Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Monkees Watch Their Feet”

“The more days that go by, the more good old days there are to miss.”

“The Monkees Watch Their Feet” a.k.a. “Micky and the Outer Space Creatures” is a standout episode of the second season, mostly because of the unusual story-telling style. Instead of seeing things from the Monkees point of view, the story is done as a documentary (or mockumentary), introduced to us by comedian Pat Paulsen. Like “Fairy Tale,” this is a deviation from the usual format. I imagine that if you had never seen The Monkees before and somehow this episode or “Fairy Tale” was the first you saw, you’d be puzzled. “Monkees Watch Their Feet” is also one of the most subversive of the series. Much of this episode is a commentary on the Red Scare, the war in Vietnam, and the generation gap, expressed both in Paulsen’s narration and in the homage to science fiction movies.

Alex Singer directed “The Monkees Watch Their Feet” and two of my other favorite episodes, “Monkees à la Mode” and “Monkee Mayor.” The scenes with the Monkees were shot in May of 1967, but the narration sections with Pat Paulsen were shot the following September. It makes me wonder if, when they were looking at the May footage, the production team decided they didn’t have much of an episode and needed to add something. Some of the other season two episodes ended up feeling incomplete. Maybe this was one they cared enough about to fix. Coslough Johnson wrote this episode and many other Monkees episodes that I mentioned in previous recaps.

The episode begins with Mike in front of an American flag. “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (Julia Ward Howe, 1861) plays, adapted by Monkees composer Stu Phillips. The flag in the background has only 35 stars, the official flag in 1863. The scene has a very official “State of the Union” address vibe. Mike speaks into the microphone, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this evening RayBert Productions and Screen Gems, with its usual lack of cooperation from the National Broadcasting Company, is pleased to present this special report from the Department of UFO Information. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Secretary of the Department of UFO Information, Mr. Pat Paulsen.” They start right out with a jab at the Network with the “usual lack of cooperation from the National Broadcasting Company.” Unfortunately, that’s all we’re going to get of Mike. (He was recovering from his tonsillectomy during the dates when the initial scenes were shot, according to the book, The Monkees Day-By-Day by Andrew Sandoval.)

Paulsen warns us that aliens are among us and preying upon “the innocence of our youth” (“because they know they’ll try anything.”) This is a common theme in The Monkee series, the joke that adults cannot comprehend teenagers/young adults at all. Throughout Paulsen’s narrative, he uses alien invasion to explain the “strange” behavior of kids. He sets up his “documented film report” and reveals a small film screen upon which we see Micky, Peter, and Davy in their pad. It seems to me that the Monkees are objects rather than subjects in this episode because we see them first on Paulsen’s film screen. This gives the audience a rare detached view of them, seen through Paulsen’s eyes. Note that he addresses the audience, but the Monkees never break the fourth wall in this episode.

Paulsen describes the boys as “three average, typical young American teenagers with their own television series.” The scene moves into the Monkees living room, where they’re getting dressed. That must have been some party, if they left their clothes in the main room. Davy nags the others to hurry so they can start rehearsing. Micky’s clothes vanish with “pop” sound effects, and Davy scolds him that he’s supposed to be putting his clothes on.

Paulsen analyzes the incident of Micky’s missing clothes and blames it on aliens, “Certainly if the intent was to be humorous, it would have been funnier than that. Unless it was a TV show.” His deadpan delivery of these ridiculous lines is excellent. I also enjoy his awkward stammering and physical shtick, contradicting his “Authority Figure” status with the visual of someone who doesn’t even have control over his own body and surroundings.

After the credits, Paulsen begins describing the problems and confusion of being a young adult. He narrates Micky’s life with clips from episodes past. He calls Micky a “teenage millionaire” (Clip of Micky as M.D. from “I’ve Got a Little Song here”), “deeply troubled” (Micky with Brenda in “I was a 99 Pound Weakling,”). He describes the “vague longings and awakenings in his body” (Micky in “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik” lays in the harem girls’ laps) and “vague awakenings of his mind” (Micky blows raspberries in “It’s a Nice Place to Visit”) There’s some clip of Micky in front of a WWI plane that I don’t recall shown at Paulsen’s line, “Tormented by a war he must fight in a country thousands of miles away.” But even with all this, Paulsen comes to the conclusion that aliens are messing with Micky.

