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.
The Monkees television show debuted 49 years ago, and as the 50th anniversary approaches, I wanted to write a little bit about each episode of this amazing show that makes me laugh as much now as it did when I first saw it in syndication as a tot. “Royal Flush,” the first Monkees episode, aired September 12, 1966 on NBC.
“Monkee See, Monkee Die,” directed by James Frawley, first aired September 19, 1966 on NBC. Episode writer Treva Silverman wrote some other very funny Monkees episodes: “I’ve Got a Little Song Here”, “One Man Shy”, “Son of A Gypsy”, and “A Nice Place to Visit.” According to the IMDB, she wrote “The Card Carrying Red Shoes” as Lee Sanford.
“Monkee vs. Machine”, directed by Monkees creator Robert Rafelson, aired September 26, 1966 on NBC and was written by David Panich who wrote “Monstrous Monkees Mash” and “Monkees at the Circus.” This is one of my favorites because of its unusual storyline. It’s cited on the Chaos and Control: The Critique of Computation in American Commercial Media (1950-1980) website in the “Humanistic Critique” section along with “2001: A Space Odyssey”, Star Trek, “Dr. Strangelove”, and other movies and television shows from 1957-1977.
“Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers,” which aired on October 3, 1966, was directed by James Frawley, and written by Dave Evans, his first of seven Monkees scripts. This is the first episode where the plot revolves around the Monkees pursuing success and fame as a band.
“The Spy Who Came in from the Cool” was the first episode written by the team of Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso, who wrote a total of 22 Monkees episodes. It was directed by Robert Rafelson and originally aired October 10, 1966. I also want to point out the episode’s cinematographer Irving Lippman and editor Donald W. Starling.
The 6th episode, “Success Story” had an emotional story-line compared to other episodes and was also the first to feature a Monkees family member. There was an unusually stereotypical situation-comedy feel with a character getting in trouble for deceiving a loved one. I wasn’t really looking forward to writing about this one, but as I watched I rediscovered a lot of funny moments.
If I were introducing this show to someone, I would start with this episode. Not that it’s necessarily the best or the funniest, though it is very funny. Here, the show’s usual comedy beats are hit hard and hit well; the screen titles, breaking the fourth wall, the great guest cast, slapstick humor, stock footage. The writers/producers took on American Literature, Westerns, Gangster Films, and Television in general.
One of the wonderful things about this television show is watching it with my nine-year-old daughter. I discovered The Monkees when I was five on WKBD 50 Detroit. (“In Detroit, the kid’s choice is TV 50”) Last summer, I was feeling a bit down and was looking for something to cheer me up when I noticed IFC was running The Monkees. And what a great thing to be able to share with her, this show that I fell in love with as a child.
The Monkees are actually stalking a cute girl, more than meeting her. They take turns watching her through binoculars as she sits outside on her porch. Peter, Micky, and Mike encourage Davy to go to talk to her. Peter tells him to “wail, Davy,” a line that feels like it was ad-libbed. It seems out of character for confident Davy to need encouragement to talk to girls, but this girl doesn’t get out much, so maybe she’s more elusive to him.
This is the episode I’m most grateful for because without it there would be no series. I’ve read in various books and articles that the pilot didn’t test well with Audience Studies Incorporated or ASI, a research subsidiary of Screen Gems, until Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider edited in screen tests of Mike and Davy. The screen tests accomplished something the pilot did not: letting the audience get to know the characters a little.
I’m really relieved to be past the pilot. For some reason, I found that to be a daunting task. Now we’re on to more fun episodes, like this one where they run into the mafia. Honestly, I always forget about this episode. It blends together with some of the other gangster-related stories. They do run into gun-toting crooks quite a bit: “Monkees in a Ghost Town,” “Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers,” “Alias, Micky Dolenz,” “Monkees on the Wheel,” and “The Picture Frame” all have those types of antagonists.
Here’s one of my favorite episodes, largely because it focuses on Mike, my favorite character. When I was five and watching this show, I always identified with and had an attachment to him. If you were that kid in kindergarten, playing quietly while the other kids were running around like idiots, you understand where I’m coming from. Mike is the calm one, the smart one, the stable one. Sure he gets into whacky situations and has crazy ideas, but relatively speaking, he’s the one with the common sense. In “I’ve Got a Little Song Here,” his wish to be successful overrules his usual intelligence.
Ah, Peter. The dumb one. The naïve one. The shy one. The emotional one. The quiet Harpo Marx character type who gets relegated to sight gags. You could almost miss him in some of the episodes. He’s the main character of “One Man Shy” and like the storyline from the previous episode, the Monkees are banding together to help an underdog who is one of their own. “One Man Shy” was written by Gerald Gardner, Dee Caruso and Treva Silverman and debuted December 5, 1966, directed by James Frawley.
