station call letters from “Some Like it Lukewarm”), where they find the stagehand hypnotized by the television eye. Micky wonders, “What kind of a warped, maniacal mind could be plotting such a conspiracy?” Cut to Rip Taylor as Wizard Glick, shrieking, “It’s working!” and laughing evilly. The Monkees apparently saw that scene because they cut back to Micky who tells the audience, “Oh, that kind of a warped mind.”

Our heroes decide that this is a job for Monkeemen (cue the Monkeemen theme). Monkees run to a phone booth to change into their superhero costumes. Bad luck, there’s a sign in the phone booth informing them that Federal law prohibits the use of phone booths for “the purpose of changing into or out of secret identities.” They see a telephone company truck and there’s a hilarious moment of Monkee-panic, “it’s the heat!” They squeeze out of the phone booth, Three Stooges-style. This episode has a nice combo of surreal and physical humor.

Next is a montage edit of Glick revealing his “maniacally warped plan” to take over the world with the Frodis. Between close shots of his mouth, there are a series of weird flash-cuts as he talks, such as: “…that’ll release the incredible power of the Frodis (shot of Frodis eye), “…with the aid of my villainous henchmen” (shot of the four henchmen who each have a tiny handheld television), “…I can control the minds of millions!” (shot of Hitler. Sieg heil!).

A henchman alerts Glick to the fact that the “Monkeemen Monitor” is activated for the first time in five years. This gives us an indication of how long Monkeemen have been together, and that this is not Glick’s first time dealing with them. In response, Glick orders the release of the two-headed org.

The Org lumbers after the three panicking Monkees. They look for help from the Monkeeman Manual, which Micky pulls (possibly a copy of the script) out of his pants. First we’ve heard of this manual. They follow the ridiculous instructions: “To dispose of a two-headed org, jump up and down three times, roll a head of cabbage, and giggle.” But where were they keeping the cabbage? When the org falls, the Monkees sing “Ding dong, the wicked org is dead!” Wizard Glick is so very much a parody of the “Wicked Witch of the West” character from The Wizard of Oz. Rip Taylor looked like he was having a fabulous time. (“Could ya die?”)

This episode in particular and The Monkees series in general, frequently had a Sid and Marty Krofft psychedelic kids’ show vibe. The Krofft Supershow, Space Nuts, and Dr. Shrinker are a few of the ones I’m old enough to remember. The Aquabats! Super Show, which I watched with my daughter from 2012-2014, was clearly inspired by Krofft shows and The Monkees.

Next, Glick sends out the TV repairmen. Both the Org and the repairman are released by comically-labeled levers. They rush out with their televisions displaying the eye and try to catch the Monkees off guard. Hilariously, one of the repairmen hypnotizes himself when he checks to make sure his TV is working. It seems Glick would’ve failed again, except that Mike suddenly says “You know what? It’s seven thirty, six thirty central time. It’s time for The Monkees. I wonder if anybody around here’s got a television set.” Fourth-wall-breaking and it moves the plot along. Nice. Repairmen come from everywhere to oblige him.

The Monkees are tied to chairs, but they are not hypnotized, which is inconsistent. Micky decides to use mental telepathy to contact Peter to come get them out. Using a chant he got, not as Mike guesses, “while studying transcendental meditation under an Indian mystic,” but rather that came free with a cereal box top. Hilarious double joke at the expense of their sponsor, Kelloggs, and the Beatles’ Maharishi Mahesh Yogi days. Peter hears the message and leaves the house to go help his friends. (Nam-myoho-renge-kyo apparently means “devotion to the mystic law of the Lotus Sutra.”)

Peter wanders through the town and toward the television station while Glick watches him on his monitor. (The monitor is sort of a witch’s crystal ball.) [Another allusion to The Wizard of Oz – Editor’s Note] He stops to chat with Valerie Kairys, who’s been wandering around the station, also not under the Frodis’ spell it seems. Ultimately, he ends up right in Glick’s clutches when he knocks politely on the station door and Glick is there to greet him.

Next scene, a very miffed Peter is tied up with the other Monkees. Peter notes that there’s a telephone and he hops over to it and calls the police, explaining to the cops that they’re being held captive at Mammoth studios by “these weird people that want to take over the world.” Somehow Mike’s hands have gotten free, so all four Monkees escape and turn the tables on Glick and his men. The cops show up, one played by Bob Michaels, who was also the cop that Micky “directed” in character in “The Picture Frame.” Seeing Glick and his henchmen tied up and the Monkees free, they come to the conclusion that the Monkees are the villains.

They’re not under arrest for long, as the cops suddenly have an urge to watch Dragnet and are easily tricked into looking at a television in the shop window. Unfortunately it also gets Peter. So he’s going to spend much of this episode out of his mind, as he did in the previous episode, “Monkees Blow Their Minds.” They carry Peter back into the TV studio but the ease of their escape ends up being a trick by Glick: now they are in chains and guarded by some guy called Otto.

