Monkees Vs. Macheen: “Captain Crocodile”

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“The Monkees Should Not Be Allowed on TV”

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In “Captain Crocodile,” a lively and entertaining episode, the Monkees struggle to get into show business again. The Monkees vs. showbiz episodes are always good ones. This time, their antagonist is a jealous TV host, the title character Captain Crocodile. Writing credits go to Gerald Gardner & Dee Caruso and Peter Meyerson & Robert Schlitt, from a story by Peter Meyerson & Robert Schlitt. This is the largest amount of writers that worked on any Monkees episode. If this is what it takes to have such a good show, I’m all for it. James Frawley directed “Captain Crocodile” and it aired February 20, 1967.

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The Monkees arrive on the set of “Captain Crocodile,” expecting to play their music. The host of the show, Captain Crocodile himself acts pleased to meet them, but then mutters vague threats about them playing on “his show.” The show crew dresses the Monkees up in smocks and the hats used by The Jolly Green Giants of “Find the Monkees.” Howard, the producer, holds up signs telling the kids in the studio audience when to cheer. (Note the “Standby/On the Air” sign is the same as the one used in the “Too Many Girls” talent show.) The bipolar Captain Crocodile calls his loyal audience “rotten” kids and then gets giggly and jolly as he greets the camera. He enthusiastically throws pies at each of the Monkee’s faces.

Captain Crocodile is meant to be a fictional version of Captain Kangaroo, Howdy Doody, and hosts of children’s television shows in general. Even his name is a vicious variation on Captain Kangaroo, a show I used to love as a kid. Captain Kangaroo was certainly a lot more mild-mannered than Joey Forman. I suspect that Captain Crocodile might have had an influence on the Krusty the Clown character from The Simpsons. There’s a similar cult-like devotion from the kids, while the host himself has a demeanor not at all appropriate for children. In a funny way of course. But a little sad too.

Back to The Monkees, they’re in the office of a Junior Pinter who has asked to see them. Their matching plaid suits really distort and confuse my monitor. I hope we don’t see those too often. The secretary looks at them like they’re biggest freaks she’s ever seen in her life. Meanwhile, the Monkees think an invitation from a Television executive means they’ve made it. [So naive – Editor]

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When they get into Pinter’s office, they’re surprised to find he actually is a little kid, the son of the President of the Network. I wondered if the writers were having a sly joke at producer Bert Schneider’s expense, who was the son of Abraham Schneider, then president of Columbia pictures, and the “prince of the court” in Michael Nesmith’s words. He would have been in his 30s at this point, but they turn “Junior” into an eleven-year-old in short pants. Junior Pinter would like the Monkees to play on Captain Crocodile’s show every week. The Monkees turn to exit, as they don’t want any more pies in their faces. Junior gets his Dad on the phone, who tells him to handle it like a “real executive.” Junior hangs up and promises that they will get to play music, and no more pies will be thrown at them. That was a really delightful scene with sharp acting from Joey Baio as Junior. He swings from cocky, swaggering executive to insecure little kid with ease and enthusiasm. Adding some fun is watching the Monkees navigate the tiny chairs and shot glasses of milk in Junior’s office.

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The Crocodile Corp, which are the Captain’s tiny, obsessed fans, chase the Captain into producer Howard’s office. He tells Howard he got the memo from Junior about the Monkees and he fears he’s being replaced. The Captain is similar to Victor and the circus performers from “Monkees at the Circus,” fearing that he’ll be replaced by this newer, younger form of entertainment. If he wasn’t so wicked, you could almost feel bad for him and his sad but maniacal eyes.

Unlike the Circus folks, Captain Crocodile fights dirty. The next series of scenes involves The Monkees trying to play on his show, and the Captain finding various ways to sabotage them. Tactics include: introducing them and then cutting away before they can play, throwing a net on them when they’re about to play, and rigging an explosion when Micky starts to drum. The Captain pretends to give Micky a shot to introduce himself, but hits him with so many stage instructions that usually quick-witted Micky is completely flustered. Throughout these pranks are cutaways of Captain Crocodile looking pleased at screwing them over.

