“The Taming of The Monkees”
“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. “Monkee Mother” was written by Peter Meyerson and Robert Schlitt who also wrote “Royal Flush,” “The Monkees in a Ghost Town,” and the story for “Captain Crocodile.” This was their last collaboration for The Monkees. Peter Meyerson, without Schlitt, has writing credits for “Monkees Blow Their Minds,” “Fairy Tale,” “Hillbilly Honeymoon,” and “The Prince and the Paupers.” Schlitt went on to write for Mod Squad, Hawaii Five-O, Adam 12, Kung Fu, Matlock, and The Father Dowling Mysteries to name a few. James Frawley directed this episode, which first aired on March 20, 1967.
This episode starts off mid-argument with Mike defending the Monkees to Mr. Babbitt. Mike refutes the claim that they planted poison ivy and that Mr. Schneider is inflammable material. Mr. Babbitt kicks them out and tells them the new tenant will arrive in one hour. He gets a little villainous organ music from the score, and the Monkees go into a shared fantasy where Babbitt is a vaudeville villain in a top hat and cloak, and they’re peasants in torn clothing getting pelted by snow, inside their house, in Southern California. Babbitt leaves them to pack.
The new tenant arrives in a lot less than an hour. It’s Rose Marie from “Monkees in a Ghost Town.” This time she’s not the Big Man. She’s Millie, who passively-aggressively tells the boys her bags can just walk themselves in. After the theme, she walks around complaining about the dust and the dirt and the half-eaten sandwich. In other words, she instantly starts “mothering” them. She mentions her departed husband, “dear Herman.”
As Millie continues to settle in, the Monkees go out on the patio to talk about getting rid of her [Wouldn’t they need to go housing court to fight their eviction? – Editor]. Naturally Mike is chosen to tell her that she’s got to go. When they go inside to confront her, Mike’s too polite and backs right down. Micky’s up next and she tells him it’s fine for the Monkees to stay as her boarders. This is not what they had in mind.
The truck driver arrives with Millie’s furniture and Millie asks the Monkees to help bring things in. They refuse at first but then there’s a fast motion bit where she’s a traffic cop with a whistle directing everyone. After, Larry the mover takes a rest and Millie thanks him with a piece of homemade cheesecake .”Gee officer Krupke, Krup you!” (10 points to anyone who gets that reference. Hint in the cast graphic at the bottom.)
The exhausted Monkees are out on the patio lying on the ground and on each other. The patio is the place they go for a reprieve from Millie it seems.
Now we get the series of scenes where Millie has one on one time with the Monkees, a chance to divide and conquer. Mike is in the main room doing the dusting. Millie speculates that Mike’s used to responsibility, coming from a large family with little money, where he was expected to help out a lot. (This is the fictional Mike’s family. Michael Nesmith was an only child.) Millie wants to make something for him. Mike wants her to make him a success [Some heartfelt, earnest acting from Nesmith – Editor], a couple of hit records or a shot on a TV show, reflecting his wishes in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here.” Millie offers that success is no good if you catch a cold, and she’ll make him a sweater. I don’t think it’s so much that she didn’t understand him, but a practical problem is one she can solve. He lets himself be measured for the sweater.
Next she finds Micky under the car doing repairs. She asks him to fix the leaky faucet and cleans the dirt off of his face, as though he were a little boy. He says he doesn’t mind fixing it and smiles sweetly. Millie is effectively domesticating and taming the Monkees. But she’s also emasculating them with her presence, changing the way they live.
Especially since Mike, the most adult of them, was wearing a feminine apron in her scene with him. One of the things I enjoy so much about the premise of the Monkees is that they’re on their own without parental guidance, without any female influence since they don’t have serious relationships. Mike is the closest thing to anyone being “in charge” of the Monkees. He’s the one the others rely on for help, for ideas, to be responsible, and even to physically hide behind. But he’s still one of them, getting involved in whacky shenanigans and crazy ideas. Millie’s presence, being an authority figure who wants the house her way, is the biggest threat to him.