Mike and Micky con Otto into giving them the keys to the chains by challenging him to a card game. Otto turns out to be a card shark, pulls cards out of his mouth, and shuffles like a pro. They realize they can’t play a real game with him, so Mike and Micky both make up a game on the spot, “Creebage.” (I guess they can read each other’s minds.) They bluff through the rules, declare that they won, and stand up and take the keys. Otto protests “But I have a Creebage.” This scene is reminiscent of the Star Trek episode “A Piece of the Action” when Kirk made up a card game called “Fizzbin” to facilitate escape from gangster-imitating aliens. [“A Piece of the Action” premiered on NBC January 12, 1968 – Editor’s Note]

Creebage or not, the Monkees unlock themselves and carry Peter off to somewhere else in the television studio. Frustrated with carrying him, they hang him on a coat rack. A hilarious screen caption points out that the coat rack is a “Prop.” Poor Peter is a prop himself at this point. The Monkees search in vain for The Frodis room, until Nyles (yeah, he’s still wandering around) comes out and hangs up a sign that identifies the right door (“Yeah, Frodis room”). According to the Imdb, “Frodis” was the Monkees’ code word for marijuana, and they would smoke it in a lounge built for them off the soundstage where the series was filmed (called the “Frodis Room”).

Mike, Micky, and Davy rush into the Frodis room and find a ridiculous plant with a football eye socket with the drawing of the hypnotic eye pasted over it. Frodis pleads with them that he’s being used by Glick, who kidnapped him when his spaceship crashed. He asks them for help. The boys are “moved” by the Frodis’ story and start crying. Micky gets off the hilarious line, “I can’t stand to see a grown bush cry!” They pick up the Frodis to carry him back to his ship, but before they get far, Glick and his men block them.

The onscreen caption announces, “Typical Monkees Romp.” This one is a spacy, slow-motion run through the backlot to the song “Zor and Zam” (Bill Chadwick/John Chadwick). The lyrics seem to be a mythological protest song. It’s a weird choice tempo-wise for a chase scene. There are lots of slow-motion shots, low angles, and odd close-ups, not to mention a random shot of show producer Bert Schneider lying on a stretcher.

The Monkees (carrying Peter and the Frodis) somehow reach the flying saucer before Glick gets there. As the song ends, the Frodis pops his head out and blows smoke all over the bad guys. Glick is utterly stoned: “I don’t want to fight anymore. I just want to lay down in the grass and be cool.” Frodis laughs in his demented, squeaky little voice. (Micky Dolenz’ own voice) This reminds me of Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part I (1981) when Gregory Hines blows the giant joint onto the Roman soldiers who are pursuing them. Since it’s a film, they didn’t have to be as subtle as “Frodis Caper” but there is a similarity.

The last segment, and the last scene ever on The Monkees, is Micky’s choice of musical guest, following the precedent set up with Davy/Charlie Smalls and Mike/Frank Zappa. Peter never got to bring his choice of guest on (“Monkees Mind Their Manor” would have been a good spot) but stated he would have wanted to bring on Janis Joplin. Micky introduces Tim Buckley (1947-1975) who sings “Song to the Siren.”

Buckley began his career in folk rock in the mid-1960s but experimented with other music styles, such as jazz and funk. The song he performs here, “Song to the Siren” (Tim Buckley/Larry Becket) was not on an album until Starsailor (1970). A better known version was a 1983 cover by the band This Mortal Coil, which made the UK top 100 and was used in the films Lost Highway and The Lovely Bones (and in a random perfume commercial I recall from the early 2000s). This beautiful song has been covered by many other famous musicians, including Robert Plant, Bryan Ferry, and Pat Boone. Read more about it here.

Sadly, Buckley died in 1975 from a heroin overdose. His estranged son, Jeff Buckley (1966-1997) was also a singer/songwriter. His only studio album, Grace, was a critical, though not commercial, success and Rolling Stone ranks it 303 among the “Greatest 500 Albums of All Time.” Like his father, Jeff Buckley also died young (drowning accident).

This episode didn’t take my breath away for the wittiest dialogue or unusual plot, nor is it one that I have a lot of personal attachment to, but it is still one of best and most memorable. I’m so glad The Monkees went out on a high note. It seems appropriate that this was the perfect way for The Monkees to end: a paranoid, Sci-Fi parody about an evil entity pacifying the world through television. The Monkees were self-aware and never afraid to mock the system that made them or to make fun of themselves. Micky Dolenz and crew took the surreal humor, present in many episodes, up a level, making “Frodis Caper” one-of-a kind. I wonder what would have happened if the four Monkees had spent less of their energy on taking over the music and instead put their creativity into the episodes as Micky did in this instance; they might have found an unexpected way to make a statement.

As it stands, I’m glad the show ended when it did. It’s a drag when shows keep going long after they’re any good, they “jump the shark” etc. The Monkees was already showing signs of wear and tear, which could have been a sophomore slump that might have been corrected by hiring fresh writers. We’ll never know. Fifty-eight episodes are what we got, and I enjoyed the majority of them. As Micky said the show was about individuality, and to me it’s also about rebelling against authority, being young, about going beyond what you think is possible, about music, humor, and friendship. I thank The Monkees, not just the four band members themselves, but everyone who worked on the show and the music. You’ve given me a lifetime of fun, laughs, and inspiration.

Thanks to everyone for reading and sharing! I’ll be back in the summer with another post listing my favorite moments of the series and again in the fall with a post about Head. In the meantime, I’ll see you in The Monkees Facebook groups.

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examined the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.