Monkees vs Macheen: “Monkees in Texas”

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“The Monkees in Texas” places the boys in familiar territory : The Western. The earlier season two episode, “It’s a Nice Place to Visit,” was an excellent parody of film Westerns. “Monkees in Texas,” written by Jack Winter, is aimed at the television Western, and parodies popular shows such as Bonanza and The Lone Ranger. This episode uses anachronisms for the story and comedy – the costumes on the guest cast especially, but also the set and the storyline, are designed as though the Monkees somehow drove back in time to the late 19th century, while they themselves maintain their psychedelic 1960’s style. This is in service of the parody, as TV shows like Gunsmoke  (which aired against The Monkees on the CBS Television Network) took place in the old west. This device also puts the Monkees in a situation where they’re out of place once again.

The Monkees pull up to a house in a desert setting, driving a golf cart instead of the Monkeemobile. For the most part, the sets used in this episode were on the Columbia Ranch. Zilch, A Monkees Podcast recently had an episode packed with information about The Monkees use of these Columbia Ranch sets in various episodes. This particular episode used a part of Columbia Ranch know as” the Berm.” More information can be found here.

Once they get out of the cart, Mike explains to Peter, and the audience, that they’re in Texas at his Aunt Kate’s house. (Michael Nesmith was born in Houston, Texas.) The Monkees hear gunfire and duck for cover. Two women in 19th-century Western costume ride up on horses, and Mike identifies one of them as his aunt. Three masked men in black arrive and shoot at the women while the Monkees run inside to help Mike’s aunt.

The women shoot rifles out the window at the bandits as the Monkees enter the little green house. Aunt Kate greets Mike briefly and tells the Monkees to “grab a rifle.” Of course they all try to grab the same rifle. Aunt Kate clarifies that there’s one for each of them on the rack. There’s a Marx-brothers type scramble when Peter keeps putting the guns back on the rack as the others try to hand them out. The Monkees wind up cocking invisible guns. The younger woman, Lucy, gives them one of those “funniest looks from everyone we meet.” They try again, and each shows off their weapon: Micky, “Winchester seventy-three,” Davy, “Colt forty-five,” Mike, “Smith and Wesson, thirty-eight.” It’s all very faux-manly, except Peter who takes an anti-violence stance with a bottle of champagne, “Vintage sixty-six.”

The Monkees help defend the house, except Peter uses a finger gun and “fires” by saying “bang-bang-bang!” Peter explains to Davy, “Well, I hate violence. Besides I have more shells than you.” (Peter also used a finger-gun in “Monkee See, Monkee Die.”) The lead bandit asks, “Have you had enough, nesters?” Mike corrects them, “The name is Nesmith!,” a callback gag to the times Mike’s name has been mispronounced (“I’ve Got a Little Song Here,” “Monkee Mayor”). Aunt Kate corrects Mike that “nester” means farmer, so Mike politely allows the bandit to go on.

The bandits open fire at the house and Micky comments, “they’re throwing everything at us but the kitchen sink,” setting up the site gag when the bandits roll a flaming sink at the house. After the opening titles, Davy solves the problem by turning on the faucet and letting the water put the flames out. They all cheer Davy. It is pretty amazing since the sink’s not connected to any pipes. The sexist bandits realize, “that ain’t just women” firing at them, and they retreat. The Monkees celebrate and the women stare at them incredulously.

This is the first of two Emmy jokes in the episode. The Emmy’s were given out on June 4, 1967, so by the time this was shot in October of 1967, James Frawley, who directed this episode, had already won the Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy for “Royal Flush” and The Monkees won for outstanding comedy series.

Lucy halts their celebration, “I wouldn’t be too happy about that, they’ll be back.” (Lucy is played by Bonnie Dewberry, who was also Dr. Mendoza’s daughter in “I Was a Teenage Monster.”) Micky, Peter, and Davy are eager to leave Aunt Kate’s now that the gunfight is over. Mike insists that they stay for family loyalty and bravery etc. but mostly because the bandits “killed our golf cart.” They cut to a shot of the golf cart, turned over on its side. Maybe that’s why they didn’t use the Monkeemobile. Micky and Peter go to get some help. Kate advises them to look more “Western” so they’ll fit in better. They don’t like strangers here, and the young Monkees are pretty strange.

Kate explains that Black Bart and his men have been trying to drive her off her land for about a year. The name Black Bart is an allusion to a real life outlaw, who robbed stagecoaches in the late 19th-century. Mike introduces Kate to Davy and then realizes he doesn’t know Lucy, the younger woman. She takes off her bonnet and flusters Mike with a shake of her long blonde hair, giving Mike the setup to be comically awkward.

