Monkees vs Macheen: “The Monkees’ Christmas Show”

“Holy sh–! It’s the attack of Eddie Munster!”

Sooner or later it seems all sitcoms end up doing a “Christmas Show,” or holiday special. This episode, which first aired on Christmas, December 25, 1967, is The Monkees version. It amazes me that it debuted on Christmas day, since these days television shows are on a break and/or in reruns from December through January. The episode is low on adventure and danger, no spies or gangsters. The Monkees nemesis is Melvin, a little boy who hates Christmas. It’s a “slobs vs. snobs” type episode on the order of “One Man Shy,” “Monkees à la Mode,” or “Success Story.” Melvin is a Scrooge-like character, but not because he’s greedy or selfish. He’s simply decided that emotions, good feelings, and fun are not for him [Oh, he’s a Vulcan. – Editor’s Note]. He’s possibly the worst nemesis they ever faced!

The episode starts out with the Monkees pushing their way, Three Stooges style, through the door of a mansion where they’ve been hired (so they think) by a Mrs. Vandersnoot to play a party. The butler is confused by the mention of the party and by the Monkees in general. (Burt Mustin, who played the Butler also played the Tarzan-parody Kimba character in the episode, “Monkees Marooned.”) He exits to alert Mrs. Vandersnoot of their arrival.

Peter wants to buy presents for everyone with the money they expect to make from the gig. Mike requests that he not buy the kind of presents he bought last year, which leads to a little flashback montage. He gave Davy an extremely oversized sports jacket. He bought Micky a chemistry set that turned him into Mr. Hyde and caused him to decapitate poor old Mr. Schneider. For himself, Peter bought an intelligence test that vacillates wildly between genius and total stupidity, until it self-destructs. Mike decided not to open his present until July; it turned out to be snow skis.

Mrs. Vandersnoot enters and clarifies that she hired the Monkees to babysit while she goes off on a cruise. The Monkees want nothing to do with this, until she tells them the pay is $100 a person in advance for the 10 days. Mike is still uncertain, pointing out that “those things take a lot of attention.” Enter the “thing” in question: Melvin, a 10-year old boy, dressed like a little business man. Mrs. Vandersnoot begs her nephew to change his mind and come along with her, but he coldly turns her down, taking Mike’s hand and pulling all the Monkees out of the house. I think Aunty should stay home and find out what’s wrong with her nephew, but then there’d be no story, I suppose.

Little nephew Melvin was played by Butch Patrick, aka Eddie Munster of The Munsters. The Munsters was off the air at the time, having completed its initial run from 1964-1966. The Monkees makeup department went out of their way to make Patrick not look anything like Eddie. He looks to my eye to have been sprayed with a fake tan (could be real tan and maybe old film just made it look that way) and is coming across on my screen as orange. He also has highlighted light brown hair and wears glasses. For his part, Patrick did an acceptable acting job in this episode. I saw the episode a few times as a kid before realizing he was Eddie Munster.

After the opening titles, there’s holiday-sounding incidental music. Stu Phillips really went all out in this episode; the score is prominent throughout. At the Monkees pad, Melvin tells the boys to go about their business; he certainly doesn’t need them to entertain him. The flustered Monkees decide to play music to pass the time. Melvin sees Mike and Peter pick up their instruments and asks, “Isn’t it the height of conformity for both of you to play the same instrument?” They explain that one is a bass, but Melvin doesn’t see the difference. He’s been with them a few minutes and is already causing them to question their value as musicians. Evil.

Mike points out that Melvin’s a kid, and they should play a game with him. They demonstrate “Simple Simon Says.” Melvin asks if he can be Simon. They’re thrilled that he wants to play until he says, “Simple Simon says ‘what is 180 times 3 Divided by 2 minus 7.’” The Monkees struggle to figure it out, using a blackboard, etc. Mike thinks no one could figure that out in their head but Melvin proves him wrong: he turns into a computer for a few seconds and gets the correct answer of 263.

Micky claims he’s good with kids and steps up to entertain him. The childlike Monkees haven’t done that well with kids that we’ve seen. The kids from “Monkee Mother” dominated them and left them tied and gagged. In “Captain Crocodile,” the Crocodile Corp tried to kill the Monkees, though they did eventually win those kids over. The only kid that liked them from the start was precocious and glib Junior Pinter, also from “Captain Crocodile.”