Finally, Mike loses his temper and screams at the Captain, “Either you let us play or we quit.” Kind of a foreshadowing of his threatening to quit if The Monkees didn’t get more control over their albums? I’m kidding, sort of. It couldn’t have been a thought in the writers’ minds at the time as this was shot October 18-21, 1966, before the famous incident with Don Kirshner, The Monkees music supervisor,  occurred in 1967. But it’s an unintentionally subversive joke, made sweeter by the later mention of Kirshner in the episode.

The performance is “Valleri” (Boyce/Hart) with footage that was shot separately and added into the episode. They almost matched the outfits of the band, but not quite. Davy and Peter’s pants are the wrong color and Mike has a different shirt under his jean jacket. I’ll mention, since I was talking about Mike Nesmith and the Monkees rebellion, that this was a tune created under Don Kirshner’s supervision.  Nesmith supposedly hated this song and called it “the worst record ever.” (It’s not my favorite, but I do like the fuzz guitar.)

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When they finish, Mike excitedly approaches the stage manager and asks how they did. The stage manager, played by Larry Gelman, who also pops up in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here” and “The Christmas Show,” informs them that the show’s been over for five minutes. The Monkees still haven’t been on TV. They sit in the audience and Peter cries about their failure. The other three try to cheer him up by fantasizing that they can be on TV some other way.

Their fantasy is the centerpiece, and my favorite part of the episode. The Monkees parody various TV shows. I was not yet born in the 1960s, so I have no real frame of reference for most of the television shows featured. But this is what makes The Monkees classic: These bits are still funny, whether you’ve seen these other shows or not. They’re not topical or dated because you don’t have to be “in the know” to find the lines and acting hilariously funny.

First up is their version of Huntley-Brinkley Report, a 15-minute news program. Each Monkee gives his name as some variation of Huntley or Brinkley (“Chuck Weekly,” “Dank Barkely”), until Mike blows it with “John Smith.” (Love his sheepish look when Micky calls him on it.) Next, Mike pretends to be weather forecaster Tex Nesmith and gets attacked with wind and rain.  Then, they start a parody of What’s My Line calling it “What’s My Scene” (A better parody of this is Woody Allen’s “What’s My Perversion” from Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex But Were Afraid to Ask) but deciding it’s boring, they go into a fake To Tell The Truth that they call “To Tell a Fib.” (Apparently, they’ve recently revived To Tell the Truth.)

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The best of the best is the comic book/Batman sequence where Mike and Micky are robbers and Davy and Peter are heros “Frogman and Ruben the tadpole” wearing the scuba suits from “Monkee See, Monkee Die” romp with Monkeemen capes. The camera angle is slanted the entire time and the sound effects are given as onscreen graphics, “Foo” “Bing” “Bong” etc. Mike is hilarious with his delayed reactions to Peter’s attacks and it’s amusing that Peter is clearly trying not to break up laughing the entire time.

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After the fun is over, Captain Crocodile continues to have a nervous breakdown over his perceived threat of the Monkees. He tells Howard he has “evil thoughts” and it leads to a scene where Junior Pinter is showing the Monkees their hate mail. This doesn’t make a lot of sense given that they’ve only probably been on TV a few seconds, thanks to the conniving Captain. Who knows them well enough to hate them? But Pinter shows them the 27 letters they received from people calling them “long haired weirdos”, “loathsome teenagers” etc. This is the first of many times on The Monkees they’ll be called “long-haired weirdos.” It’s another element that has a real life resonance because as Micky Dolenz mentioned in the documentary, We Love the Monkees (2012), it was a big deal to have young men with longer hair (we’re talking a little past the collar here) on TV at all at the time. Junior mentions the letters were “written in crayon” so they’re presumably fakes created by Captain Crocodile’s pint-sized disciples.

