Last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Monkees as a band by counting down our top 50 Monkees songs. Now, we’re celebrating The Monkees TV show by profiling each and every episode — exactly 50 years after it first premiered.
Tonight’s episode: “Art for Monkees’ Sake” (Season 2, Episode 5)
Air Date: October 9, 1967
“Art for Monkees’ Sake” is undoubtedly one of my top Monkees episodes. When I was a 14-year-old Monkee maniac, I would watch it over and over with my cousins, who loved the Pre-Fab Four as much as I did. However, it’s been about 10 years, give or take, since the last time I saw this episode, and I thought it would be interesting to go back and not only see if I enjoyed it as much as I remember, but figure out why exactly I counted it among my favorites.
Now, having viewed it again, I feel this episode really holds up, and I believe the reason “Art for Monkees’ Sake” is so fantastic is because it incorporates all the best aspects of a classic Monkees episode. First, there are the famous running gags you find throughout the series — the boys walking right into each other when they try to split up, turning around and accidentally scaring each other, relaying a message while standing only a few feet apart, general clumsiness, and of course, making fun of poor Peter.
Yes, this is one of those “dummy Peter” episodes, where Peter unwittingly gets caught in a jam, and the rest of the Monkees have to help him out. Although you may not expect much from an episode that employs such an overused trope of the show, “Art for Monkees’ Sake” fortunately doesn’t rely too heavily on it and turns out to be full of surprising, hilarious moments by the end.
We open at the Monkees pad with Peter creating a detailed painting of a door. Micky doesn’t realize it’s fake though, and walks right into it. Since Peter’s uncanny talent for replication is apparently too hazardous to foster at home, Mike suggests that Peter copy something more worthwhile at the art museum.
This is where we meet the real show-stealer of the episode — soon-to-be Monkees regular Monte Landis, in one of his earliest Season 2 appearances (after “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik” and last week’s “Monkee Mayor”), playing a crooked museum guard who gets the bright idea to have Peter make a copy of Dutch master Frans Hals’ portrait the Laughing Cavalier and switch it with the real one.
Then, as the guard tells his tough but dimwitted cohort, played by Vic Tayback, “We sell the painting and make a fortune.” Landis delivers many of my favorite lines of the episode, particularly when he is describing the painting to inspire Peter and says in an exaggerated tone, “This guy…. he’s a classy guy!” I absolutely love this bit, and it’s actually become an inside joke that I still repeat to this day.
What helps to make “Art for Monkees’ Sake” memorable are all the amusing minor characters, like Monte Landis, who pop up throughout. I have always enjoyed how The Monkees incorporates lots of zany people who are only there to do or say something outlandish and then quickly disappear, never to be seen again. They add an element of surprise to the show’s already eccentric formula.
Plenty more of these sort of characters show up in “Art for Monkees’ Sake.” For instance, when Mike, Micky, and Davy realize Peter still hasn’t come home from the museum, they split up to find him, and Micky briefly encounters an artist who is somehow completely stereotypical and unexpectedly bizarre, all at once. He fingerpaints with his hands and toes at the same time and tells Micky, “You could never be an artist… you have no beard!”
Meanwhile, Mike comes across a room full of aristocratic types, dressed to the nines, who shush him before Liberace(!) enters. But rather than deliver a typical performance, he proceeds to demolish his piano with a golden sledgehammer, while everyone but Mike respectfully watches in stoic silence.
With scenes like this, it’s almost as if the Monkees have stepped into the Twilight Zone Museum of Art. But they do finally locate Peter in the basement, after the scheming security guards have already tied and gagged him and replaced the original painting with his version.
The guys try to tell the stuffy museum curator what’s happened, but he snaps at them, whilst slapping a painting with a handkerchief, “You’re still here? Go away!”
In order to prove that there is no reason for concern, the curator demonstrates his genius alarm system for the Monkees by removing the painting—which is clearly signed by Peter—and triggering a cage to fall from the ceiling. As the alarm sounds however, the curator realizes the police are now coming for him and suddenly breaks down, shouting for his lawyer. Needless to say, the curator is another one of the weird side characters that makes this episode so much fun.
With the curator proving no help—is he in jail now?—the Monkees decide to take matters into their own hands by sneaking into the museum at night to return the real painting and remove Peter’s. This leads to another great scene which parodies Mission: Impossible, wherein Mike introduces each of the black-clad four, via voice-over narration, giving them goofy code names that refer to each Monkee’s real life birthplace. My personal favorite is Micky, the “Los Angeles Leopard,” who really gets into his name by meowing and pawing like a cat.
As shown in this scene, he Monkees are at their best whenever they improvise and build on the script, and they’re definitely at the top of their game throughout the episode, throwing in funny embellishments and physical humor at every turn.
During the museum caper, Davy is tasked with wearing special goggles that let him see the invisible beams surrounding the painting—though at the expense of seeing anything else. But once the painting is removed, they realize that Peter forgot the original on the roof, and shenanigans ensue as they try not to summon the sleeping security guard.
While the Monkees attempt to escape the museum, they run into Monte Landis’s character again, and a musical romp ensues! The backing tune is Micky Dolenz’s quirky, drum-based composition, “Randy Scouse Git,” a track from the band’s first “real” album, Headquarters, and a favorite of many Monkees fans, myself included. The offbeat song is a perfect choice to soundtrack a chase scene, as we get a bunch of silly shots of the actors goofing around on set, intercut with the band performing the song in the famous Rainbow Room. On a side note, it’s interesting to see Micky’s straightened Season 1 hairdo, which he wears in this episode, interspersed with his wacky curly look in the Rainbow Room shots.
Somehow, in the midst of all the rompy madness, the Monkees and the guards get caught in the security trap and are all so exhausted from running around that they end up tangled together in an unconscious heap inside the cage. This is how the curator finds them while leading a tour the next morning: “an assemblage of iron and human beings.” The Monkees do make it home however, and we close the episode in the Rainbow Room with the smash-hit “Daydream Believer,” which is, in my opinion, the best way to end anything ever.
Aside from being all-around entertaining, “Art for Monkees’ Sake” is an interesting bridge between the Season 1 and Season 2 Monkees. This was only the second episode to be filmed for Season 2, in April of 1967, which is probably why it has the overall look of Season 1 and includes many holdovers, such as the running jokes, Micky’s hair, and Mike’s wool hat, mixed in with with surprising glimpses of the “new” Monkees wearing their funky hair and clothing in the Rainbow Room scenes, which were filmed at the tail end of the Summer of Love in August 1967. You can not only see how the Monkees were changing, but how the emerging counterculture was changing everything around them as well. In a sense, “Art for Monkees’ Sake” can be viewed as a best of both worlds, with the elements of what made the show great to begin with, merged with hints of the greatness that was to come.