After Micky fails at a few yo-yo tricks, Davy decides to try conversation, asking Melvin if he’s excited to be away from home and staying with the guys. Melvin puts him down, “It would be a lot more exciting if everyone around here didn’t act like such…kids!” The Monkees are better at having fun than he is; that’s for sure. Davy is emotionally wounded and limps back to the bandstand. Mike mutters, “That kid’s cool like a machine, there’s something strange about him…” Melvin turns into the computer again for a moment. Unlike the computer from “Monkee vs. Machine,” Mike can’t break this one in just a few minutes; it takes him the entire episode.

Micky decides they should use “child psychology” Since he’s a rich kid, they’ll take him Christmas shopping. That’s not really psychology. Also, though he is obviously from a rich family, there’s been nothing about him that would signal to the Monkees that he’s spoiled or into shopping and material things. He hasn’t indicated that he wants anything at all other than to be left alone. The extroverted Monkees can’t fathom it.

They take him to the department store, actually that same “ballroom” set that they used and redecorated repeatedly since way back in the first episode, “Royal Flush” where it served as the embassy ballroom. Peter tries out a red bike with a motor and rides around the store, totally out of control. (The salesman is played by Larry Gelman, who was also in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here” as the Director and “Captain Crocodile” as the stage manager.) Peter crashes into the Christmas tree and winds up on a stretcher. The Salesman charges them $320 for damages. After all the property they’ve damaged in these episodes, this is the first time anyone has ever charged them. He adds another $20 for the stretcher. Mike sarcastically cracks that it’s a “carrying charge.”

Back at the pad, a doctor checks on Peter and pronounces him fine. He charges them another $20. The Doctor wishes everyone a merry Christmas, tries to offer Melvin a lollipop, but Melvin declines and the Doctor leaves. Melvin grumps to Mike, “How can anyone seriously discuss Christmas.” Mike doesn’t know how to answer. Melvin asks for “facts.” Peter gives the date, “Well, it’s on Dec. 25. And it’s full of cheer and good light and good will and friendship and fellowship…” Melvin’s not having it. Melvin claims he’s never seen the “Christmas spirit.” [Hard to get into the Christmas spirit when the doctor is charging you twenty bucks. – Editor’s Note] He’s expecting it to be tangible, but Mike describes it as “people walking around smiling to themselves.” Mike asks Melvin to try a smile; Melvin fails at the task. That’s really sad, since he’s just a kid, and we’d like to hope a kid’s life hasn’t been that full of disappointment just yet. He ends up snarling and shouting, “bah, humbug,” much to Mike’s dismay. In case you missed the subtle point the writers were trying to make, Peter and Mike tell the audience the obvious: Melvin needs lessons on Christmas.

The plucky Monkees take Melvin to buy a Christmas tree. Mike tells Melvin about the evergreen branches and their meaning. An old woman approaches and takes the small tree Mike was holding. Proving that Melvin is right about the lack of existing Christmas spirit, she hits Mike with a karate chop to snatch it from him. There are no small trees left, and they can’t afford a big tree, so Mike takes them to the woods to cut one down. He swings the ax at a tree and doesn’t get too far. He just starts convulsing and gets the axe stuck. Peter and Davy go off to buy a tree. Micky comes running, excited about finding “holly and mistletoe.” What he actually found was poison ivy. Forces certainly are conspiring to make the Monkees look like fools in front of Melvin. Even nature doesn’t want them to have a Merry Christmas.

The doctor returns and treats Micky for a $20 case of poison ivy; with that the Monkees are officially broke. Undaunted, Davy shows Melvin how to decorate the tree they bought. He tries to demonstrate that he’s no longer too short to put the star on top of the tree, but he doesn’t quite make it and falls off the ladder, knocking it over. The doctor comes back for Davy and “generously” says they can pay him after Christmas.

Melvin is unimpressed as usual and tells them they’re “killing themselves over something that doesn’t even exist.” Mike finally capitulates, “If you don’t believe in the spirit of Christmas, then it doesn’t exist.” Rather than continue to witness them injuring themselves, Melvin returns to his house, where he has a maid and a butler to watch him. As he leaves, everyone looks sad, especially Melvin. Melvin wants the Monkees to prove him wrong, if they could just figure out how. You’ve got to feel a little sad for both Melvin and the Monkees.