Pinter tells them the Programming Chief J.J. Pontoon has called a meeting to discuss the problem. The Monkees counter by crashing the meeting, disguised of course in fake identities. Micky pretends to be a TV pollster, spouting some gibberish about network ratings going up thanks to The Monkees. Mike plays a janitor whose kids only watched “Captain Crocodile” to see The Monkees.  Peter and Davy come in dressed as little kids, threatening to hold their breath if the network takes The Monkees off the air. Junior backs them up on this. J.J. Pontoon, who is played by Oliver McGowan previously seen in “Monkee See, Monkee Die,” tells them all to go away so the network executives can make a decision. The Captain (in a sly nod to The Caine Mutiny] plays with little metal stress balls.

The Captain decides to utilize his secret weapon, the Crocodile Corps He asks them to “get the Monkees” so the children chase after the band to a romp to “Auntie Grizelda” (Diane Hildebrand, Jack Keller). The romp has some footage that appears to have been shot at the same time as the “I’ll Be Back Upon My Feet” romp from “Dance, Monkee, Dance.” The kids terrorize the Monkees with rifles and hatchets, yikes. Eventually, the Crocodile Corps chases the Monkees all the way back to the “Captain Crocodile” set. I like that this show wasn’t terribly precious about children.

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At the birthday house, Micky gets the idea to tell the kids a story. All they have is a dictionary, so they have to improvise, “Once upon a time, in the land of Kirshner.” The kids sit in the audience seats, and each Monkee takes his turn “reading” to the children. They’re making little sense but the kids are loving it (of course they are). See, they just want to be read to, like any kids. Peter gets his turn and as always, he’s a step behind so he actually reads the dictionary. The children don’t mind and would clearly watch these guys do anything. The Captain loses his temper and reveals his true nature to his fans,“You double-crossing brats, I hate you!” They turn around and attack him instead! That about wraps it up for Captain Crocodile’s career. Bravo to Joey Forman and his gleefully nasty portrayal of Captain Crocodile. [“Amazing.” – Editor (a hundred points to anybody who gets that reference!)]

 Tag sequence where the “Captain Crocodile” show has been changed to “The Monkees Menagerie.” The little sign they put up on the clubhouse looks like it came off the back of one of their cast chairs. Hurray for the Monkees, they’ve finally made it! But no, the host of the show is the former “Captain Crocodile” producer, Howie Needleman. Instead of hitting them with pies, the new trend is spraying them with seltzer. Ah, the cynicism of this show and how the older adults are always untrustworthy and/or crazy. 

This is such a great episode, and a decent companion piece to “Find The Monkees” where they also struggle to “make it” as TV stars. This episode is a little darker though, in a good way. The story and dialogue makes fun of Hollywood and the notion of youth vs. establishment. Captain Crocodile, representing the establishment, is paranoid and brings about his own demise. Having the Monkees’ one champion played by a kid is subtle way of emphasizing “youth vs. experience.” When The Monkees manage to turn over the ruling class, a new identical regime comes in to replace it. That’s a sharp, cynical touch. And on top of that, there’s the pure entertainment value. The TV sequence alone makes this episode worth it. I know the Monkees were working very hard, long hours on this show and were struggling to be considered seriously as musicians at the same time. I do hope they occasionally had as much fun as it looked like they were having.

Happy 50th anniverary to The Monkees TV series, which debuted on September 12, 1966 with the episode “Royal Flush.”

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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: “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool”

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“The Cool War”

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“The Spy Who Came in from the Cool” was the first episode written by the team of Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso, who wrote a total of 22 Monkees episodes. It was directed by Robert Rafelson and originally aired October 10, 1966. I also want to point out the episode’s cinematographer Irving Lippman and editor Donald W. Starling. I can’t say enough about the behind-the-scenes team that made The Monkees, the director, writers, cinematographer, editors, and all the crew created one entertaining episode after another. I noticed some especially fun post-production techniques in this one, so I wanted to point that out.