To prove his point, we get a scene on an alien spaceship. The Assistant alien tells her Captain they need to start “Plan D” which is “Disposal of Earthlings through the various means of destruction at our command.” This could be a reference to the infamous 1959 film, Plan 9 from Outer Space, which concerned a plot to take over the world by controlling the undead. The aliens in this episode use a young adult instead of a zombie. This strikes me as a subtle joke that teenagers are easily controlled zombies, through the media and peer pressure [Brilliant, prescient point! – Editor’s note].

Micky walks down the beach while Paulsen narrates the theme lyrics, “Here he comes walking down the beach; He gets the funniest looks from everyone he meets.” Micky finds his missing gear on the trail left for him, including a ladies stocking that Paulsen describes as “an oversight” on the part of the aliens. Snicker. He gets zapped into the alien spaceship as he tries to pick up his drum. Paulsen hilariously mocks the teenage trends of the time, “The young man finds himself in a strange environment. Gone are the psychedelic lights, the ear shattering music, the strangely painted ritualistic dancers. All of the good, solid, peaceful things that, to him, means security and home.” He’s got a point: The spaceship is not all that weird in comparison to the psychedelic ’60s.

Micky is friendly to the aliens, wandering around and admiring their “pad.” He pulls a handle that traps him in a cage. The aliens try to duplicate him. Their first attempt is a gorilla (actually a man in a costume as seen in “Monkees Chow Mein.”) The Assistant, who is clearly the one in charge, tells the Captain to reduce the brain tissue and lower the IQ. This does the trick. She tells the Captain that Robot Micky will spy, while they question the real Micky, who appears stoned inside the alien cage. One flaw in this plot for me, the usually quick and clever Micky is required to be naïve and passive for this to work. On the other hand, this is Paulsen’s view of Micky, not the Monkees point of view so maybe this is his convenient (to the plot) version of him.

Paulsen waves his pointer stick to emphasize his words, comically off-rhythm with himself. (That’s probably harder to execute than you’d think.) He ponders, “Whatever happened to the good old days? Perhaps you figure that the more days that go by, the more good old days there are to miss. That’s tricky thinking and not the answer. Today is not a good old one, because the aliens are causing riots and crime waves, drug addiction, unemployment, etc. They want to put the blame on teenagers.” This is accompanied by a clip of screaming fans from “Monkees on Tour.” Then, and a subversive stab at the Vietnam War and reaction to war protesters:

Paulsen narrates that the aliens made a perfect robot of Micky, except that the robot’s feet are backwards. Robot Micky walks along the beach, where Davy and Peter find him and immediately sense that something’s wrong. Paulsen tells the audience never to give anyone the benefit of the doubt when looking for aliens. Peter and Davy notice the spaceship, but Robot Micky diverts them, smartly suggesting that if they’ve never seen a spaceship before, then how would they recognize one? Peter, “He’s right man. Probably some new drive-in.” Another funny point made. When styles become so “out there,” how would humanity know if something was “off.” An alien landing in Times Square would probably be ignored.

This storyline of Micky being replaced by an alien seems to be a comic homage to Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), which was about humans who are replaced one-by-one with emotionless alien duplicates. This film could be seen as a warning on the dangers of Communist brainwashing which was the fear at the time, or possibly it was a comment on the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) Red Scare hysteria. There’s a short breakdown here on the ways sci-fi movies made political commentary on the Red Scare.

At the pad, Robot Micky behaves strangely. He reports back to the aliens through a microphone on his thumb, he thinks the phone is a “Pussycat,” and he tries to ask the fridge out on a date. Davy and Peter point out his odd behavior. When Robot Micky tries to kill them with dynamite, Davy and Peter subdue him, tie him down, and go over his body with a checklist. They discover the backwards feet and surmise that he’s not Micky. Robot Micky’s head swivels around and says, “Klaatu, Barada, Nikto” referencing the 1951 sci-fi film, The Day The Earth Stood Still, another film that, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, was a commentary on cold war politics. Micky also quotes Forbidden Planet: “My Name is Robbie the Robot.”

Peter and Davy go to the military UFO department for help. There’s a young agent, using binoculars to search for UFO’s and an older man, the Chief, who’s a bit wacky. Peter and Davy tell the Chief their belief that Micky’s been replaced by an alien because his feet are backwards. The Chief asks them to make an official report, but that’s about all the help he offers. As usual, the adults/authority figures are no help. The Chief removes his shoes under the desk and pushes them so the heels are facing forward, so now the Monkees think he’s an alien. The younger agent helps them tie him up. There’s a sight gag throughout the scene that’s tricky to catch in the chaos:

Paulsen admits “Yes, our government’s position on certain matters is unbelievable. Often, the fight against the aliens must be carried out by the citizens alone.” Peter and Davy prepare to do exactly that. They question Robot Micky on the whereabouts of the real Micky and on why the aliens are on earth. Robot Micky keeps replying, “I won’t talk.” Davy pulls a Captain Kirk on him (Kirk’s method of breaking robots and computers just by confusing them with logic). There’s a great shot of all this action from an unusual camera angle.

