Monkees Vs. Macheen: “The Audition” aka “Find the Monkees”

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“Life is so strange”

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This is one of those episodes that hits all the high points for me. It’s incredibly funny, it deals with The Monkees trying to make it as a band, and the characters are all working together to achieve a goal. And then there’s the guest cast. The two actors supporting the story steal the show. There were also some cool character moments with The Monkees themselves. Dave Evans wrote this episode which first aired January 23, 1967.

“The Audition” was directed by Richard Nunis, who died one week after wrapping at the age of thirty nine. The only other credit he has is as a production manager for a 1961 television movie called Witchcraft. Since he did such a top notch job with this episode, I can’t help but not think of what other wonderful work he would have done were it not for his untimely death at such a young age.

Micky rests on the hammock and opens his eyes to see four guys in gold lame and red costumes with stockings on their heads. He thinks they’re being invaded by Martians and runs all over the pad in spectacular bit of mania. He falls backwards over the couch and the lounge, bangs on one of the doors, and runs up the steps to gather the other Monkees. It’s just another band, The Four Martians, there to borrow a guitar string. The Monkees discover that TV producer Hubble Benson is auditioning bands for a new TV show and invited The Four Martians and two other competing bands, The Jolly Green Giants, and The Foreign Agents.

Notice how gimmicky these other bands are with costumes and makeup? The only way The Monkees could be equivalent in “style” is if they performed in actual monkey suits. Clearly they have been left out, though they try to cover. They literally put their heads together and think about what to do. Davy suggests sending the tape they made on the rented tape recorder to Benson, but Micky forgot to remove the tape. This is a fantastically cool shot, and I love the rotation when Micky gets his line.

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Now we get to the fabulous Benson and Chomsky, who should have had their own sitcom. I’d watch it. TV producer Benson is on his motorized table, receiving a massage. He wants his Dictaphone, but through the intercom, Miss Chomsky tells him it’s broken. He wheels himself out to talk to her, and she holds up her red jacket and plays bullfighter as he wheels past her, saying “Ole!” Miss Chomsky has wisely rented him a tape recorder to use while the Dictaphone is being repaired.

Over at the Facebook group Monkee Magic, group admin Melanie Mitchell has put together a “Script to Screen project” where she has the scripts of some of these episodes available with her commentary. Melanie points out a big difference between the script and the final episode is the character of Miss Chomsky. The script describes her as “thirtyish, nervous, and plain.” Irene Chomsky as played by Bobo Lewis is far from that. She’s bold and in charge, and give as good as she gets when it comes to her obnoxious boss. I’m just guessing that when the production staff saw what Bobo’s strong points were, they decided to go another way with Chomsky. There is a way you can play nervous as big and funny. Mike Nesmith was good at that. But what they did with Chomsky made for a great comedic conflict.

Chomsky sets up the tape recorder for her boss and accidentally plays the tape inside. Of course it’s the Monkees singing “Mary, Mary” (Mike Nesmith). Benson decides to skip the auditions and hire the band on the tape. Chomsky repeatedly explains she can’t possibly find the mystery band. Mr. Benson warns if she says “can’t” one more time, she’s fired. The tape player plays her back saying it and he fires her. She sarcastically thanks him.

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The Monkees, ironically, are at the TV production offices trying to figure out how to see Benson. They enter Benson’s building, cleverly located at NBC. As they head into the elevator, Peter comes down with a bad case of hiccups. The Monkees go through a couple of unsuccessful rounds of trying to cure him.

Benson and the not-fired Chomsky continue to do what they do best: argue. Chomsky tells him all the places she called to find The Monkees. Benson suggests she try the hospital. Chomsky is not intimidated because she “needs the rest.” Later she tells Benson she’s checked the film and TV studios, etc. Benson stands up from the massage chair in his glorious polka-dotted boxers and declares:

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In the lobby, Peter’s hopping on one foot and counting by twos as a cure for his hiccups. Benson runs by in his underwear. Chomsky comes out carrying pants. She asks if Benson came by and identifies him as the one with the polka dots. Peter’s hiccups disappear as The Monkees decide to chase after Benson.