Bernie Orenstein is the only writer credited for this episode. He wrote two others, “Success Story” and “Monkees a La Carte” with the team Gerald Gardner & Dee Caruso. Since this is his third and final in the broadcast order, I’ll mention some of his credits: He was a producer and writer for That Girl (1966), The New Dick Van Dyke Show (1971), Sanford and Son (1972), Love, American Style (1973) and What’s Happening! (1976) among other shows.
I wasn’t super excited to write about this one, I admit. The storyline for “Too Many Girls” revolves around an often used plot device: Davy is in “love.” On the plus side, writers were obviously aware of it and making fun of it themselves; using a well-established trait of Davy’s to drive the story. Similar to “Success Story,” the conflict is about the possible loss of Davy as a band member.
“Son of a Gypsy” was written by the team of Gerald Gardner & Dee Caruso and Treva Silverman. I really do enjoy the ones that Silverman wrote. The story is about a gig gone wrong, but it is also a wildly improbable, high adventure territory as their opponents in this episode are a group of larger than life gypsies who really like to murder and steal. The story isn’t about any of the Monkees in particular and they work together in funny and entertaining ways to get out of trouble.
The Monkees really got into a lot of genres didn’t it? It has more in common with cartoons than sitcoms in that way, as they don’t stick to the “situation.” There were Monkees episodes inspired by westerns, gangster films, science fiction, horror, mystery, and spy stories to name a few. If you were seeing these for the first time, you certainly wouldn’t be able to guess what they might try next. They just incorporate the notion that they’re a band right into the storyline, whatever it is. “The Case of the Missing Monkee” is a cross between mystery, sci-fi, and a spy story.
Hurray for Halloween episodes! Of course, “I Was a Teenage Monster” didn’t debut on Halloween. It originally aired January 9, 1967. Since they shot it from November 1-3 in 1966 there was no way it would be ready for Halloween. All the same, I love their spooky-themed episodes which would include: “Monkee See, Monkee Die,” “A Coffin Too Frequent,” “Monstrous Monkee Mash,” and this one. Like the previous episode, “The Case of the Missing Monkee,” this is a genre episode; this time it’s horror.
This is one of those episodes that hits all the high points for me. It’s incredibly funny, it deals with The Monkees trying to make it as a band, and the characters are all working together to achieve a goal. And then there’s the guest cast. The two actors supporting the story steal the show. There were also some cool character moments with The Monkees themselves. Dave Evans wrote this episode which first aired January 23, 1967.
“Monkees in the Ring” was directed by James Frawley and written by Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso. This is a combination of director/writers that frequently worked on these Monkees episodes, yet somehow this episode for me, doesn’t feellike a Monkees episode. This could be because the story is very similar to a 1965 episode of The Smothers Brothers, also written by Dee Caruso (and Richard Newton and Aaron Spelling.)
“The Prince and The Paupers” first aired on February 6, 1967. The teleplay was written by Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso, from a story by Peter Meyerson. It’s a spoof on the Mark Twain novel, The Prince and the Pauper, but just barely.
“Monkees at the Circus” is one I do remember watching in syndication in the late ’70s. It features a circus (obviously) , so of course it would make an impression on my five-year-old mind. David Panich, writer of “Monkees vs. Machine,” also wrote this one.
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.
“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.
David Jones was absent for “Alias Micky Dolenz” and the balance of the episode falls squarely on Micky, who really put his skills to the test in this episode, playing Micky, Baby Face, and Micky as Baby Face. He spends more time pretending to be “Baby Face” than he does as himself.
Similar to “The Spy Who Came in From the Cool”, “Monkees Chow Mein” compels the Monkees to help out the CIS (a quasi-CIA) against our nation’s cold war enemies. The title indicates that this time the villains are from China rather than Russia. James Frawley directed and Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso wrote this episode, which aired March 13, 1967. Gardner and Caruso borrowed heavily from one of their other writing gigs, Get Smart, for this one.
“Monkee Mother” is an episode that’s a little more domestic than usual. That seems obvious from the title, but compared to the previous episode’s pulp fiction-y spy action story, this one is very cozy, all taking place on the Monkees’ house set.
The Monkees are hanging out in their pad and not answering the ringing phone. Mike gets to it too late. He calls the boys together to point out they haven’t had any jobs and might be missing a few calls. Always a man with a plan, Mike wants to hire an answering service. He calls the service to set this up, going on about the doors that will open up for them when someone is always there to answer the phone, etc. Ironically, no one answers…