Monkees Vs. Macheen: “Monkees à la Mode”

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“We don’t follow fashion. That’d be a joke.”

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“Monkees à la Mode” is one of my favorites, if not my very favorite from the first season. The storyline plays as a culture war between the Monkees and a high fashion magazine staff. The Monkees are at their best working together, defying authority. There’s no high adventure here. No one’s life is in danger. What is on the line is the Monkees identity and individuality. It’s an important concept for young people – then and now. This was the first episode directed by Alex Singer, who directed five more after this. Episode writers were the usual suspects, Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso.

The action starts, not with the Monkees, but in the offices of Chic magazine; an allusion to Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar. Anna Wintour stand-in Madame Quagmeyer asks her staff for new ideas for their “Young American” issue. The photographer gives Madame Q names of various socialites, all of which she rejects as “stale.” One of his suggestions has the amusing name, “Vernon Equinox.” Toby, a young writer, played by Monkees frequent extra Valerie Kairys, suggests The Monkees. The photographer calls them “long-haired weirdos,” marking the second episode in a row the term was used. Since Chic is a magazine of “style”, of course their hair would cause comment and the magazine’s main audience probably isn’t teenagers anyway. But Madame Q loves the idea and says she’ll make them over in the magazine’s image. She wants fresh and new but plans to turn it into the same old thing.

 Let’s have breakfast with the Monkees, shall we? I love these scenes of them hanging out, doing everyday things. Someone has delivered a copy of Chic to their doorstep; a magazine they do not subscribe to. They make fun of the magazine for a bit and then find the letter from Madame Q, saying they’ve been chosen as the “typical young Americans of the year.” Great fourth-wall-breaking gag with the edit-in of the closing title images of all the Monkees making goofy faces.

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There’s a knock on the door and Davy dramatically poses and declares, “Hark, I hear a knock upon yon door!” There’s a motif of the Monkees mock “posing” during this episode that compliments the fashion theme. The title image I’ve chosen at the top of the post is a classic example. The visitors are Toby and the photographer from Chic who introduces himself as Rob Roy Fingerhead. Toby explains that Chic wants to do a story about them.

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Rob Roy, acting a lot like Ronnie from “One Man Shy,” proceeds to insult the Monkees appearance and taste. He describes their furnishings as “cheap, ugly clap-trap.” The Monkees defensively show Rob Roy a couple of historical items they own, leading to quick George Washington and Paul Revere fantasy sketches. An unimpressed Rob Roy leaves, declaring he’ll do Madame Q’s bidding. Toby, who is obviously a friend of theirs and more their speed, tries to appeal to them to do the story, despite Rob Roy. The Monkees protest that they’re not right for the magazine, because as Mike puts it, “young people aren’t typical anything.” That’s really one of the key points. Toby says the publicity will be good for their career, so Davy agrees they’ll participate. He has to talk the other three into it a bit more after she leaves.

At the magazine, the arriving Peter tries to explain who they are: “Madame Q…You may not remember about us.” Madame Q’s sarcasm-laced response: “Your intuition is faultless.”  So many good lines, it’s tempting to transcribe everything. Peter explains they’re the “typical young people of the year” and the editors cue up their faces from the titles again.

She introduces the Monkees to her snooty editorial assistants: Miss Collins, Vassar ’64, Miss Osborne, Bryn Mar ’63. Miss Delessips, Bennington ’62. Mike mocks them by introducing himself as “Mike Nesmith, Eagle Scouts ’61.” (Similar to Peter introducing himself for the gangsters in “Monkees à la Cart.”) Madame Q assigns the sister-school beauties to gather background on the boys. Micky and Davy flirt with the young women of course, while Peter talks to the lamp. Of all the Monkees, Mike is clearly the most irked by Madame Q and her staff. He’s as disdainful of Miss Vassar’s narrow-mindedness as she is of his perceived lack of sophistication. 

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Rob Roy struggles to prepare the Monkees for the fashion shoot. According to him, Peter has bad posture, and Davy doesn’t know how to pose. The best segment of this is Rob Roy with Micky. Rob Roy instructs Micky on “good taste” in matching clothing by color. At first, Micky ignores him with incessant drumming (sounds like the beat from “Randy Scouse Git”). Rob Roy stops this by unexpectedly threatening him with a gun! Micky looks startled but quickly shifts to mischievous. He responds to Rob Roy’s lessons by manically throwing clothes all over the place while reciting his own take on the “rules.” Rob Roy follows him around, flustered and yelling at him. There’s something so satisfying about watching Micky’s childish rebellion against Rob Roy’s fashion edicts.

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Now it’s time for the romp, set to “Laugh” (Medress/Margo/Margo/Siegal), which is a great song choice for this episode. The lyrics are perfect for these characters who take themselves oh-so-seriously. Throughout, The Monkees wreak havoc in the Chic offices as Rob Roy tries to complete his photo spread.

Sometime later, Toby turns over her story on The Monkees to Madame Q, saying it captures them “just the way they are.” Madame Q doesn’t want that so she asks Rob Roy to step in. Rob Roy anticipated this and hands over a story that’s full of lies. The fashionable Rob Roy, by the way, is wearing one of the Monkees plaid suit jackets that show up squiggly on my monitor. Divoon!