When Peter accidentally squirts Robot Micky with seltzer, he freaks out and they discover he’s a robot, rather than an alien. In jumpsuits and face shields, Peter and Davy take him apart in order to make him help them find Micky. The close shot of the robot’s tubes and wires look like the same ones Micky used in “Monkee See, Monkee Die” when he tried to repair the radio. After poking in several wrong places, they hit the right one, and Robot Micky agrees to take them to the spaceship to find Micky.

The flying saucer brings them in when Robot Micky repeats, “Klaatu, Barada, Nikto.” Peter, Davy, and Robot Micky pop (with sound effects) onto the ship and reunite with Micky. The aliens and Robot Micky fire lasers at the Monkees and this begins a romp to “Star Collector” (Goffin/King). Sadly, this is a typical romp, nowhere near as clever as the rest of the episode. There’s a notable moment used in the opening when Peter rides a bike around the ship. The one joke I like is when the Grandfather clock (I don’t know why there’s a Grandfather clock on the spaceship, but just go with it.) blows up at exactly midnight and this happens:

In the aftermath, the aliens are passed out on the control panel. Robot Micky apologizes to the Monkees, who invite him to come home with them. With regrets, he tells them he can’t stay because he’s got a little “blender” on Zlotnick. Wow, he really has a thing for kitchen appliances.

Paulsen wraps things up with a mock-serious explanation about the danger of aliens with backward feet in our society, “America, if you let this menace into your midst, you will not know whether you are coming or going.” I was not around yet for the HUAC days, but I’ve assume this is what they’re going after throughout the episode, making commentary on the hearings investigating Hollywood on charges of spreading Communist propaganda. Paulsen is flanked by two uniformed soldiers, and he takes the little flags from his desk and puts them into the soldier’s rifles. For ultimate patriotic affect, no doubt. He wraps things up, “In summation, let me say once more, emphatically, we are being attacked by outer space. The time has come for us to stop sticking our bayonets into each other, and start sticking our bayonets into space.”

Pat Paulsen (July 6, 1927 – April 24, 1997)  is clearly the star of “The Monkees Watch Their Feet.” His performance is a variation of his act that he performed on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour as a regular guest star. See clips here. As a gag that started on The Smothers Brothers, he ran for president in 1968 on the STAG party ticket (Straight Talking American Government). He ran for president five other times, ending up on the primary ballot several times and occasionally getting a percentage of the votes. Here are two of his campaign slogans, “I’ve upped my standards. Now, up yours” and “If elected, I will win.” And another funny quote, “If either the right wing or the left wing gained control of the country, it would probably fly around in circles.”

Obviously, I dig this episode a lot. It’s got it all; mockumentary, sci-fi, and political satire. I have to wonder what it would have been like if they hadn’t added the Secretary of the Department of UFO Information scenes later. I’m guessing another weak story that’s a pale copy of an episode from the first season. There’s not much to the plot, let’s face it. With those Paulsen scenes and narration, the style adds to the substance and the episode becomes brilliant comedy. I wonder how this would play for younger people who grew up after the wall came down. Even for me growing up in the 1980’s I still have memories of the paranoia of communism and fear of a war with Russia so this episode strikes a chord with me. I do think that even today there’s plenty of government conspiracy and fear of “others” that makes this all sadly still relevant.

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: “The Monkees on the Wheel”

“Dolenz’s Four”

“The Monkees on the Wheel” debuted December 11, 1967 and was directed by Jerry Shepard. Shepard was mainly an editor on The Monkees, but he directed “The Monkees Get Out More Dirt.” Episode writer was Coslough Johnson, who wrote “Monkees on the Line” and many more. The episode starts off with a stock footage shot of the Las Vegas strip, and the narrator sets it up [“Submitted for your approval…” – Editor’s Note], “Las Vegas, pleasure capital of the world, where each man seeks the things he loves most.” He repeats the phrase “the things he loves most” a few times, and we see a foreground of a casino. In the background, lecherous Monkees literally chase girls. Mike rubs his hands together as he tries to catch one, and Davy zeros in on a girl’s derriere. It’s pretty darn funny to see, and it sets up a tone that’s bawdier than most episodes. I’m thinking they were going for a Rat Pack, Ocean’s Eleven (1960) vibe on this one, doll-face!

