Monkees Vs. Macheen: “Monkees à la Mode”

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“We don’t follow fashion. That’d be a joke.”

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“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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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 frustration 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. 

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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.

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by Bronwyn Knox

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

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Monkees Vs. Macheen: “Captain Crocodile”

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“The Monkees Should Not Be Allowed on TV”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Bronwyn Knox

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