Benson is at the Missing Persons Bureau to find The Monkees. Comical and subtle sight gag as he has a torn off sleeve, presumably the work of over-eager Monkees. The Missing Persons clerk can’t even find a pencil let alone any persons, and Benson loses faith quickly.

Beson at Missing Person office

Sight-gag callback as Davy walks along holding the torn sleeve. This also has a meta-humor value because real pop stars like The Monkees would get their clothes torn by hysterical fans [That bit in “Head” was a doozy – Editor]. They decide to go up to Benson’s office and greet Miss Chomsky at her desk. She doesn’t believe they know Benson so Peter explains that Benson cured his hiccups, but when he demonstrates he gets them again.

Outside, they mope while Peter hicks. Micky decides they need to scare Peter so the editors cut in a Monkee in a monster mask from “Monkee See, Monkee Die” and the footage of Reptilicus used in “I Was a Teenage Monster.” A blonde in a two-piece dress with a little midriff exposed catches Peter’s eye. He waves and all The Monkees ogle her. I guess that cured it! The script mentioned that the other three were supposed to get hiccups at that point, but that didn’t make it in.

Missing

Benson is in his office getting a manicure from Tilda when the audacious Chomsky comes in and tosses her shoes on his desk. She tells him the newspapers want to know if it’s true he can’t find a “certain band.” Benson asks, what’s wrong with him? Chomsky doesn’t hesitate to tell him he’s “rude, irritable, impatient”… She goes on like this while Benson realizes his search for the band is a great publicity gimmick for his show.

The Monkees set up at a phone booth to audition for Benson via telephone. Benson has the press at his office giving the scoop on his search for the band on the tape. The Monkees play “Sweet Young Thing” (Goffin/King/Nesmith) over the phone but they’re connected to the wrong Benson. Davy and Mike tangle up in the phone cord as Davy goes into the booth to try and call. He gets the right Benson but Benson thinks he’s “Byron Jones,” someone he doesn’t want to talk to, so he puts the phone down and muffles it. Now they play for no one with Davy holding the receiver in his mouth for Mike to sing into.

Phone-audtion

A line forms behind them for the phone, including a Clark Kent look-a-like. The operator asks them for 10 cents for the next three minutes so they get it from Peter’s shoe where he has a tape label that reads “mad money.” They’ve been cut off and give up. The faux-Kent goes into the booth to change into Superman and struggles to get out while the “Monkee Men” theme plays.

Nice scenes of The Monkees hanging together at home in pajamas. The savviest Monkees, Micky and Mike, try to cheat each other at a game of cards, while the dummy, Mr. Schneider, watches. Peter’s reading the paper in the hammock and hangs out below on a mattress. Davy grabs the paper and reads about Benson’s search for the mystery band. They’re annoyed since they’re busting their butts to audition while he’s chasing a band that “isn’t even trying.” [It appears we’ve come full circle within the music industry – Editor] Peter has the brilliant suggestion that they should be that band. The others are skeptical at first since they don’t know what kind of band the mystery band is, but Peter points out how many kinds of groups are there. In the script it’s Davy who gets to come up with that idea. I’m glad they transferred it to Peter. It makes sense with the simplicity of the suggestion. Peter’s innocence once again makes him the smartest one.

This plan leads into the romp to “Papa Gene’s Blues” (Nesmith) credited at the end as “Papa Jean’s Blues,” which reflects the printing error on the early pressing of their first album, The Monkees. They dress up and play various musical styles while chasing Benson all around the parking lot and his office building. First, they’re a Salvation Army band chasing Benson on his own motorized table. Then they’re a jug band on a bandstand. They dress as a vaudeville group on bikes and in the background you can see the Monkees cast chairs. Benson picks up Mike’s chair to beat them back. They also chase him as a marching band and a Gypsy violin band.

Benson was played by Carl Ballantine, a comic magician who did tricks that never worked. He started out as an actual magician but found he was more successful at making fun of himself when his tricks failed. It’s quite possible the Peter’s turn as The Amazing Pietro in “To Many Girls” was inspired by Ballantine. Here’s a link to Ballantine’s act on The Donnie & Marie Show.

