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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