Mike: “I’m afraid I don’t know this lady here… oh my…”
Aunt Kate: “Don’t you remember your baby cousin Lucy?”
Mike: “Huh? Lu—Lucy! Are you Lu—well, what, well, whatever happened to the buck teeth, the knobby kneed, uh, stringy haired, bad complexion, little girl that I used to hang around with?”
Aunt Kate: “That’s your other cousin, Clara. She still looks the same.”

Micky and Peter’s idea of looking “Western” is a Lone Ranger and Tonto look, parodying the popular Texas Ranger and his Native American friend characters of radio, television, comic books, and films. Micky and Peter are “The Lone Stranger” and “Pronto.” (Looney Tunes also did a Lone Ranger parody, “The Lone Stranger and Porky” in 1939). Peter is unsure of his outfit, as he should be since they both look like they’re wearing little kid’s Halloween costumes. But Micky reassures Peter that he looks very “psychedelic” because of the peace symbol and beads. [“Dirty hippies!” – Editor’s Note]

Micky and Peter enter the Marshall’s office and explain the trouble at Nesmith’s ranch. The Marshall (played by actor James Griffith who appeared in many Western television shows) is unavailable to help because he’s shooting his own TV show, and then has an Emmy dinner—for Emmy reference #2. He suggests they go to a saloon and hire outlaws.

Back at the ranch, Davy spots three men riding towards the house and warns the others. However, Kate identifies the men as friends: The Cartwheels, Ben and his two sons, Mule and Little Moe. This is a parody of the Western TV show Bonanza and the main characters Ben Cartwright and his sons (“Hoss” and “Little Joe”). Cartwheel insists Kate should sell her ranch to him for her “protection” of course. Kate politely turns him down.

Fun dialog moment:

Ben Cartwheel (to Davy): “Hey, uh, water my horse, will you, son?”
Davy: “Water your horse? I’m not a stable boy!”
Ben Cartwheel: “I don’t care about your mental condition; water my horse!”

Micky and Peter enter the saloon as a Western-style version of “The Old Folks at Home” (Stephen Foster) plays. (Davy performed this song in “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool,” and “The Case of the Missing Monkee.”) They get another of those “funny” looks, this time from the bartender. Micky bumps into a mustachioed cowboy at the bar, who is clearly Davy. A saloon girl grabs Micky, who protests with, “Not now, this is a family show!” The bartender is skeptical of this, “Family show?” When Micky and Peter look for hired guns to fight Black Bart, they meet Sneak and Red. There’s a misunderstanding, and Red ends up recruiting Micky and Peter into Black Bart’s gang. (Red is played by Len Lesser, who played George in the Western/gangster-flavored episode “Monkees in a Ghost Town.”)

I’ve seen it noted that the “bubble gum” joke was meant to be a reference to the Monkees “bubble gum” image. Could be, but I’m going to take it a different way. The “family show” joke suggests that the writers/producers make many of the jokes subversive and aimed at adults. With the bubble gum vs. tobacco, Peter ordering milk from the bar, and Micky’s line about the “family show,” and all of the gun violence and the Monkees playing around with the guns pretty much consequence free, they’re making fun of the idea of what a kid’s show is supposed to be. Most recent kid’s shows I’ve watched with my daughter are sanitized and full of “lessons.” No thanks. (Please, no morals.) At the same time, the Monkees act like kids most of the time, and they put kid’s jokes in an adult context, such as real Westerns which tend to be violent and aimed at adults, etc. The contrast makes The Monkees an unusual show. Other shows that pull this off successfully tend to be cartoons like Looney Tunes or Animaniacs.

I’ve been really enjoying this episode so far. These scenes in the saloon are my favorite because of the parody of Western clichés, funny dialog and sight gags, and a brilliant “tough cowboy” performance from Micky. High points include Micky missing the whisky bottle the bartender slings at him, the men with “prices on their heads,” Micky proving that he’s “fast on the draw,” and the excellent straight men: Sneak, Red, and the Bartender.

Peter and Micky hang out in Black Bart’s shack, where Micky plays cards with Red. Sneak busts in and declares that now’s a good time to attack Nesmith’s ranch. Peter sneaks out of the hideout and rides a horse right into the front door of Aunt Kate’s house to announce that Black Bart and his men are coming. When Davy rushes to get help, he accidentally falls on the horse the wrong way and rides it backward. He finds Ben Cartwheel, who instructs Davy to tell Kate he’s coming with his men. Davy makes the return trip backwards too; cool trick on Davy Jones’s part.