The Monkees are driving the Monkee-mobile within the actual episode. They get out and park while Davy begs the others to let him buy a new pair of maracas. Inside a music store, the big, Russian-accented Boris is stuffing microfilm into a pair of red maracas. Madame Olinsky tells him their plans: He’s to sell the maracas to a “very short man” who will want them in red and say he can only pay him 50 cents. I think we all see where this is going.

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Outside, Davy notes that there’s a man talking to a Popsicle, but this only interests Mike if the Popsicle talks back. The Monkees enter the store and Davy requests the red maracas, accidentally saying the spies’ code phrase. Boris tells him he is “very short.” Davy is too cool to look half as annoyed as I would. They send Davy and the other three out through the “secret exit” in the harp case. Then, the actual short Russian spy enters and asks for the maracas. Poor Boris realizes he’s screwed up.

The Monkees play “The Kind of Girl I Could Love” (Michael Nesmith) at the Vincent Van Gogh-Gogh, and we can see Valerie Kairys dancing in the crowd. This is the first episode featuring one of the Michael Nesmith songs. Davy hears an extra rattle in his maracas and pulls out the microfilm, which he stuffs in his waistband. There’s no room for pockets in those tight pants. Boris and Madame Olinsky enter dressed as teenagers. Although Madame does look hot in these clothes, the couple looks hilariously out of place, and like Vic Tayback in the previous episode, they try to fit in by “dancing.” We have adults trying to infiltrate the teenage world by dressing and behaving like them, and failing.  Boris makes the subtle (and subversive for the time I think) suggestion that a teenage boy has hit on him.

The song finishes and the spies assault the band on the stage with a gun, demanding the film. Peter bursts into tears. Mike gets them out of it by announcing the spies as folk-singing duo “Honey and the Bear,” which suits their appearance very well. Mike forces them on the stage where they are paralyzed with fear at having to face the teenage crowd. The nervous spies sing an anthem called “Blow up the Senate.” Micky starts the crowd booing as well as flinging pillows at them, setting off the theme of kids “following the crowd” in this episode. The Monkees use the distraction to make their exit.

At CIS headquarters (TV version of the CIA), Honeywell (the Popsicle-talker) and the Chief discuss the Monkees possession of the microfilm. Honeywell has been ineptly spying on them. (We wouldn’t need Snowden if the government were this obvious when recording citizens.) On the film within the show, Honeywell asks political questions of Mike and Peter, who answer in a comically irrelevant way. The more “show-biz” characters, Micky and Davy, also don’t get it and respond with self-interest: Micky pulls out a larger than life headshot of himself for Honeywell and Davy breaks into a soft shoe dance performance of “Old Folks at Home,” knowing that a camera is on him. This is a very “Davy” moment that I love.

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Chief brings the boys into the CIS headquarters and asks for their help. They’re none too enthusiastic about the danger. Micky does a little Don Adams impression as he picks up the phone and asks for “Schwartz, Harold B.” to catch the spies instead of them. Chief says he can save at least three of them, leading to a chair scramble for the three chairs which Peter misses completely. The Monkees reluctantly agree to help.

Back at the pad, they unicycle around the room, with the cameras giving a little fake jolt as they crash into each other. Mike is skeptical and wants to back out but Micky goes into a spy daydream, different from the previous costume fantasies where they pull costumes out of nowhere. Here we get a camera dissolve to set up the dream. This is my favorite bit of the episode, where Micky plays a “Q” from James Bond role and explains equipment and weapons to the other Monkees. He takes them outside to the same park we saw in “Kidnappers” for a fighting demonstration with the very large Yakimoto, who destroys Micky’s gun display. This is also an unusual case where Micky is playing the straight man to the other characters who make all the jokes.

