“Monkees, Swine, and Crabs”
“Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers,” which aired on October 3, 1966, was directed by James Frawley, and written by Dave Evans, his first of seven Monkees scripts. This is the first episode where the plot revolves around the Monkees pursuing success and fame as a band. According to a couple of interviews I found online with Micky Dolenz, here and here, the central premise of the show was a band struggling to be as successful as the Beatles, not to make a show about an American version of the Beatles. It was meant to appeal to young kids struggling in undiscovered bands of their own. Traditionally sitcoms don’t show us successful people who’d be impossible for most of us to relate to. So here we have the Monkees trying to make it as a band.
The story opens with a band contest, and the group onstage is the Four Swine. Micky describes the leather wearing, cigarette puffing Swine as “seedy characters.” This is interesting because later in the series, in the “Wild Monkees” episode, the Monkees will put on similar outfits to impress some biker girls. They never smoke or drink on the show though. The seedy Swine make fun of the Monkees on their way off stage, handing Micky a banana. The Four Swine manager arranges for the audience to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony instead of the Monkees when they get on stage and try to play.
The Swine Manager shows up at the Monkees pad introducing himself as Nick Trump. He’s there to handle their publicity during the contest and pretends he barely knows the Swine. They are surprised they made the finals, but Trump explains the judges “dig Beethoven.” None of them are taking this seriously: Mike is on a pogo stick, Davy is doing a headstand and Micky does his Groucho Marx impression. They really do have some “peculiar talents” (to borrow a term from “Prince and the Paupers”). YouTube has a nice clip here. The boys want nothing to do with Trump’s publicity until he says it’s required in the contest rules. I don’t get their aversion to publicity since it could help them get more gigs.
Guitar-wipe to the disco known as the Vincent Van Gogh-Gogh, a play on words I always loved. Trump tells them, via voice-over, they will have their clothes ripped off by crazy teenage girls for a publicity stunt. The Monkees sit there, excited and kind of scared as you would be. Micky and Mike go into an astronaut fantasy as they count down to clothes-ripping. Screaming girls come rushing in and tear the clothes off…some random middle-aged dude in the back.
Mike’s facial expressions as he waits to have his clothes ripped off are so good.
Lester Crabtree, the guy who got his clothes ripped off, did get in the newspaper. I love the shot of Micky reading the story and as he puts the paper down and the other three are revealed behind him. Trump’s next idea is to have the Monkees put their hands in cement in front of the Chinese theater. I notice in the background that the marquee says “The Machie” and the names as Nazemize and Dork, The other two read Dourantse, and Juhans, but I can’t see them on my screen. This stunt ends badly because Trump uses quick-drying cement and they have to take the block of sidewalk with them to get out. Trump pretends it’s their fault, but offers them one more chance. His final plan is for them to be kidnapped, which will make all the papers. Mike is rightly skeptical of this but the Monkees talk it over (saying rhubarb, rhubarb, in the background) and agree.
Trump calls the kidnappers, one of whom is Mel from Alice! Always fun to see a famous actor before they played their iconic part. Trump tells them to dress “black tie” for a daytime kidnapping. Peter takes a few tries to get this right, and Davy’s wearing a red smoking jacket that’s different from the others black tuxes. Mike is skeptical of Micky’s suggestion that they call the late-arriving kidnappers, which leads into a pretend call with the kidnapper’s answering service where Micky resurrects his phony-salesman voice from “Royal Flush.”
After going to the wrong house, the kidnappers knock politely and check the address with Mike. This is the first mention of their 1334 N. Beechwood address, which was also used for the Monkees original fan club. The kidnappers bust out guns and scare the crap out of Peter, then tie them all up with Mr. Schneider replacing the missing Davy. Horace (Louis Quinn) tells George (Vic Tayback) he has to pick up Davy at the disco; however George is intimidated because he can’t do those “crazy dances.”