The Monkees are puzzled about how they failed, given the amount of time, energy and money they spent on games, toys, and so on but then Mike realizes that the missing piece was “love.” Which is a bit heavy-handed and sentimental, but it was a Christmas episode after all.

Melvin goes back to his house and finds the butler and maid about to go out for Christmas Eve dinner. He tells them he prefers to be alone and they leave. Melvin sits down and looks into a shiny plate and tries to smile at his reflection. The score is an instrumental version of “Ríu, Ríu, Chíu”. He thinks back on the Monkees smiling faces, takes off his glasses and cries [Yeah, ’cause that’s what everybody wants to see – a child crying. – Editor’s Note].

Melvin pictures himself at the department store again, but in his imagination he plays with the Monkees, dances and has a good time. The score is an instrumental montage of “We wish you a merry Christmas,””Deck the Halls,” “Pop Goes the Weasel,” “Days of Christmas,” and general “la-las” through the scene. Melvin imagines himself actually acting like a kid. He imagines himself back at the Monkees pad, playing by the tree. (The old woman from the tree shop is there for some reason.) Melvin imagines fun with the Monkees that never really happened and continues to cry.

Up on the roof, real fun is on the way! Micky is dressed as Santa, and Davy as his elf in one of Mike’s hats and a “Jolly Green Giant” outfit from “Captain Crocodile.” Micky is reluctant to go down the chimney, but Davy helps him out and they both go crashing down, to Melvin’s surprise. After a fun gag where Micky blows dust on Davy, they give a spirited performance of “Deck the Halls” (with a subversive emphasis on “gay apparel”). Peter and Mike come in the front door with the Christmas tree and join in on the singing. Melvin laughs and cries at the same time. My daughter walks in while I’m working on this and remarks, “They broke him.”

The Monkees brings Melvin’s Aunt back from the cruise somehow. Melvin and his Aunt admit they missed each other but never told each other. They have a tearful embrace. He tells her what a great time he had with the Monkees. Davy and Micky bring over presents for Melvin to open and sit down with them. Mike and Peter stand in the corner and pretend to cry.

The writers didn’t go into Melvin’s back-story at all. His goal is to have no need of anyone, and he respects only facts and figures. On the other hand, he was secretly hoping the Monkees could cheer him up, while at the same time getting all smug when they failed. I think we can guess something about him. He’s living with his aunt instead of his parents so it seems there was a tragedy, death or some other event that took them away from him. He’s afraid to have feelings for anyone or to have any joy in his life, because it will be taken away from him like his parents were. That’s my theory. Whatever it was, I’m glad the writers let the audience fill in the blanks.

Once the episode storyline is over, the Monkees are back at their pad where they perform an a capella version of the Spanish song from the 16 century, “Ríu, Ríu, Chíu.” The song wasn’t originally intended as a Christmas carol but the lyrics mention the nativity of Christ and the Immaculate Conception. (Este que es nascido es El Gran Monarca / Cristo Patriarca de carne vestido /: The one who is born is the Great Monarch/ Christ the Patriarch Clothed in flesh).

After the song, the Monkees bring out the crew to say hello, since some of them would not get home for the holiday season. They introduce cameraman Irving Lippman, wardrobe master Gene Ashman, Jack Williams, the prop-man, Les Fresholtz, the sound man, Monkees stand-ins Ric Klein, David Pearl, David Price, the Monkee Girls (who work in the office and “take care of everything for them”), Gerry Shepard, the editor, and director Jon Anderson, just to name a few. All of this is over the end credits instead of the usual closing theme.

With this version of the credits and the preceding performance, “The Monkees’ Christmas Show” ends with a live variety show feel. The performance of “Ríu, Ríu, Chíu” is the standout moment that made it memorable. I’m not that into sentimental Monkees episodes, but how can I say anything bad about an episode where the Monkees try to help out a lonely kid? That wouldn’t be showing much Christmas spirit (though I’m writing this in October).The Monkees have cheered me up so many times, I can appreciate this story. God rest you merry, gentlemen. (Despite what the butler said.)

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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