Spy-training

The Monkees meet Honeywell at the Vincent Van Gogh-Gogh where he sets them up with an obvious microphone in a table lamp. Their task is to finagle a confession from the spies, and then Honeywell will pop out and arrest them. Davy disturbs the lamp as they walk out and a fake “Genie” dressed in an I Dream of Jeannie costume appears. Davy makes one of television’s first meta-references: “Imagine that, wrong show.”

Wrong-Show

The band plays “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone” (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart) on the little stage while Boris and Madame enter. Madame mocks the kids for copying each other’s dance steps saying “Sheep. They all follow one another.” (The kids are also all wearing the same clothes from the earlier disco scene.) This theme of following was seen in the previous episode where the young people all follow each other to rush into the Monkees house, and then rush out again when the music changes.

The spies sit down with the Monkees, and Davy obviously tries to get their confession. When asked if they are really foreign spies, Boris supplies him with a nod. Davy rushes back to check with Honeywell who points out he can’t hear a nod. On his way back Davy (who is maintaining his cooler, hipper personality from the previous episode) inadvertently kicks the cord out.

Mike stalls by counting the money the spies brought to buy the film. Davy pushes the lamp in front of them but Honeywell isn’t getting anything since it’s unplugged. Madame finally loses it and we’re treated to a Marx Brothers moment from Peter:

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Honeywell gets the confession, but Madame pulls out her gun and threatens the boys to give up the film already. Mike bravely taunts her to come get it and throws her out onto the dance floor where she has to dance in order to not make a scene. Davy and Micky desperately try to call Honeywell while Mike fights off Madame. Boris is pulled into the dance by a girl from the crowd. Micky and Peter stand up to subdue Boris, but he effortlessly tosses them to the walls.

Everyone in this scene is dancing to “All the Kings Horses” (Michael Nesmith). This is one of my favorite songs on the show. I love the guitar break and the harmony with Mike and Micky. This song is not listed in the end credits but “Last Train to Clarksville,” which we don’t hear, is listed.

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Madame karate chops Mike, who falls and we get the payoff to the earlier line about copying dance steps. The editors give a little help by winding the film back so we see the chop twice. The girls all start karate chopping and the boys all fall to the ground. Last episode, we have the “Kidnap” and now we have the “Karate Chop.” Madame takes the film from Mike’s pants and escapes. Davy bravely jumps on Boris’ back and somehow the three standing Monkees stop the big man from leaving. Honeywell finally comes out and tells Boris he’s going to Leavenworth. Peter sweetly comforts the disappointed Boris who won’t be meeting Madame in Argentina. Aww..Peter.

“Somewhere in China,” Madame tells a room full of men in suits that she has a film of America’s greatest secret weapon. And that weapon is the Monkees fooling around on the beach in their red bathing suits to “Saturday’s Child.” Back at the disco, Mike awkwardly dances with Honeywell. Also in this footage is the bit I love from the opening credits with Peter in the bathtub being rolled down the street by the other Monkees, among other fun shots. The Monkees show up at the end of the song in trench coats, hats, and guitar cases that they pretend are weapons and find Madame tied up in the chair.

The episode title is obviously a parody of the John le Carré novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and the movie of the same name came out the year before this episode. Spy stories were popular at the time. Other popular 60’s spy series and films included: I Spy, James Bond, Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Get Smart. The writers Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso wrote eleven episodes of Get Smart so they were experienced at writing spy/comedy material. The cold war would have been on everyone’s mind at the time with the US having entered the Vietnam War in 1965. Although I don’t think that the Monkees writers/producers were into topical humor. The ‘bad guys” could be anyone and it would be understood just as easily if this episode were made today, substituting “terrorists” for “Russian Spies” or “Communists.”

The way the Cold war plays here, the teenagers are detached from it all. They’re into their music, fun, their self-expression. Tension with Russia and China is a grown-up problem. Not their fault or their concern but they are expected to fight. The Monkees only help when directly confronted by the CIS. The other young people in the episode have no interest or even clue what’s happening around them in the disco scenes. The main source of the comedy in this episode is the cultural divide between the adults and the teens.