Benson gives up on finding The Monkees, and goes through with his original scheduled auditions. The Jolly Green Giants, Foreign Agents, and Four Martians are at his office. The Jolly Green Giants are up first and Chomsky sets up the tape recorder to tape it. Of course no one can operate a tape player on this show, so she plays The Monkees back and the Jolly Green Giants identify them, calling them a no style band, which I interpret as “no ridiculous costumes.”

The Monkees official YouTube site released a video of the HD restored version of this episode.  The Jolly Green Giants look much greener in this version than they do on my DVD. [Slightly cleaned-up, brighter picture, but the difference is negligible with this episode – Editor]

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Benson and all the bands descend on the Monkees pad. Benson and Chomsky realize they’ve found them and shout, “Eureka!” to which Peter responds, “No, we’re Americans.” They play for him and he tells them they’re going to be stars of his new show. He asks Chomsky to perform the theme song. She sings and Benson decides she’s the new sound he wanted all along. He says she was “right under his own nose” and wonders what’s wrong with him. She begins to read off his list of flaws again as they leave together. I’m sure he’ll drop her as soon as he hears the next “sound he’s looking for.” I’m also sure Miss Chomsky knows him better than he knows himself, so she’ll be fine.

In the Monkeemobile, Peter laments losing the TV job and the chance to earn “$100 a week.” Mike points out TV stars get more than that, sometimes as much as $5,000 a week. The Monkees themselves earned something closer to the figure Peter’s naming, receiving $450 an episode for the first season, and $750 in the second season. Peter vanishes on hearing what he could’ve earned. The Monkees do the “He’s Gone!” bit and head to the useless Missing Persons Bureau. They describe Peter to the same hapless guy who still can’t find his pencil. The chaos-loving Monkees start tearing apart his office to “help” him find it.

To fill the last few minutes, they have an interview segment where they talk about the Sunset Strip riots, which occurred in late 1966 and in response to the imposed 10 p.m. curfew for kids under 18. These same riots were also the inspiration for the Mike Nesmith song, “Daily Nightly.” Micky says they were actually demonstrations, but “people and journalists don’t know how to spell demonstrations so they use the word ‘riots’ since it only has four letters.” Bob Rafelson asks Mike if he’d like to see all the kids wear their hair like his and Mike gives the best possible reply to such a question, “I would like to see all the kids in the country wearing their hair like they’d like to wear it.” That’s one of the best, if not the best, interview segment they did.

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That was one fast-moving, entertaining and fabulous episode. The story itself was short since they tacked the interview on to the end, but they packed a lot in to each scene. The terrific acting, hilarious dialogue and sight gags, and engaging plot line make this one of the classics of the 58 episodes. I also enjoyed the character moments between The Monkees themselves and the central irony of The Monkees trying to “be” the band they already are. And of course in the end, they are not on the road to fortune and fame and will be back to struggling next episode.

Look-Out-For

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: “Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth”

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“The Year of the Monkee (Horse)”

"Don't Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth"

One of the wonderful things about this television show is watching it with my nine-year-old daughter. I discovered The Monkees when I was five on WKBD 50 Detroit. (“In Detroit, the kid’s choice is TV 50”) Last summer, I was feeling a bit down and was looking for something to cheer me up when I noticed IFC was running The Monkees. And what a great thing to be able to share with her, this show that I fell in love with as a child. She especially likes this episode, and I can see why it might appeal to children. It has animals and a little kid; silly comedy, fun sequences. The Monkees are the Nicest Guys in the World, helping out the boy the way they do.

“Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth” was the first episode shot after the pilot but the 8th one to air on October 31, 1966. (Another shout-out to Melanie Mitchell, whose book, Monkee Magic, allowed me to see the shooting vs. airing order of the episodes.) The episode was written by Dave Evans and directed by show producer Robert Rafelson. Compared to the pilot, which moves very fast, this one takes it’s time to show the Monkees interacting together, and to make them likable; make them, in fact, into sweet, selfless good guys. There is more character development and less style and techniques. For instance there are no screen titles at all, nor do I notice much in the way of breaking the fourth wall. The main thing that is missing for me though is the usual dose of ironic and subversive humor that was present in most episodes. That type of humor is one of the elements that kept me enjoying the show well into adulthood.