The narrator tells us that some are here to “pursue their greed” and we meet the villains of the week, two gangsters planning a caper. Crooks and gangsters, etc. were the most commonly used opponents of the Monkees. This mini-gang has fixed the roulette wheel to land on 16 red. The Boss (David Astor) gives Biggy (Pepper Davis) instructions on how to win all the money from the casino. He can’t do it himself because he’ll be recognized.

In the main casino, Micky tries to pick up a pretty blonde called Zelda by giving her money for the slot machine. Once again, Micky has poor taste in women: he goes on and on about their endless love while she just wants to win money. When he’s out of coins, she tells him to, “buzz off, Charlie!” and walks away. Micky loses his temper and pulls the handle on the slot machine, winning the jackpot. She runs back to kiss his hand and tell him he has “magic fingers,” interested in him again now that he’s won money. Micky tells the camera, “I thought she only loved me for my money.” This episode is especially cynical. Many of them are and I’ve applauded them for it. In this episode the Monkees are fully participating, instead of being victims of a cynical story line.

Zelda is played by Joy Harmon who we previously saw in “The Picture Frame” as the squeaky-voiced bank teller. If you’ve never seen the film Cool Hand Luke, Harmon has a memorable scene where she washes a car in front of the prisoners. Given the overall girl-ogling tone of this episode, it seems perfectly appropriate to mention it in this recap.

Mike chastises Micky for gambling, “you told me you wouldn’t gamble anymore” while Zelda and Micky pick up the coins. Mike reminds Micky that they need to go play a gig. It’s always nice when they manage to add a line that mentions that the characters are supposed to be musicians. Season two so far hasn’t shown them playing very often as part of the story. Micky absent-mindedly sets his winnings down for a moment on the roulette table, accidentally betting on 16 red.

Biggy missed his chance to place a bet somehow. He gasps when the Manager (I’d call him the dealer but IMDb says “Manager”), Rip Taylor, announces 16 red and Micky wins tons of money. Davy walks up to mention they’re supposed to be rehearsing. Biggy, who looks like a shorter Vic Tayback, tells Micky not to bet and crushes his hand. The three Monkees decide to leave, but Peter comes up and says you should never leave while you’re ahead. That seems like terrible advice but what do I know? I don’t gamble. Biggy tries to place his bet but Peter blocks him, putting Micky’s bet down again. When Micky wins again, the Manager freaks out because he broke the bank.

Back in their room, the gangsters talk about how to get the money back. The Boss tells Biggy to get Della the Decoy. Meanwhile, the Monkees carry Micky’s winnings back to their room on a stretcher. They consider what to spend it on; Mike says they should invest the money in something “worthwhile.” [Nesmith was quite the businessman. – Editor’s Note] There’s a quick montage of Micky, Mike, and Davy picturing hot girls while Peter imagines hugging a stuffed tiger. That was hilarious, and Peter was the only one who got close to his object of desire. Also, could be an allusion to the song, “Cuddly Toy” that’s used later in the episode and the notion of girls as “cuddly toys.”

There’s a knock at the door and Peter lets in Biggy, who’s got a vacuum and poses as the “maintenance man.” Since Davy and Biggy are about the same size, Davy doubts his claim, “Maintenance men don’t come that short.” Peter disagrees that Biggy’s short, “stand up and show him how tall you are.” Of course Biggy comes back with, “I am standing up.”

Next, Della the Decoy walks in the room, dressed in a sexy maid’s costume and the Monkees all go nuts for her. Peter: “Are you the maintenance man too?” Della: “Sure. Don’t you like the way I’m maintained.” The Monkees stumble over each other to try and pick her up. Behind them, Biggy’s making off with the money. Della’s not really a decoy, she’s more like Della the Distraction. Also, we’ve seen the Monkees interested in girls before but it’s usually romantic. We’ve never seen them this out-and-out horny. (Maybe Micky from time to time.) The Monkees make an over-the-top spectacle of being all over Della, instead of acting in character.

Back in the casino, the Manager chews the scenery, going on and on about his aggravation. In every scene that the Manager is in, Rip Taylor hams it up. In contrast, fantastic straight man Dort Clark enters the scene, playing yet another cop (we previously saw him playing cops in “Monkees a la Cart” and “The Picture Frame”). The Manager tells him his story.