After dinner Peter, Mike, and Micky excuse themselves leaving Millie with Davy. She asks if he knows Rex Harrison, since surely everyone who’s English must know each other. She tells a sad story about saying “hi” to all the neighbors but “nobody called back.” Davy says he would have called back. This is a touching Davy moment; a very sweet scene.
Peter doesn’t get a scene with Millie for some reason. They play “Sometime in the Morning” (Gerry Goffin, Carole King) for her while she knits. Performance footage is the same used in “Monkees at the Circus.” Millie imagines herself young, in turn-of the-century dress. It’s a romantic romp that’s her fantasy, not theirs. She imagines the Monkees also in the period costumes and they each take turns dancing with her. I interpret that she’s lonely and wants to have fun with them on their level, to be youthful and have their attention. I’m not sure how the costumes fit in, as she would have been young in the ’30s-’40s but they add to the dreamy atmosphere.
Next, there’s a weird bit where the Monkees play dominoes. Micky asks “What is this called?” and Peter answers “Southeast Asia” and they knock down the dominoes in what’s probably a Vietnam War reference. Apparently, the song “Last Train to Clarksville” (Boyce/Hart) was a Vietnam War protest song. Boyce/Hart had to be subtle about it in the lyrics.
Millie opens the front door, announcing that they’ve got company. Lest you think Mike’s been won over by Millie from the earlier scenes, he sarcastically mutters, “Oh boy, company.” Millie has come from the supermarket with a blonde girl seated on the shopping cart. The girl, Clarisse [“Have the lambs stopped screaming?” – Editor], is English and Millie wants to fix her up with Davy. Clarisse and Davy engage in a little “drawing room comedy” on the steps, Davy wearing his smoking jacket.
Clarisse: “Do you really know Rex Harrison?”
Clarisse: “Actually, I don’t care.”
Davy: “I’m no good for you, you know.”
Clarisse: “I don’t care.”
Davy: “Terrible temper”
Clarisse: “I don’t care!”
Davy: “I wander.”
Clarisse: “I don’t care.”
Davy: “Cruel, too.”
Clarisse: “I don’t care!”
Davy: “I love you, Clarisse!”
Clarisse: “I don’t care.”
Millie’s sister Judy, her husband Arthur, and pack of kids in military helmets/uniforms are at the door. Millie lets them in and the four kids race all over and terrorize the Monkees. There’s smoke, dirt, and running on furniture. As with the Crocodile Corps, this show doesn’t treat kids like precious little things. These kids are about 10-12, I’d guess; two boys, and two girls.
Self-involved Judy doesn’t seem to know that Millie’s husband has been dead for 10 years. I’m thinking about the notion that for whatever reason, Millie doesn’t have kids. (I know not all women want kids, but I’m interpreting that Millie did.) Or maybe the kids grew up and are too far away. Otherwise she wouldn’t be in this situation with the Monkees.
By the way, Millie’s stuffed bird (Lewis) and sheep (Martin) are an allusion to the 1940s-1950s comedy duo, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.
In the midst of the chaos, Larry comes over, wanting more cheesecake. Millie and Larry seem to like each other. One of the little girls has Mike tied up and gagged. She refuses her father’s request to loosen his gag, declaring Mike her prisoner. Indulgent Dad is fine with this. I enjoy the sight of the Monkees getting a taste of their own chaotic medicine from these kids.
Mr. Babbitt enters, wondering what’s going on. True, Millie has not been any less noisy a tenant than the Monkees. Babbitt yells at Millie and Judy. A snack vendor comes in sells peanuts and popcorn like the whole thing’s spectator sport. Clarisse continues her chorus of “I don’t care, I don’t care.” Vendor: “I don’t care either, baby.” This is reminiscent of “Success Story” when all the victims came back to the pad for their stolen goods. Popcorn, kids, and Monkees scatter all over the apartment until Millie ushers everyone onto the beach. The Monkees are tied up and gagged and can’t go.