Back at the pad, we’re treated to more of the Monkees chilling while they wait for the Chic article to come out. A couple of entertaining moments: Mike prunes the ball on his hat and Davy punches a toy giraffe that refused his offer of cheese. There’s a knock on the door and a classic sight gag when Davy goes to the peephole: He’s too short to see out of it, so he just opens and shuts it for no real reason. It’s an angry girl, coming to give Davy back his friendship ring. Next up is Linda, who comes by just to slap Micky and leave. Mike gets a phone call from a guy who’s clearly not happy with him. Then, someone tosses a rock through the window with a note full of insults for The Monkees, signed, “A friend.” In other words, all their friends hate them now.

(Side note to mention that Mike is excellent with the physical comedy in this scene, from answering the phone awkwardly through the staircase, to unwrapping the note around the rock, he does it all in a way that’s funny.)

Another knock and Davy repeats the sight gag with the peephole. Toby arrives with the article, and Mike guesses that all their friends have already seen it. She reads it to them. According to Rob Roy and Chic, the boys are gourmets who enjoy pheasant under glass, their favorite sports are polo and croquet, and their taste in music runs from chamber music to organ recitals. Obviously these are silly and trivial but they are still lies. It’s also a meta-comment since real life publicity and magazines will exaggerate and make up little fibs to make their famous subjects fit a certain image.

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Toby tells them she quit her job in protest. Madame Q sends them a telegram reminding them to be at the banquet that night, to receive their “Young Americans of the Year” award. (Goofy face titles again.) Micky and Davy respond with a telegram of their own, “Monkee telegram 26A: You can take your trophy and…”

We’ll just have to imagine what they want her to do with the trophy, as they cut to the banquet scene. Madame Q is on stage at the podium and her speech lets us know these stuffy middle-aged adults dressed up and sitting at the tables are Chic’s advertisers. Even if you were watching this for the first time, you had to know that the Monkees aren’t going to behave. What’s fun is to see how they’re going to wreck her day.

As much as I love the drama here of The Monkees versus fashion elite, there’s also an interesting bit of serendipity. This episode aired on the same date that Don Kirshner was fired from Colgem records, and as the Monkees music supervisor, supposedly for choosing the next single (“A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You”/”She Hangs Out”) without the Monkees (or Raybert’s) knowledge or agreement. In “Monkees a la Mode” the boys are rebelling against being told what they are, and what they should be by Madame Q and Chic. The conflict echoes the real life struggle of The Monkees, who were tired of the music for their albums and the show being produced without any input from them.

Madame Q announces that Chic is awarding the “Fine Young American” trophy to four young people who are the “epitome for everything the magazine stands for.” The Monkees, who are seated on the stage off to the side, stand up and greet the room with an off-key Three Stooges “Hello” harmony. The Monkees have all the power here since they have nothing to lose.

Each one makes a fool of Madame Q by clownishly contradicting her introduction. She calls Peter the “picture of grace” and he proceeds to stumble all over the podium. She declares that Davy embodies the “chic coiffure.” He removes an obvious wig and reveals a smooth, sham bald head, making him look like a toddler with a cocky swagger. Madame Q describes Micky as the “paragon of quiet gentility.” He jumps to the mic, performing a similar hack-comedian shtick like he did in “Too Many Girls,” “I’m kinda new in town, can you direct me to your apartment?”

When she gets to Mike, Madame Q is twitching from humiliation and has clearly had enough of the Monkees. She gives him the trophy and tries to get rid of him fast. Stylish hats-off to Patrice Wymore, who played Madame Q. She was delightfully unlikeable and haughty throughout. Madame Quagmeyer is also a great Dickensian name, resembling the “quagmire” she got herself into.

Mike pushes her aside and insists on speaking. He announces that the trophy should really go to Rob Roy Fingerhead since he’s the one who “made them what they are today.” Rob Roy tries to sneak away. Peter, maintaining his characteristic sweet expression, stands up and physically stops him from exiting the stage. This is as innocent as anyone has ever looked while menacing another human being. 

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Rob Roy accidentally sits on and breaks his camera. He’s so upset, I almost feel sorry for him.  Micky says, “It was a mercy killing.” I want to know what it was made of that you can break it that easily. I could understand it bending slightly with the weight, but the whole thing falls to pieces.

Madame Q yells at Rob Roy to get rid of Monkees before she loses her job, but it’s too late. Thanks to the Monkees, Madame Q and Rob Roy are ruined. They caused their own problems by creating a false version of the boys that their advertisers would find acceptable. Advertisers, then and now are a powerful force in any kind of media. The Monkees head out into the crowd to create more chaos, stacking dishes and taking flowers off the table etc. Hysterical Madame Q has to be physically restrained by the wait staff.

Tag sequence where The Monkees go back to the Chic office to see if they can get a retraction. To their surprise, Toby is now in charge of the magazine. She firmly refuses their request and her new attitude and style is exactly like the old Madame Quagmeyer. Davy points out that it’s a big responsibility, but Toby reveals her new assistants are none other than Madame Q and Rob Roy. It’s a cynical touch since these two haven’t learned anything. They’re stuck in the bottom of their own machinery, and Toby is now one of them. Next, the performance of “You Just May Be the One” (Nesmith), previously seen in “The Chaperone” and “One Man Shy.”

One of the reasons for my everlasting-love for this show is because the Monkees are nearly always creating chaos and fighting against various representations of establishment and authority. “Monkees à la Mode” is the quintessential example of this kind of story from The Monkees. This episode also stands out as the Monkees display more anger than usual toward the villains, and I like that. But should they be angry? They could have backed out of the Chic article once they saw what Madame Q and Rob Roy were like. Instead, they were hostile participants. The episode resonates in a similar way for me as “One Man Shy,” which is another story about class war. The antagonists aren’t really evil, just threatened by anything that challenges the status quo.

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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: “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.”

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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.

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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.