George goes to the Vincent Van Gogh-Gogh and finds Davy dancing with his date, (played by Valerie Kairys, who was in 14 Monkees episodes, most of them uncredited). George tries desperately to blend in with his dancing but Davy takes mercy on him and says they can leave. Davy’s girl wants to go along for the kidnapping, and she ends up bringing everyone at the disco back to their house. I wanted to mention, Davy has a bit of a personality change in this episode. He is fun, charming, and confident; he’s really cool and not the starry-eyed romantic dork he was in “Royal Flush” and “Monkee See, Monkee Die.”
Back at the pad, the gun-wielding thugs have lost control of the situation because the kids, the staff, even the furniture from the Vincent Van Gogh-Gogh are now in the Monkees pad. The overwhelmed kidnappers tie everyone up, but the kids keep dancing to “Let’s Dance On” (not credited at the end of the episode) and “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone.” They aren’t bothered by getting tied up and make it into a new dance craze. Horace calls Trump to tell him he’s going to have to cough up more money to kidnap the crowd, but Trump says no way. Davy helpfully empties the room for them by playing a polka on the jukebox, causing the kids to stampede right back out of the house.
Trump reveals his sinister plot: this is no publicity stunt, the kidnappers are real and there to keep the Monkees from participating in the contest so the Four Swine can win. I think everyone but the Monkees saw this coming. This marks the second episode where we have the bad guys holding the boys captive until a certain time has passed, the first being “Royal Flush.”
The kidnappers lock the Monkees in the bedroom where they immediately go to work trying to figure out how to escape. Micky has more ideas in five minutes than I have all day. The first plan is to toss a hypnotized Peter out the window. (I would love to have Micky’s hypnotist talents for putting kids to bed.) Once this is dismissed, Micky makes a rope for them to crawl down until Mike points out they’re on the first floor. Okay, hold it, in that case why don’t they all just go out the window? Meanwhile the kidnappers play cards with the stuffed chimp.
Mike, who really is the group skeptic, tries to warn Micky against his idea of punching the kidnappers, which fails anyway when his fist hits George’s face. Throughout this, Peter keeps announcing the time, which the screen caps helpfully display in Central Time. Micky finally manages to con their way out, pretending he has a vial of Nitroglycerin and threatening the kidnappers into the locked bedroom. Micky tells the others he has no idea what’s really in the vial and tosses it off the set where it explodes in a good effect.
The freed Monkees head for the contest in their Monkees shirts. But wait: the gangsters get out of the “locked room” right away and begin a video chase scene to “Last Train to Clarksville.” This is the third time in as many episodes they played this song. The chase includes scenes in a city park, a desert, a western scene, and stock footage of covered wagons. It ends with the Monkees clobbering the kidnappers and playing the song in the contest.
The Four Swine and Trump go to jail in matching jail-striped outfits. The Monkees get “special consideration” but the winners are Lester Crabtree and the Three Crabs! Screaming girls run onstage to rip Lester’s clothes off again. Success eludes the Monkees who conclude that all it takes to get famous is having your clothes ripped off. They immediately tear off each other’s shirts in the most unintentionally homoerotic moment ever on the series.
Tag sequence is an interview because the show is a minute short. Producer Bob Rafelson interviews them about their success since being on the show, which goes along well with the storyline. Mike reveals that he was a trouble maker when he was a kid and certain people from his past were surprised to see him doing well. He also says it’s nice to have a little extra money to spend since getting the role on the show.
Another one of my favorite episodes, with a satisfying set up and payoff at the end. I love the fact that the plot is about their struggles as a band, and I like the focus on them as an ensemble cast as in “Monkee See, Monkee Die.” They’re at their best when working together. There is also the usual humor commenting on the fact that it is a television show. The producers/writers/editors are not expecting you to get lost in the “reality” of the story; instead there’s lots of breaking the fourth wall, the screen caps, etc. They know that we know we’re watching a show, and they let us in on the joke.
And now, here’s a mini-tribute to Micky Dolenz. With his sharp line delivery, funny voices, and expressive face, he can always be counted on for an out-loud laugh at least once in every episode.
Happy Holidays everyone! Thank you all so much for reading these. I am having a lot of fun researching and writing them, and I really appreciate Monkees fans out there I can share this with. Be sure to check out the Blissville podcast on “The Monkees.”
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.