The first part of the episode is a screwball comedy with lots of wacky misunderstandings. It starts with Davy alone on the beach (like “Royal Flush”). A little boy brings him a horse (a real horse – Editor) and asks him to watch it. The kid runs off and vanishes, leaving Davy stuck with the animal. By the look on Davy’s face, he knows he’s screwed.

I never would’ve thought Peter would be the one to do the cooking but he’s made cream of root beer soup for Mike and Micky. Micky gives his review of the meal by turning into a werewolf and howling all over the place. Peter says “here we go again” and it cracks me up that this is common behavior for Micky. Mike helpfully salts his hand and offers it to Micky for a snack. Henry Cordon is back as nasty landlord Babbitt, and he enters with his villainous organ theme music (dun, Dun, DUN). Micky’s howling convinces Babbitt they’re keeping a dog, which they’re not allowed to do or he’ll kick them out. Micky awkwardly explains he was just doing his werewolf impression.

Babbitt lays down the law.

Just as they get rid of him, Davy enters with the horse from the entrance by the windows, with a comical apologetic look on his face. Mike looks stunned as they roll into the opening theme. Davy explains how the kid abandoned him with the horse on the beach. Mike is worried about Babbitt and the conversation turns into a wacky verbal mix-up that Micky tries to sort out by howling again.

The noise brings back Babbitt. The boys try to hide the horse in the bedroom but he won’t budge. Mike tells Davy and Peter to hide in the bedroom and somehow convinces Babbitt that the actual horse is Peter and Davy in a horse costume. Both the werewolf bits and Davy bringing the horse were really nice scenes, with lots of character interaction.

None-too-bright landlord taken care of, Mike wants to get rid of the horse, but he still won’t move. Davy stands there looking at the other three like they’re the idiots. They think the horse is hungry and feed him some of the root beer soup, which sounds like a bad idea. Sure enough, the horse licks it and collapses.

See, somebody appreciates good soup.

Mike goes to see Dr. Mann, who has a huge mustache and magnifying glass. After more wacky verbal mix-ups, the vet agrees to come see the horse. Mike gets so flustered in this scene. One of the charming things about the Mike character/Mike Nesmith performance is the awkward, stammering bits he does. He’s natural, he’s affable, and it’s funny. Micky and Davy are pretty slick but Mike’s charm comes from seeming a little unsure sometimes, despite being the leader. This scene was good example of using that.

Mike and Dr. Mann

There are a lot of out-of-focus shots in the episode, including some here when Mike brings Dr. Mann back to the pad. There is also a grainy look that makes me think it was shot on a higher speed film stock to accommodate the later outdoor setting.

Anyway, Dr. Mann finds Peter and Davy in an actual horse costume so he starts examining them. Even by The Monkees standards this is all very silly.

Yegads! This is worse than I thought!

They hear a knock and assume it’s Babbitt. Now they have to hide the vet. But it’s their nice, elderly neighbor Miss Purdy with a cake to share with them. Miss Purdy faints when she sees the horse and then two more times when she sees Dr. Mann in the horse head and finds out he’s a veterinarian. “Why did she faint?” My daughter wants to know. “Well um, I guess people were more fragile in the 60s?” But my actual guess is that writers thought fainting was really hilarious back then. To prove my point, Mr. Babbitt strides in, preparing to catch them with all kinds of animals but he collapses when he hears Peter talking from inside the horse costume.

Then, the tone of the episode changes  to become more laid-back and outdoorsy, beginning with Davy riding the horse on the beach. He finds the boy who explains he can’t keep Jeremy (now we have a name for the horse) because his father thinks he costs too much. Jonathan (whose name they have not said yet) wants Davy to talk to his father. I guess he thinks his Dad is susceptible to English accents like the rest of us!

They drive out to the kid’s father’s farm in a jeep, no Monkee-mobile. I wonder if the jeep is borrowed and has a trailer for the horse. They don’t give us a clear shot of it, so who knows? The father says the horse is useless and too expensive to care for (Why did you buy it, Dad? – Editor). Davy offers to pay the original investment but they don’t have $100 of course. Mike offers to pay it off by offering their labor on the farm for a week. Farmer Fisher wisely takes one look at this bunch and wants to try them out for a day first (The whole thing smacks of a “Paper Moon”-style scam – Editor).