Mike digs up a jar of dirt from Kate’s ranch and takes it to the saloon. He asks for the Assayer’s office. The bartender replies, “This is it” and a sign identifying him magically appears. The Assayer/Bartender looks in Mike’s jar with that oft-used giant magnifying glass and tells Mike that the gook in the jar is “crude.” Mike misunderstands and leans in, “Oh. That’s okay, go ahead and tell me anyway.” The Assayer explains that “crude” is oil. Before Mike can leave, the Assayer asks for payment, so Mike puts some of the oil on his hand. Mike was very much like Jimmy Stewart (who, among other films, was in many Westerns) with his polite, unassuming demeanor in that scene.

Black Bart walks into his hideout without his mask, and if the audience didn’t catch on before, he is Ben Cartwheel. Bart wants to know who betrayed them to Kate. Red identifies the “Injun” as the one who went to the ranch. Ignoring the pejorative term for moment, clearly the joke is that Peter looks nothing like a Native American. Micky pretends not to know Peter, but when Bart orders Micky to kill Peter, he admits Peter’s his best friend. Red and Sneak draw guns on Peter and Micky.

A narrator’s voice employs the cliché, “Meanwhile, back at the ranch…” Mike tells Kate she’s going to be rich because of the oil on her property. They wait for the Cartwheels to save the day, but in case they don’t arrive, Mike tries to get John Wayne on the phone, yelling at the operator because, as in “The Prince and the Paupers,” he has trouble working these antiquated phones. It’s also a callback gag to “Monkees in a Ghost Town” when Davy tried to call Marshall Dillon from Gunsmoke. Kate hands rifles to Mike and Davy.

Black Bart and his men arrive at Kate’s ranch. They have Micky and Peter tied up and dressed like part of the gang. Their hands are tied, but they ride the horses away from the bad guys anyway. Bart lets them escape, figuring they can simply “kill them on the other side.” That doesn’t make any sense, but whatever facilitates their escape, I suppose.

Micky and Peter ride up to the ranch and tell Kate and the others that Cartwheel and Black Bart are one in the same. She doesn’t believe it:

Aunt Kate: “Ben Cartwheel’s the kindest millionaire in the whole valley. He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Micky: “Flies, no, but if you’re a human, he’ll kill ya!”

Between not catching on to Black Bart’s true identity, and not noticing that she had oil on her ranch, Aunt Kate is not the sharpest Nesmith. It seems the cycle had been going on for a year before the Monkee arrived: Black Bart and the bandits shoot at the women, and then Ben Cartwheel comes by and offers to buy the ranch. However, Kate wasn’t scared off; she was shooting right back and determined to hold onto her property. The Monkees contribution to moving the story along was brains (and comedy), not tough-guy gun slinging; Mike discovered the oil, and Micky and Peter discovered Black Bart’s true identity.

The good guys run inside, Micky giving Bart a saucy British “two-fingered salute” gesture before he shuts the door. I doubt he meant that as a peace sign, though maybe it passed that way to the censors. The gunfight launches a romp to “Words” (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart). It’s a very cartoonish romp, with lots of knocking bad guys on the head. The somber song is pretty, but doesn’t suit the action. Other notable elements are: Davy kisses Lucy for no reason, there’s a cameo shot of photographer Nurit Wilde, and the gun with the “Bang” flag reappears. Once again, despite all the gunfire, the romp allows the Monkees to save the day without anyone getting hurt. Black Bart and his men retreat at the end of the song, riding away from the ranch in defeat.

Oddly, after the romp, the editors stick in the same shot from the beginning of Lucy saying, “I wouldn’t be too happy about that, they’ll be back.” After which, they immediately go into the performance clip of “Goin’ Down” (Dolenz, Jones, Tork, Nesmith, and Hildebrand). This creates an unsatisfying ending. The romp wrapped the story up when the bad guys left; we don’t really need a tag sequence. But it would have been nice if they had done some quick scene instead of repeating Lucy’s line. I wonder if some footage got lost or was unusable.

This is still mostly a fine episode though. The plot was tight and moved along nicely and the writers/producers knew their source material well enough to make it fun. It would almost fit in well with the first season; it’s relatively innocent compared to other Season two episodes as far as all four of the Monkees really committing to the episode. They each had a part to play in the story and they all engage with the plot and don’t mock what they’re doing. The guest cast plays it straight and lets the Monkees be the joke-makers. If it wasn’t for the lack of narrative closure, this might have been one of my favorites.

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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