The Monkees are still ad-libbing with Della until Davy halts the chaos to let her say her line, but she doesn’t have one. Biggy takes off with the money, and the Monkees realize they’ve been had. They start shouting for the police, who turn up immediately along with the Manager. (Mike sarcastically quips, “What took you so long.) The Policeman tricks Micky into signing a confession and arrests all four Monkees. The Monkees protest that they’re arresting the victim, not the criminal. As they’re led away, there are some unusual close-ups as the Monkees complain about police brutality, etc.

At the police station, the confession is shot with crooked Batman-type angles. The Monkees protest the illegality of this arrest and insist their money was stolen. The Policeman tells them to think of a better story than that, so Mike tells “Jack and the Beanstalk.” This scene (and the entire episode) is reminiscent of the confession scene from “The Picture Frame,” but not as funny. It becomes obvious the Monkees didn’t know the roulette wheel was rigged, so the Manager makes an offer: if they can get the money back in 24 hours he won’t press charges. Our boys are now thoroughly enmeshed in yet another criminal caper.

Back in their room, Mike suggests if they can’t find the crooks, they should get the crooks to find them. Peter suggests, “Why don’t we open a prison?” The other Monkees immediately jump on him for the “stupidity” of that suggestion. But not really; they’re clearly being ‘meta’ and reacting to the stale jokiness of the written dialog. As in the scene with Della, they’re way outside the actual episode and commenting on the story and the writing, not really acting in character to mock Peter. Mike “comes up” with an idea, which we hear as mumble, mumble, rhubarb, rhubarb.

The Monkees enter the casino dressed as gangsters in suits and sunglasses, except Peter who looks more like an accountant. Zelda recognizes Micky but he brushes her off. They step up to the Roulette wheel. Biggy approaches Peter; Micky recognizes him as the hand crusher (but doesn’t recognize him as the Maintenance Man.) Micky disguises his voice; I don’t know what he was going for, but he sounds like Wolfman Jack. He tells Biggy not to bother the Professor (referring to Peter.) Micky identifies himself as the Insidious Strangler and explains his gang is in town for, “Robbery, extortion, and murder.” Mike cuts in “sort of your regular tourist activities.” Except he clearly did NOT say that. It doesn’t match his lips at all and the above line was obviously dubbed in later in Micky’s voice. I can’t read his lips and would love to know what the heck he really said, and why it had to be dubbed over.

Micky identifies Mike as Vicious Killer and says he did two years of solitary confinement, standing on his head. The editors flip a shot of Mike upside down. “The Professor” tells Biggy they’re here to “take over this town and win all the money.” He starts to tell Biggy about his mathematical system, which is almost perfected. Biggy gives him the missing piece: 7+5 equals 12 (not 11). Peter gets excited, “My system is perfect!” Upside down shot of Mike repeating the line “isn’t that dumb.” All of the action above was intercut with shots of Rip Taylor, carrying on behind the roulette table. The Monkee gangsters go see the Boss in his room. Micky has a Three Stooges/James Cagney impression contest with the Boss. I think it’s a draw.

Peter explains his sure-fire gambling “equalization” system by handing Biggy and the Boss each glasses of liquor. Then, Peter does something uncharacteristically savvy: He gets the crooks falling down drunk while he bluffs his way through his “system.” The other three Monkees sit and let the Peter steal the show, cutting in once to ask the audience “Isn’t that dumb?” The crooks pass out and Micky, Mike, and Davy give Peter well-deserved applause. The Monkees look for the money and immediately ruin Peter’s clever plan by setting off an alarm. The Boss drunkenly wakes and decides, “It’s a deal: your system, my money.”

Back in the casino, the fake and real gangsters enter. David Pearl approaches Mike, smacks him in the nose, Three Stooges-style, and says “take this wizard Glick.” Mike tells him he’s not Wizard Glick and Pearl apologizes. He should have smacked Rip Taylor, who was Wizard Glick in the final episode “The Frodis Caper.”

The Policeman approaches Micky and explains he can’t take the stolen money without proof. The “Professor” tells the gangsters to bet 24 red. The Boss is in the casino, even though at the beginning he said he would be recognized (as a crook I suppose). Zelda approaches Micky again and keeps bothering him until he gives her money to play with. Unfortunately 24 red wins, even though the Monkees aim to lose so the Manager can recover his money. Peter bets absurd numbers that don’t exist (87 plaid) and continues to win. Zelda identifies Micky as “Magic Fingers,” outing him to the Boss. The Boss orders Biggy to “get them.”

