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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Vintage Cable Box: “Deal Of The Century”, 1983

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“For I do not do the good that I want. But the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me.”

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“Deal Of The Century”, 1983 (Chevy Chase), Warner Bros.

An uncomfortable satire that crosses the line between ludicrous and oddly prescient, “Deal Of The Century” is a cold war romance about America’s obsessive love for military firepower. The first images in the film we see are an advertisement for the Peacemaker, a stealth-like drone craft capable of untold destruction and designed (it seems) specifically to neutralize conflicts in small Central American territories. The advertisement is disturbing not only for the child singing, “Someone To Watch Over Me”, but for the images of infants cradled in their mothers’ arms. Breaking down the demographics, Vince Edwards (with an imposing hawk-like profile) presides over a conference with advertising executives on how to sell this sleek instrument to the public and (more importantly) to nations in the market to buy.

In what is obviously a comment on consumer culture, we focus on slick arms dealer Eddie Muntz (Chevy Chase), as he peddles his wares. He eyes a lusty Sigourney Weaver in a bar; a fellow American lost in San Miguel, a fictitious sovereign Republic led by flighty fascist dictator, General Cordosa. His pitch to shady mercenaries is not unlike the approach of a used car salesman, but he prides himself on selling quality merchandise. Although Muntz considers himself an independent businessman, there is a disturbing bit of foreshadowing which predates the Reagan Administration revelations of selling arms to both sides during Nicaragua’s Iran–Contra affair. Caught in the middle of a helicopter fire-fight during a sale, Muntz is wounded, and loses his money and his merchandise. Design flaws are discovered in the Peacemaker’s offensive program (it appears the drone can suffer water damage and go hay-wire), which causes havoc at a demonstration for representatives of the Pentagon.

While recovering from his injuries, Muntz meets destitute broker and Peacemaker salesman Wallace Shawn, who promptly kills himself.  Muntz steals his $300 million contracts, and takes up his assignment to meet with General Cordosa.  Coming back to the States, Muntz’s friend, former Air Force pilot Ray (a diffident Gregory Hines), picks him up at the airport.  In his absence, Hines has become a born-again Christian who swears off selling weapons and embraces pacifism.  Weaver, revealed to be Shawn’s widow, seeks out Chase in an effort to steal back the contracts.  Edwards approaches Muntz and Weaver to gain their assistance in selling off his Peacemakers to General Cordosa. Muntz appeals to Ray to go in with him on one last job.  Ray is conflicted, and in a momentary fit of rage after a minor collision with an angry couple, he torches their car with his latest acquisition, a military-grade flamethrower.  By itself, this is a brilliant scene.

Ray begs Muntz to reconsider selling the Peacemaker to Cordosa because of the destruction it will cause.  Muntz likens his job to that of selling a product and nothing more, so Ray, in good conscience, cannot allow this sale to happen.  Ray steals a fighter jet and attempts to destroy the Peacemaker himself.  Unfortunately, the movie fails as a comedy, because of the deadly serious nature of the source material (a thought-provoking screenplay by Paul Brickman).  Director William Friedkin shoots the film as a drama with humorous moments.  The material is too moody to aim for the techno-terror style of the same year’s “WarGames” or the farce of Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb”.  There’s a lack of warmth to the enterprise.  Though Weaver and Chase are attractive enough, they lack chemistry, and their romance feels forced, as if it were shoe-horned into the narrative.

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Chase is intensely interesting as a man with no politics, with no compunction about selling weapons of mass destruction to opposing sides in a conflict, and no religion, when he comes into conflict with Hines and his burgeoning spirituality. It’s downright eerie how all of these weapons are now being used in common practice. Every day, we hear stories of drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the loss of innocent civilian lives, women and children in the fiery fray. While the film, as a satire, doesn’t comment on the morality of using drones, it does poke holes in the supposedly “fool-proof” design of such weaponry. “Deal Of The Century” (for me) would’ve been much more effective as a straight-out black comedy than a meandering, unbalanced political satire about the mixed morality of capitalism and the destructive consequences it can foster.

Support the troops, not the drones.  Happy Memorial Day!

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

NEW PODCAST: “All Outta Bubble Gum”

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“They Live” is a 1988 American satirical science fiction horror film written and directed by John Carpenter. The film stars Roddy Piper, Keith David and Meg Foster. It follows a nameless drifter (called “John Nada” in the credits), who discovers the ruling class are in fact aliens concealing their appearance and manipulating people to spend money, breed, and accept the status quo with subliminal messages in mass media.

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The first time I saw the movie was on something called the Universal Debut Network; it was a syndicated movie package that Universal Pictures sold to independent networks, I saw it in 1990, it was on Channel 11 here in New York City. The Universal Debut Network was the pre-cursor to all the syndicated series Universal would show, but at first they started with movies like “They Live”, “Prince of Darkness”, “the infamous extended TV version of the movie, “Dune”, where David Lynch took his name off the credits. Apparently Lynch said, “wait a minute, this movie makes sense now, I’m taking my name off the picture!” So after this run of pictures, shows like Hercules and Xena came on the air because they were thinking about putting together a fifth network at the time.

So how do we look on politics, censorship, liberalism, conservative ideology now as opposed to 1988? In Carpenter’s fantasy, these things are just gradual with no tipping point, no rhyme or reason, but I think certain things happened to bring us a “They Live” situation, like 9/11, obviously 9/11 destroyed our country but in a slow, gradual way, like death by a million cuts.

There’s a great line in a sci-fi movie from 1982, “Endangered Species” starring Robert Urich and JoBeth Williams, where Urich says, “If what’s going on around here is organized, you don’t wanna go up against it! The government. The right wing. The left wing. Mercenaries. The mob. It doesn’t make much difference if you get in their way!”

To me, it’s allegory, like all great science fiction. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” – in the 50s, it was allegory for the Cold War and Communism. In the 1978 version, it was about the “Me” Generation and pop-psychology. In the ’93 remake, it was allegory for disaffected youth and generation X.