Fisher wakes up the Monkees at sunrise; they’ve been sleeping in the barn in their farming overalls. He gives them their list of chores that they are too sleepy to comprehend. Later, they are enthusiastically doing chores when Jenkins, a suave looking farmer in a leather jacket, comes and mocks the kid’s father for having “city slickers” working for him.

They don’t mention the character names here. It takes 2/3 of the plot to mention the kid’s name is Jonathan. And we never hear the adult farmer’s names. I got the names from the IMDB because I didn’t want to call them “Farmer” and “Other Farmer in a leather jacket.”

Peter gets ready to feed the hogs, but Micky has to demonstrate the hog call for him. It brings chickens (“now why don’t you try the chicken call?”). There’s a funny call-back gag where Micky’s attempt at a hog-call reaches Babbitt back at the house, who thinks they’ve got some other animal in there.

You know, it's just as well the hogs didn't come. Why's that? I forgot their food.

The Monkees aren’t very good at the farm chores. They’re supposed to milk the cow but start playing catch/football/kick the can with the milk bucket, inspiring my daughter to say “They’re just too much fun for this work.” The game leads to an accompanying romp to “Papa Gene’s Blues” (Mike Nesmith), the Monkees song my daughter and I are most likely to be found singing out loud. There’s a romp/fantasy sequence where they picture themselves as bullfighters, complete with stock footage of real bullfighters, and costumes. Mike mirrors the stock bullfighter using the moves on the cow. He successfully gets milk, but Peter spills it all over Fisher. Fisher is now done with them.

The episode uses the usual guitar wipes, but here there’s this weird dripping transition to this next scene. Maybe representing the milk spilling?

Davy says a sad goodbye to Jonathan and apologizes for failing him. Jenkins pulls up and says the horse is useless anyway. Davy and Jenkins make a bet that Davy can beat his horse Charlemagne in a race*. If Davy wins, Jenkins will pay the $100 for the horse. If Jenkins wins, he gets to keep the Monkees guitar. The Monkees are far too nice, putting their guitar on the line like this to help this kid. I don’t get what’s in it for Jenkins either, unless he needs a guitar and bragging rights for Charlemagne?

(*Note from the Editor – farm horses are not the same as race horses. There is a world of difference between both horses, involving a regiment of training and exercises that farm horses would not be required to accomplish.)

Micky does his WC Fields impression while giving Davy advice on how to race and Davy and the horse have racing silks (… blouse and cap worn during a race …) from somewhere. Various methods are used to start the race: a bugle, a racing checkered flag, and a gun. The racing scenes are set to “All the Kings Horses” (Michael Nesmith). The racers race, the other Monkees jump around on the beach; the farmer and his kid cheer. Davy wins! Even the father is happy about it. Davy gives him the money (exactly $100, suspicious – Editor) (You’re viewing this with 21st Century cynicism – Editor’s wife) he won to keep the horse, and Fisher invites them back to visit, but not to help with the chores.

Tag sequence where another kid approaches Davy, this time with a camel.

Davy and the camel.

The others haul him out of there and we hear more “Papa Gene’s Blues,” with some of the performance video used in “Monkees In A Ghost Town”, where they’re wearing the gray suits. Mike looks like he’s having so much fun playing this song, and he does that wink to the camera that the character did from time-to-time.

Mike's wink.

So there we have it. The Monkees help the underdogs as they did in “Monkees vs. Machine,” “Monkee See, Monkee Die,” and other episodes later in the run. (I won’t count “Royal Flush”, though they did help her selflessly, because a princess about to be a queen is not an underdog.) I have to admit, if my daughter hadn’t enjoyed it so much, I would have had a hard time finding so many positive things to say. I always found this one a little dull and not as funny, and I didn’t understand why the Monkees were being so altruistic when the stakes weren’t that high this time. But I have a final word from my daughter, who wanted to know: “Why did you wait so long to show me The Monkees, Mom?” Better late than never.

Guest Cast

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.