Romp to “The Door into Summer” (Chip Douglas, Bill Martin), from Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. The cast runs around the roulette table. Della the Dish distracts everyone. Davy plays a spinning wheel game and kisses girls. Joy Harmon steals the scenes and looks to be having fun. She pulls all the slot arms, until she gets to Micky. She pumps his arm like he’s a slot machine; Micky grows taller and gives us a lascivious smile. Everyone keeps sneezing over yellow roses that are in the casino. Mike eats the rose petals in a callback gag to “The Picture Frame. The story finishes with the gangster collapsing on the roulette table.

Peter, Mike, and Davy demonstrate the tag sequence, which Mike explains as, “some complete laugh riot at the end of a show.” They demonstrate a “here we go again” tag. Peter and Davy discuss how’ll they’ll never get involved in gambling again and then realize Micky’s missing. Mike cuts in to explain; now they’ll cut over to Micky playing with “the gambling machine.” Micky wins a bunch of slots and he gives his all his money to Della in his hat. He smiles at the camera with his tongue hanging lustfully out as they walk off screen together. While Micky does his thing, there’s these quick-cuts back to Mike, Peter and Davy and Mike saying “and now you cut back to us.” Mike: “And we’re supposed to give a pained look to the camera. Isn’t that funny kids.” Sarcastic laughter. Seems like a fitting way to wrap up this particular episode.

But wait, there’s more! Next is an alternate performance film of “Cuddly Toy” (Harry Nilsson) For this version the Monkees are on stage in vaudeville-inspired striped jackets and straw hats. Davy dances by himself, no Anita Mann this time, while the others play instruments. This is followed by the outtakes from the “Monstrous Monkee Mash” episode, which aired after this episode on January 22, 1968. There are several repeat takes of Mike and Micky in their Werewolf/Mummy costumes trying to get through their dialog. (You can hear James Frawley directing, “Go again.”) Mike can’t say the punch line because he’s laughing so much. On the last one, he finally finishes his sentence and Micky looks confused at the camera.

To me, this episode had a different tone than the others. Some of the jokes were dirtier than usual for a kids show. As a five year old, I wouldn’t have understood it. As a teenager, I loved it for being naughty. It’s also unusual for the amount of fourth-wall breaking. As in “Hillbilly Honeymoon” and “Wild Monkees” they draw a lot of attention to the fact that it is indeed a television show. They reached a point where instead of parodying everything else in Hollywood, they made fun of themselves. The Monkees seem to be rebelling against the format of their very own show when they break down the tag sequence and mock their usual treatment of Peter, etc. They don’t leave the audience out of this; we’re in on the joke. I like this, but I also like it when they’re truly engaged in the story-lines. Fortunately, there were a few more of those episodes left before the series ended.

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.

Monkees Vs. Macheen: “Monkees on the Line”

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“Live, Live, Live! Love, Love, Love!”

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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.

This fast-paced, physical comedy-filled episode was directed by James Frawley and aired on March 27, 1967. The plot was borrowed from a 1960 film called Bells Are Ringing (screenplay by Betty Comden, Adolph Green based on their popular stage musical), starring Judy Holliday, about an answering service operator who gets a little too involved with her customers (also with Dort Clark, who was in “Monkees on the Wheel,” “The Picture Frame,” and “Monkees à la Cart.”). Gardner/Caruso and Coslough Johnson were the writers. Johnson went solo on other episodes produced in the second season: “Art For Monkee’s Sake,” “The Monkees On The Wheel,” “The Monkees Watch Their Feet,” “The Monkee’s Paw,” and “The Monkees Mind Their Manor.” He also wrote an unproduced teleplay: “The Monkees Toy Around.” Coslough Johnson is the brother of Arte Johnson from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.

At the Urgent Answering Service, the Monkees meet Mrs. Drehdal, played by Helene Winston, who appeared in “Monkees à la Carte” as Big Flora. Mrs. D offers them a job and free service if they’ll answer the phones. In a brief fantasy sequence, she becomes the Statue of Liberty and her impassioned speech compels them to be a “warm heart of this cruel world” and that the city will “be in your fingers.” The boys get all choked up and agree. After all the warmth talk, she points to the sign that says “Don’t Get Involved With The Clients.”

Mike cheats at choosing fingers to win the first shift. Micky explains that Mike always wins because he has six fingers on that hand. The connection of fingers and phones reminds me of the old “Let your fingers do the walking” slogan from The Yellow Pages, which originated in 1962.

really-excited-mike

After the others leave, Mike skips over to the switchboard in excitement. Funny to see a tall, lanky man skip. “Monkees on the Line” does a good job of utilizing Mike’s established character traits. He needs to be useful, to take care of people and advise them, etc. For their part, the other Monkees treat him as a protector and big brother. Mike’s ready for the chance to be helpful to the entire city this time.