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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.

 

Monkees vs. Macheen: “Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers”

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“Monkees, Swine, and Crabs”

Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers

“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.

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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.

No thanks, we're just here to have our clothes ripped off.

Mike’s facial expressions as he waits to have his clothes ripped off are so good.

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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.”

Answering-Service

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.

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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.

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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.

Clothes-ripping

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.

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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.

Monkees vs. Macheen: “Monkee vs. Machine” (What?)

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“They Just Won’t Stop with the Social Commentary”

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“Monkee vs. Machine”, directed by Monkees creator Robert Rafelson, aired September 26, 1966 on NBC and was written by David Panich who wrote “Monstrous Monkees Mash” and “Monkees at the Circus.” This is one of my favorites because of its unusual storyline. It’s cited on the Chaos and Control: The Critique of Computation in American Commercial Media (1950-1980) website in the “Humanistic Critique” section along with “2001: A Space Odyssey”, Star Trek, “Dr. Strangelove”, and other movies and television shows from 1957-1977. The author of this essay, Steve Anderson, postulates that Hollywood stories at that time compared machines to humans frequently, addressing questions of how people compare to computers. The general conclusion of these shows and movies always seemed to be that people come out ahead in any comparison because humans have feelings, and are capable of independent thought.

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This story starts out when Mr. Babbit demands his rent again, and Peter is sent off to get a job at a toy company; a job he is perfect for because it requires no training or experience. Peter interviews with a computer, the DJ61, a machine which, by all rights, should not have a personality, but does (indeed a humorless, inflexible one). DJ61 can’t understand the emotional, nervous Peter at all and thinks Peter is a woman named as “Nit Wit.” Peter is upset and asks why he can’t talk to a live person but the unsympathetic (dare I say machine-like) secretary boots him out. His application is rejected. The Monkees vs. Machine score in my head is Monkees: 0, Machine: 1.

Before I go on with the story, I have to note that when I saw this recently on IFC, their version goes straight into the credits, and then starts with the first scene. My DVD version has the first two scenes with the Monkees in their house and then Peter going to the interview, right up to the point where the secretary shuts him in with the DJ61, and then the credits. I surmise they flipped things around for the syndicated version that IFC is using?

Now it’s Mike’s turn to take a crack at the job, and the DJ61 – armed with information from Peter. He enters the interview and takes over. I love it when he does that. The supposedly unemotional computer sure does get flustered when Mike (in true Captain Kirk fashion) turns the DJ61’s questions back on it, and starts punching its buttons. The true machine enters in the person of Daggart, the company executive. Stan Freberg plays Daggart, and he was a damn funny man. I have a vague memory of listening to his “John and Marsha” routine, which Youtube helps me to revive. Freberg’s comic skills really drive this episode. Daggart tells us the computer declares Mike a genius. Mike Nesmith pulls off this adorably proud, yet embarrassed, expression. Mike’s genius destruction of the Machine makes the score Monkees: 1, Machine: 1.

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Daggart is impressed by Mike’s ability to outwit one of his machines, so he takes him to the company owner JB Guggins, played by Severn Darden, and declares that he’s hiring Mike on the spot. Guggins lets Daggart and his computers do all the thinking for him, and he agrees to whatever Daggart says. Note the picture of Guggins father and company founder behind the desk, which is clearly also Severn Darden with hilarious hair.

Daggart then takes Mike around to meet the rest of his staff, who turn out to be computers with human names. These are Daggart’s children, and when Mike starts poking at them, Daggart gives him a “Don’t do that.” The only human member of his staff is Harper, an old man who designs toys by hand. Pop Harper has made a flexible toy that can be bent into any shape, which he shows to Mike. Daggart scoffs at him, telling him he’s part of “yesterday” and tells Mike he’s only keeping Harper around because Guggins father promised him a job for life. Harper looks dejected at Daggart’s attitude towards him, and Mike is sympathetic. Daggart leaves with disembodied “boos” accompanying him off screen. The new score is Monkees: 1, Machine: 2.