The Monkees are on their patio again, and Micky is spoon-feeding Peter, treating him like a baby. Mike and Davy observe disdainfully that Micky and Peter don’t even want her to leave anymore. Mike declares they’ve been conned, (interesting word choice since that’s their usual modus operandi). On the other hand, Mike doesn’t see any way out of it, “We might as well be married to her.” Davy is less hostile and feels bad for Millie. Micky picks up on Mike’s words and suggests what Millie wants is a husband. Where will they get a husband?
From the deus ex moving truck, Larry knocks on the door. He’s returning a lamp that got left behind. The Monkees think he’d make a good husband for Millie since they’re the same age, right? Same logic as all English people knowing each other.
Millie and Larry get ready for their dinner date at the Monkee pad. Mike and Davy prepare Larry while Micky and Peter prepare Millie. The Monkees lie to their charges that each drives the other to distraction.
At dinner, Mike and Peter play a lovely and brief instrumental, acoustic version of “Don’t Call on Me” (Michael Nesmith, John London). Millie and Larry are left alone to talk. Millie seems preoccupied with various friend’s ailments.
Micky, Davy, and Mike do the dishes. Micky teases Mike, handing him a dish he already washed. Mike tells him, “Don’t do that,” but re-washes it anyway. Micky’s mischievous face as he screws with Mike is great. Peter spies on their conversation with binoculars and some kind of audio gear.
Millie talks so long that the Monkees fall asleep, except Peter, diligently spying. Larry interrupts to ask about Herman. Millie describes Herman as an angel and a nice man. Larry says he’s no angel. Millie says he’s a nice man and they touch hands and look at each other. Sweet performance from the actors, making this work with a little help from the dialogue. Peter goes rushing from his spot to tell the Monkees ‘We did it! We made it! It’s love!” Make love, not war, kids.
Cut to the wedding. Everyone from the episode is there, Arthur and Judy, the kids, Clarisse and the vendor who seem to be an item. Even Mr. Babbitt is a guest. Mike tells Babbitt he’s got the rent from playing the wedding. For some reason Mike’s shouting like they’re standing in a wind tunnel, even though they’re staged close together and Henry Corden is not shouting. Babbitt seems grateful to Mike, maybe for getting rid of Millie? Mike asks Babbitt to babysit the kids and he agrees. The kids tie Babbitt up, but during the song he wiggles gamely in his ropes, doing his version of “The Kidnap.”
The kids all dance while the Monkees play “Look out, (Here Comes Tomorrow)” (Neil Diamond). The tune was one of four songs that Neil Diamond wrote for the Monkees. The others are “I’m a Believer,” “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You” and “Love to Love.” Micky performed “I’m a Believer,” while Davy is the lead for the other three. “I’m a Believer” and “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You” were both #1 songs in the US. “Love to Love” was originally recorded in 1967 for the third Monkees Album, but wasn’t included as it was part of the Don Kirshner sessions. Its was added to the recent Monkees album Good Times with new backing vocals by Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork.
Millie says her “goodbyes” in the moving truck. Mike’s wearing the sweater Millie made him and they do seem sad to see her go. She says she’s living two doors down, so she’ll drop over with soup to talk over old times. Tonight for instance. They look stunned, as you would expect. Larry carries some of her furniture and throws the cupcake line back at them. Is he having regrets?
That was a cute story, aided by the presence of Rose Marie. It is more traditionally sit-comy but also like a stage play, with the entire story on the one set and the tight cast of characters. When I first thought about this episode I recall it seemed that not much happened. That’s not entirely the case. It’s just more subtle. Instead of their lives being on the line, like in “Alias Micky Dolenz” or “Monkees Chow Mein” their everyday way of life is jeopardized. If Millie had stayed around, they would cease being the Monkees, stop getting in trouble, stop doing crazy antics, and maybe all grow up and get married off. We wouldn’t want that.
Hey, it’s been a full year since I started doing these recaps! Thanks to all of you for reading. It’s a lot of fun to relive these episodes of this great show and I really appreciate your comments.
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.