Monkees Vs. Macheen: “Monkees Chow Mein”


“If you’re going to steal, steal from yourself”


Similar to “The Spy Who Came in From the Cool”, “Monkees Chow Mein” compels the Monkees to help out the CIS (a quasi-CIA) against our nation’s cold war enemies. The title indicates that this time the villains are from China rather than Russia. James Frawley directed and Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso wrote this episode, which aired March 13, 1967. Gardner and Caruso borrowed heavily from one of their other writing gigs, Get Smart, for this one.

The Monkees are eating in a Chinese restaurant, and Peter is packing many leftovers. In the back-room of the restaurant, the villains, Dragonman with his assistants, Toto and Chang discuss their nefarious plans. They’re putting a “secret formula” into fortune cookies; each cookie will contain a different part of the formula to be put together. Spies will sneak the cookies out of the country and give them to their “Asian Masters.”

Joey Forman, who played the title character in “Captain Crocodile,” plays the Dragonman in this one. As far as I know, Forman isn’t Asian, so they’ve got a heavy makeup job on him for the part. Dragonman is a parody of pulp fiction super-villian Fu Manchu, created by British author Sax Rohmer. There was a series of Fu Manchu films produced around this time, from 1965-69, starring British actor Christopher Lee. [Don’t forget the Peter Sellers parody! – Editor] 

Forman underwent a similar makeup process when he played Chinese-Hawaiian detective Harry Hoo, on two episodes of Get Smart, “The Amazing Harry Hoo” (1966) and “Hoo Done It” (1966). Both episodes were written by Gardner and Caruso. Harry Hoo is also a parody of another pulp fiction character, detective Charlie Chan. The villain in “The Amazing Harry Hoo” was another Fu Manchu analog, known as The Claw. In that episode, he has a very similar scheme to the one here in “Chow Mein”: The Claw was sneaking out parts of a secret formula in dry-cleaned shirts.


Back to the Monkees: Peter (of course) accidentally grabs one of the fortune cookies containing the formula. The restaurant staff and other customers detain him. Peter calls Mike for help and the Monkees manage to get out onto the street, where they hide from their pursuers behind a newspaper. After the spies pass, Peter says, “Boy, those Chinese were sore at us.” Micky responds, “Maybe they thought we were Russians” in an allusion to “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool.”

Davy wonders what they wanted. Mike offers, “You never can tell. Orientals are a curious people.” Agent Modell (Mike Farrell from M*A*S*H) approaches and forces them all into a car at gunpoint. Davy wonders what they want, and Mike points out, “I don’t know. Occidentals are a curious people.” Aside from poking fun at the possible cultural insensitivity of Mike’s previous line, it also evens things up. People from the western or eastern parts of the globe are hard to understand.

At the CIS office, Agent Modell shines a light on the terrified Mike, and Micky and Davy who cling to Mike’s arms. Modell explains they haven’t been kidnapped; they’ve been taken into custody by the CIS for picking up stolen security information [Sure looks like a kidnapping. – Editor]. He’s tough and no-nonsense, in contrast to their cartoony panic. Modell, “You’re frightened, aren’t you? Mike, “Oh, you’re very perceptive.”

Inspector Blount comes in with Peter and clears them, “They’re in a rock n’ roll band!” Blount pulls Modell away to tell them he’s found one fourth of the formula for the Doomsday Bug. There’s a funny sight gag as the Monkees celebrate their freedom behind the two agents. Davy asks about the Doomsday bug. (Davy is a “curious people.”)


Blount tells the Monkees that Dragonman is a “weirdo” with long hair and strange clothes, inadvertently insulting the Monkees. Embarrassed, he concedes that maybe Dragonman is not that weird. There’s a theme of insults that runs throughout this episode. The Monkees don’t want to help the CIS. As they leave, they back into the intimidating Agent Modell and scare themselves. The stern Modell and daffy Blount seem to be a reverse of the solemn Chief and bumbling Honeywell characters from “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool.”

Back at the Monkee’s house, Mike speculates that the inspector was just trying to scare them into helping. Micky is not so sure.