Back at the Monkee’s pad Mike is not as happy as he should be about his new job. Is Mike sad because he really thinks Harper made a wonderful toy, or because Harper is the underdog? We like the Monkees because they are underdogs themselves, and always defenders of the same. The others try to cheer Mike up with the video of “Saturday’s Child” (David Gates) where they play with some kids on the beach. They get along great with the kids because they are big kids themselves. This gives Mike the idea to help Harper by sending the other Monkees into the factory as “children” for the play tests. (It amuses me that Mike and Micky call each other “babe” in this scene.)

In a bit that would not look out of place in a Kids In The Hall sketch, Daggart coordinates play testing sessions to show Guggins how well the computer-designed toys will sell to kids. Monkees in Mommy and child drag in various combinations attend the sessions and wreak Monkee-style havoc. The kids quickly get bored and toys get destroyed. Daggart responds with temper tantrums and many rounds of “Don’t do that” Clearly he should be kept far, far away from children. In the DVD commentary for this episode, Peter Tork mentioned that Stan Freburg wasn’t scripted to tear the shelves down, he improvised that. In the office with Guggins, Daggart tries to pretend the machines knew this would happen, calling it planned obsolescence. Mike explains the play tests are going badly because “building in some happiness” should be part of making toys and machines aren’t capable of that. Daggart has lost control and it’s now Monkees: 2, Machine: 2.

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Daggart finally gets wise and realizes Peter is not a little boy and Micky’s no lady. He rips the blonde wig off Micky’s head (the same wig that Davy was using when it was his turn to be a Mommy). Then again, Daggart’s not that wise, because he disrobes an actual Mom to prove she’s also a man, for some reason going for the skirt and not the hair. I speculate that this gag was borrowed in the “Austin Powers International Man of Mystery” movie with Mike Meyers beating up Basil Exposition’s mother and shouting “She’s a man, baby!” Daggart is furious and fires everyone. With that, my count is Monkees: 2, Machine: 3.

The Monkees and Harper go back to the Monkees pad and mope. They try to throw away Harper’s flexible toy but it keeps coming back in the window because it’s now a boomerang. The Monkees and Harper take this to Guggins and convince him a toy that always comes back will sell and make kids happy. Daggart is not convinced because to him nothing can be good if it is not made by a machine. Guggins does his own thinking, not letting Daggart’s machines do it for him for the first time. It might have been a bigger victory if Daggart had seen the error of his ways, but that was never going to happen and wouldn’t have “rung true” if the writers had tried to pull that. Guggins promotes Harper and fires Daggart who storms off with a “bah, humbug.” For this the Monkees get another point, making it a tie, Monkees: 3 Machine: 3.

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Tag sequence where Mike brings home the DJ69 computer to help them figure what kind of job they could get to help make a little extra money. A “Last Train to Clarksville” (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart) video gives them career suggestions such as a construction worker, fireman, and farmer (the farm footage is from the “Never Look a Gift Horse” episode.) Mike gives several incredulous looks to the camera, not buying what the DJ69 is selling. As we know, the Village People would not emasculate the pop culture for another nine years.

Great episode. One I can watch again and again. The points are all made in a very funny and entertaining way, though I could live without Mike’s moralizing at the end of the episode. The final score is a tie, as Daggart pointed out: you can’t stop the rise of the machine. Remember 20 years ago, when we all weren’t walking around with cell phones? Machines are great if we’re not ruled by them. Daggart would prefer to leave a creative task of designing toys to computers, since they can’t really make mistakes, and they can’t complain. But Daggart himself is full of negative characteristics of human behavior: violence, close-mindedness, and arrogance. Maybe this is why he sees the machines as superior. Hmm.

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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.