“This Is Supposed To Be About A Band, Right?”
The Monkees television show debuted 49 years ago, and as the 50th anniversary approaches, I wanted to write a little bit about each episode of this amazing show that makes me laugh as much now as it did when I first saw it in syndication as a tot. “Royal Flush,” written by Robert Schlitt and Peter Meyerson, first aired September 12, 1966 on NBC. It was the third episode shot and the first one directed by James Frawley, who went on to direct 32 of the 58 Monkees episodes. Frawley won an Emmy for “Royal Flush”; Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Comedy Series, 1966-67. He worked with the Monkees for a few months before the show started filming in order to develop the spontaneous improvisational style that defined The Monkees humor.
The story begins, as so many of these episodes do, with the romantic British pop star character, Davy Jones, falling for a pretty girl. He saves Princess Bettina of the kingdom of Harmonica (where?) from drowning and then meets the first of many Monkees bad guys: her Uncle the Archduke Otto and his bodyguard Sigmund. Otto and Sigmund clearly want to eliminate Bettina and possibly Davy as well. The actors playing the bad guys were really funny. I never appreciated the guest actors enough when watching this as a kid.
After the opening theme, we see the first shots of the Monkees beach house, accompanied by the Harpsichord version of The Monkees’ theme, composed by Stu Phillips. Inside the house, we see the famous Monkees décor. Micky helps Davy track down Bettina from an article in the newspaper. Mike talks about their lack of jobs and money, setting up a central show premise. The Monkees go into the first-ever fantasy sketch on the show, as they plot to break into the hotel where Bettina is staying as though it were a military invasion. They’re all in army fatigues and Micky’s got his British military voice on as he leads them through the plan.
The Monkees arrive at the Rich, Swank Hotel in individually styled gray suits, which we see quite often in other first-season episodes. These scenes are the best part of the episode, with the Monkees doing what they do best: using their wits to con their way into or out of trouble. They convince the maid to leave so that they can freely spy on Otto and Sigmund, whose dastardly plans they get on tape. Then, Micky impersonates a throne salesman and calls Otto and Sigmund to the room. Micky dazzles them with his spiel and appeals to Otto’s vanity while Peter and Mike ably assist.
Davy meanwhile sneaks off to warn Bettina that Otto wants to get rid of her before she officially becomes queen that night at midnight, so he can take her crown. It takes a while to convince her because Davy sucks at operating tape recorders. Once Davy finally gets Bettina to believe him, they all sneak out of the hotel together.
Next we get The Monkees first romp, this time to “This Just Doesn’t Seem to Be My Day” (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart). There are some pretty funny moments with Micky evading Sigmund while Bettina and Davy frolic on the beach. At one point, Micky jumps into Sigmund’s arms, mimicking Bettina’s romantic leap at Davy. Peter digs a hole, and as he goes along progressively sillier signs warn: “Danger Hole Started,” “Watch Out Half Hole,” and culminating with “Caution Whole Hole.” Sigmund, of course, falls into it.
Outside the Monkees house, we see the “Keep Off the Grass” sign for the first time. Sigmund is lurking on their lawn and he exchanges Get Smart-style passwords with a Don Adams sound-alike over the phone, played by James Frawley. Finally getting Otto on the phone, Sigmund updates him on Bettina’s whereabouts. Inside, Micky rigs a safe on a rope to trap Otto. When Otto and Sigmund enter the house, his trap isn’t ready yet and therefore fails. Bettina tells Otto she’s onto him and informs him that she’s sent a letter to the embassy, to be opened if she doesn’t arrive at her own birthday reception. Otto takes Bettina away, leaving Sigmund with the Monkees to make sure she behaves. Later, the Monkees try to get away from Sigmund, who jumps up and blocks the way. Catch Micky’s look to the camera to tell us, “He’s fast!” The safe finally falls, and the Monkees split.
At the birthday reception, Otto sees the Monkees and tries to abscond with Bettina. Bold little Davy jumps in front of him, and they have a duel to the song “Take a Giant Step,” (Gerry Goffin/Carole King) complete with instant Errol Flynn-style costume changes. On-screen captions during the fight read “We can’t go on meeting like this” and “It always worked for Errol Flynn.” Otto corners Davy and is about to go in for the kill, but Peter has called “the time” and announces that it’s midnight. (Remember the days before cell phones and digital cable boxes, you could call for “the time” if you wanted to set your watch?) As Bettina’s first official act as Queen, she has Otto arrested.
In the tag sequence, The Monkees go back to the hotel room and run into the maid again, who now owns the hotel. There’s an interview sequence tacked on because the show is one minute short. Ten or so of these interview segments were featured on the show. In the interview, Peter mentions that Davy’s too short to do a fencing scene. This begins the running gag about Davy’s height.
I love watching the Monkees trick the bad guys with their logic-defying, Marx Brothers-style antics. Many of my favorite gags originated in this episode such as breaking the fourth wall by looking at the camera, the on-screen captions, and the fast-motion scrambles. I did wonder why they chose this particular episode as the debut, since the story has nothing to do with them as a band. It’s barely even referred to, which is an interesting choice for a show about a rock group.
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.