The joke in the graphic above was borrowed from the Get Smart episode, “The Diplomat’s Daughter” (1965), written by Gardner and Caruso. Agent Smart and the Chief have the following exchange: Agent Smart: “We just came from the Smithsonian Institute, and we saw the plane, The Spirit of St. Louis.” Chief: “So?” Agent Smart: “Chief, Was Charles Lindbergh Chinese?” Chief: “Of course not!” Agent Smart: “Then, I think we’re being followed.”

Right after the Monkees go to bed, Chang and Toto sneak in to kidnap Peter. They take Mr. Schneider instead, indirectly insulting Peter by mistaking him for a wooden dummy. (And repeating a joke from “Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers.”) After Dragonman scolds them, they return to the Monkees pad and nab Micky. Toto’s in trouble for bringing the wrong one yet again. Toto, “Forgive me master, but all Americans look alike to me.” This punch line was also used in “The Diplomat’s Daughter” when the villain, The Claw, explains to Smart why they kidnapped many blonde women, not just the Princess they wanted, “Unfortunately, Mr. Smart, all Americans look alike to us.” A joke deriving humor from the reversal of the usual stereotype.

Mike, Peter, and Davy go to the CIS to get help. Blount is comically inept at security in this scene. He takes a phone call and fills the caller in on the situation. Mike asks, “Who was that?” Blount enthusiastically replies, “I don’t know!” Blount assures them that they’re in secret headquarters and the enemy has no idea of their location. Yet, he shows no alarm or suspicion when a little boy comes in, takes their picture and runs off. Blount tells them to go home and “put their faith in the CIS.” I really enjoy the actor playing Blount with his energetically goofy performance.

Dragonman and Toto have Micky tied up in their backroom. Dragonman wants Toto to “find the Monkeee, get the cookie and bring the Monkee and the cookie to him.” Toto can’t get it right and Micky further confuses him by repeating it as, “you monk the cookie, cook the Monkee then find the cookie.” It’s similar to the “good and the hoods” bit from “Alias Micky Dolenz.” Toto is played by Gene Dynarski and was also in “Son of a Gypsy” as Zeppo. I know there’s concern about the characters in this episode that are played by non-Asian actors. I want to point out that Chang is played by Kay Shimatsu, who does appear to me to be Asian.


Chang comes into the restaurant backroom to tell Dragonman that Peter is there. Micky rolls his eyes so hard it must have hurt. Dragonman says: “So, he has fallen into my crutches!” Micky: “You’re crutches?” The Dragonman: “Not my crutches, my crutches!”

This joke was recycled from (you guessed it) “The Diplomat’s Daughter” when The Claw introduces himself to Smart: Claw: “My name is the Craw.” Smart: “The Craw?” Claw: “No, not the Craw, the Craw!” (Here’s a little info on this myth about East Asian people and the r/l pronunciation.)

Back in the restaurant, Peter tries to order food but instead gets a mallet to the head from Toto. Peter cracks me up by stating gravely before he passes out, “No, I don’t think I care for that a bit.”


Toto proudly drags Peter into Dragonman’s office, now that he’s got the right one. Micky sarcastically says, “Thank heavens, you’ve come!” Micky’s attitude toward Peter, with this and the earlier eye roll, is an insult. He knows Peter didn’t mean to do this, but he’s openly annoyed with him anyway.

Dragonman and his minions resort to torture to get info from Peter and Micky. Toto starts describing red ant torture. Dragonman says, “Stop! I thank you to do your fiendish work. But don’t tell me about it.” Yet another instance of repurposing “The Diplomat’s Daughter” as The Claw says the very same thing to his henchman, Bobo. The line is verbatim so I won’t retype it. (Bobo was played by Lee Kolima who was in two Monkees episodes, “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool” and “The Devil and Peter Tork.”)

Meanwhile, outside the restaurant, Davy and Mike attempt to rescue their pals. They wear lab coats and pose as inspectors from “The Pure Food and Drug Administration.” The boys try and push their way in to “inspect the kitchen” but Chang pushes them back out.