At the switchboard area, there are a bunch of phones that connect into the wall with their own lines, instead of one big multi-line phone. Looks like there should be about 10 people working there at once, not just the one person. Mrs. Drehdal announces she’s off to Jamaica and gives Mike a quick tutorial: plug in the ringing phone, answer and take the message, and give it to the client when they call in. Duh.

Mike finds a big red button, which she explains is for when you get tired. He breaks the fourth wall to tell us that, since monkeys are notoriously curious, he’ll push the jolly, candy-like button. [“Push the button, Frank!” 10 points to anybody who gets that reference. – Editor] When he does, a bed comes out of the wall. I’ve seen this type of gag used in many comedies, where a bed falls down or out of the wall. But I still enjoy it in this episode; they put it to good use.

A phone rings and Mike performs some physical comedy trying to figure out which phone is ringing. Ellen, the caller, declares, “I had to speak to someone. I just can’t go on, I’m so terribly alone.” Ellen goes on about being alone while all the other phones start ringing. Flustered, Mike delivers this nonsensical gem to one of the callers, “No, I’m sorry, you must have the wrong number. We don’t have a telephone.” Both the phone Mike uses when he talks to Ellen, and Ellen’s phone are yellow. Helpful to the viewer for keeping track, though not for Mike who can’t see her phone. Ellen continues her suicide threats while phones keep ringing. Frantic, Mike picks up all the phones and shouts, “Don’t do it!” He’s amazingly polite the entire time.

Later, Mike’s passed out on the phone table. Peter, Micky, and Davy, dressed as surgeons, revive him with a seltzer squirt. Mike shouts about getting to the girl on the phone before it’s too late. The Monkees use her line number to find her info in the file cabinet. Mike finds it right away; hilariously, the others are still searching in the background. Mike and Micky rush off to prevent Ellen’s suicide. Peter and Davy caution that they’re not supposed to get involved with the clients. Peter’s right again, what do you know? Fourth-wall breaking gag where Mike asks off screen for someone to give him his hat and they toss it to him. Micky: “Where’d you get that?” Mike: “From the wardrobe.”

Once Davy and Peter are on their own, all the phones start ringing at once. Crazy, fast motion business of them answering all the phones and taking tons of messages. Once it’s quiet again, Davy finds something that grabs his attention: “Mr. Smith call Zelda Baby, love, love, love, urgent.” Davy decides to deliver the message by hand as it says “urgent.” He’s now involved in a mini-plot.

Davy knocks on the door of the Smith apartment. Mr. Smith answers still in shaving cream and an undershirt. His wife is played by Lea Marmer, last seen as Madame Roselle in “Monkee See, Monkee Die.” Davy reads the message and angers Mrs. Smith, who hits her husband in the head. They both chase Davy down the hall and into farce territory. They all run into another apartment. A pretty girl in a towel runs out, and Davy chases her enthusiastically. He’s followed out by the Smiths; Mr. Smith suddenly fully dressed in his cop uniform.

At Ellen’s apartment, Micky and Mike walk right in and find all her suicide props. They search the apartment for her in ridiculous places where she couldn’t fit: under a throw pillow, in a small cupboard, under an end table, and behind a framed painting. Micky and Mike look in her day planner, which tells them she’s supposed to be at the theater today.

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At the theater, Ellen rehearses the same lines she said to Mike on the phone. The pretentious director encourages her to suffer, live the part etc. He says “live, live, live!” which echoes the “love, love, love” message from Zelda Baby. The audience now knows she’s preparing for a part and using an unwitting Mike as her scene partner.

Peter now gets his own plot. He takes a call from Manny Spink who pretends to be a theatrical booking agent, booking a job for the Popsicles. Manny and partner are actually placing bets on horses, using the answering service as bookies.

Mike and Micky arrive at the theater and ask about Ellen. The director hams it up; she’s nervous, depressed, and ready to end it all. Mike wants to go back to her apartment. Micky says he should relieve Peter, but Mike says Peter will be fine. Cut to Peter pressing the red button and falling into that famous bed. The bed slides back into the wall and traps him.

Back at the chase scene, Davy runs through the halls with an Olympic torchbearer, a football player and a gorilla (the one from “Monkees Chow Mein”), in addition to the Smiths [“I know, I know … it’s serious …” -Editor] and the girl with the towel. They all enter the Smith apartment. Davy comes out alone with the towel and the torch. Subversively suggesting that there’s a naked girl left in the apartment. These chase scenes remind me a lot of The Benny Hill Show (1955-1991). I’m not alone in thinking it may have been an influence.