Dragonman wants to move up to Chinese ice torture. Micky and Peter are frightened, “Chinese ice torture!” But then they ask, “What is Chinese Ice Torture?” They’re afraid of something they don’t even understand. Misunderstanding is the source of much of the xenophobia they satirize in this episode. Brilliant.

Davy and Mike return to the restaurant to engage in a different ethnic cliché: they pose as Italians wanting pizza, complete with accents and curled mustaches. Chang tells them they don’t make pizza there, so Davy and Mike aim for the kitchen to fix it themselves. Once again, Chang blocks them. I truly enjoy Mike and Davy working together in all these bits.

As Toto conducts the Chinese Ice Torture, Micky breaks down and admits they don’t know anything. They’re a singing group, which they demonstrate with an off-key rendition of “Last Train to Clarksville.” Dragonman is skeptical, “You expect me to believe you make money singing like that?” Micky clarifies, “I didn’t say we made money, I said we sing.”

Outside, Mike and Davy go into a phone booth to change into Monkeemen. The transformation includes putting on, instead of removing, Clark Kent-style glasses. It’s wonderful to see the Monkeemen again.

Dragonman decides to kill Peter and Micky if they have nothing to tell him. But, he offers them a Let’s Make a Deal-style choice to save their lives, There’s four doors, three will reveal sudden death, but the fourth leads to freedom. All they have to do is pick the right door. The bad guys leave them to it. Door one, we don’t see but hear an animal roar. The second door contains our old friend Reptilicus from “I Was a Teenage Monster.” The third reveals a cannon. The fourth door should be a way out, but instead the spies enter and menace Peter and Micky with weapons.

Just in time, the Monkeemen break down the door. An incredulous Dragonman shouts, “The door was open!” Peter and Micky declare, “We’re saved!” The Monkeemen prepare to fight Dragonman and his minions with insults, or as they call it, “psychological warfare.” Davy and Toto circle around each other and do faux martial arts moves.

Davy to Toto: “You’re a nail biter. You’re a nail biter and your mother never, ever loved you.” Toto to Davy: “You are too short. You are too short and you have no ear for music.”

Davy takes this hard, and turns to Mike for help with Toto.


Toto is wounded, but Dragonman has had enough. He orders Toto to get the formula for the Doomsday bug. Mike fakes them out holding a pretend bug. Davy “takes it” and flings it at them. This brand of psychological warfare works on Toto and Chang. Dragonman orders his men to “get them”. A waiter with a gun prevents the Monkees from escaping.

Time for a romp to “Auntie Grizelda” (Hildebrand/Keller). Lyrically, this is a good one for this episode, since it’s about an unpleasant aunt who dislikes the song’s narrator. The romp makes use of the doors with the Monkees and the spies running in and out of them. Peter, Mike, and Micky carrying some girls through the doors, and a man in a gorilla suit carries Davy. The chase ends up in the restaurant where the Monkees put in earplugs and use the giant gong to stun the bad guys. The CIS agents come in and arrest the spies, who are quivering from the gong.

Tag sequence where the Monkees are hungry and eat more Chinese food in the restaurant. Mike notes, “Gee, I didn’t realize you could get so hungry saving your country” and Davy points out, “I come from England, and I’m hungry.”

Obviously, there was a recycling of dialogue from Get Smart to The Monkees. Interesting that the jokes they chose to repeat were those that satire Hollywood and literary stereotypes of Asian culture. The comedy is subversive and reflects back on US and British paranoia toward other ethnicities, which had been going on since the 19th century and termed “Yellow Peril.”

I do see a notable difference between the two shows. On Get Smart everyone is a straight man for Don Adams and the story follows a standard spy plot. There’s more flexibility on The Monkees and more opportunity to make a statement about relations between different cultures. Possibly even an anti-war statement, given that this was during the Vietnam War, and China was backing North Vietnam. In “Monkees Chow Mein,” there is a parallel between the way the CIS suits view the “long-haired weirdo” counterculture Monkees and the Asian spies, the fear and the distrust. At the end of the day, it’s the “long-haired weirdos” who save the day, not the g-men.



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: “Captain Crocodile”


“The Monkees Should Not Be Allowed on TV”


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.


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]


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.


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.)


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.)


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.


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 to 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.


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.”



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.