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Ellen answers the door to Mike with a noose around her neck and dramatically poses, calling him “Jeffrey.” Mike says he’s from Urgent Answering Service, checking on her phone since she hasn’t called in for her messages. Still acting, she says she doesn’t have any messages because no one cares if she lives or dies. Mike reads little pieces of paper from his shirt and pocket, “Dear Ellen, We need you, we love you. The city wants you. Don’t be depressed, don’t be unhappy.”

In his comically awkward way, Mike blocks her every attempt to “kill herself.” Mike chases Ellen around the table, like he did Miss Buntwell in “Dance Monkee, Dance.” It amuses me that his scenes with women end up this way, even if the contexts are different. She asks him to help her with the noose she has around her neck. Mike wants to talk instead. In a funny visual, he picks up the rope and walks her off camera, like she was a dog on a leash.

The actress playing Ellen is fun when she drops the “acting” with him here and there. This is all very sweet, and would be more so if she wasn’t just using him for rehearsal. Not that I’m saying it would be better if she really was suicidal. All the talk of suicide, Mike’s emotional commitment to being her hero, and the irony that she’s just using him give this episode an dark quality that I enjoy.

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At Urgent Answering Service, Micky and Davy search for Peter. They push the red button, ejecting the bed with a sleeping Peter on it. Peter wakes up and explains that he pushed this red button… So they push it again and Peter goes back into the wall. Micky and Davy start looking for him again. Sometimes they’re not a lot smarter than he is.

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Mike reasons with Ellen, “Now look, I know things get kinda bleak sometimes, and It looks like the whole world’s just running around in circles.” Cleverly the editors cut back to the chase scene, still progressing wildly without Davy. Ellen promises Mike she won’t kill herself until tomorrow.

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At the answering service office, the gangsters are holding up the Monkees. Manny Spink calls them “bright boy” several times, an expression used in “Monkees in a Ghost Town.” Turns out Peter changed the bet from the Popsicles to the Pelicans, since he thought it was a real gig and the Pelicans needed the work [“Come on pelican!” -Editor]. Why didn’t he give it to the Monkees? Spink has lost money, and wants them to cough up 90K. The boys start pulling stuff out of their shirts and pockets and between them, they come up with $8.12 and two buttons that “ought to be worth a nickel.”

Mike walks in and ignores the tense scene, heading for the ringing phones. There’s physical comedy as he tries to squeeze between the two gunmen, who don’t yield. He misses the call and tries to leave the office, not really taking in what’s happening.

The two smaller stories now converge tidily. Mr. Smith and Mrs. Smith walk into the scene; Mr. Smith is still angry at Davy for giving him the “wrong message.” While they argue, the crooks try to escape, but Davy stops them. Davy tells Officer Smith that Manny and his partner are gamblers, and they’ve been using the answering service to place bets.

Entertaining romp to “Look Out, Here Comes Tomorrow” (Neil Diamond). Highlights include Mrs. Smith joyfully hitting her husband and the gangsters with her purse, the Monkees and gangsters riding the hidden bed, and Peter pointing out the “Be Courteous” sign on the wall. After, as Mr. Smith is handcuffing his prisoners, Davy says he thinks the message was for another Mr. Smith, and the Smiths seem to make up.

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Micky wants to know about Ellen. Mike uses his faux-manly persona and assures them that “with my masculinity and my persuasiveness” he made her promise not to do anything until tomorrow. Davy points out Mike was hung up on her. Mike agrees, “she was so sad, and weak and depressed and pathetic and poor.” Weird to think this is what attracts him to a woman, but it goes with the need to be needed. As an actor, Michael Nesmith was charming, likeable and funny throughout this episode.

The not-poor Ellen comes in with a fur coat and lots of jewelry to thank Mike for helping her rehearse. She promises to send him a free picture when her name is in lights and she leaves. I feel for Mike. Ellen emotionally screwed him over. He gets in one of my favorite cynical lines from the entire series, “Behind every dark cloud, there’s usually rain.”

This is another episode that’s very close to my heart (no, it’s not my lungs). I admit it’s partly because it’s a Mike episode, but I also appreciate the episode structure and that each Monkee gets a piece of the action. The writers and director constructed the story carefully with the three separate plots that tie together via the answering service. So much happens, and the points are punctuated with well-executed sight gags. “Monkees on the Line” is a hilarious and satisfying episode, with an added dark edge that makes it a classic.

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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.