This past summer, 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: “Captain Crocodile” (Season 1, Episode 23)
Air date: February 20, 1967
The Monkees are looking for their big break again, and this time, they think they’ve found it in the world of television. (“That’s funny,” Peter quips, as they arrive at the TV studio. “It doesn’t look like a vast wasteland.”)
The boys are expecting to be musical guests for Captain Crocodile (Joey Forman), a beloved local children’s television host who resembles, but is legally distinct from, Captain Kangaroo. Captain Crocodile is a bit of a proto-Krusty the Klown, a corrupt holdover from the golden age of television who hates children except when the camera’s on, and he’s afraid that the network has brought the Monkees onto the show in order to phase him out.
And honestly, who could blame the network for wanting to change up a show that mainly consists of a weird guy in a clown suit and a bowler hat mugging for the camera while his assistant tells the live audience to cheer?
Faced with the prospect of being upstaged by the Monkees, the Captain dresses the band in ponchos (and green caps that clearly belong to the Monkees’ pals, the Jolly Green Giants) and hits them in the face with pies. The studio audience loves it. The Monkees… not so much.
The Monkees are sent to see Junior Pinter (Joey Baio, cousin to Scott), the preteen executive in charge of the Captain Crocodile show. “We’re all men here,” Junior says, as he fiddles with a Tinkertoy set and offers them child-sized chairs, shot glasses of milk, and a regular spot on the show. The Monkees refuse until Junior calls the network president (his daddy, naturally) and guarantees that there will be no more pies, and they’ll be able to sing.
Once Captain Crocodile gets the memo from Junior, he hatches a series of sufficiently nefarious schemes to keep the Monkees from performing. He instructs the cameraman to pan away as soon as the band starts playing, he drops a net over them, and he even rigs Micky’s kick drum with explosives.
Finally, the Monkees perform “Valleri” — only to find out when they’ve finished that the show has been off the air for five minutes.
Back home at the pad, Micky, Davy, and Mike console a weeping Peter by imagining other TV shows they could appear on. In a series of fantasies, the boys send up The Huntley-Brinkley Report, What’s My Line?, To Tell the Truth, and finally Batman — with Peter as Frog Man, and Davy as his faithful sidekick, Reuben the Tadpole.
Meanwhile, Captain Crocodile frets about being phased out. He and his assistant, Howard (Philip “Not That Philip Roth” Roth) forge 27 crayoned complaint letters calling the Monkees “arrogant egomaniacs,” “long-haired weirdos,” “loathsome teenagers,” and “delightful and well-bred.” (Well, that last letter was actually from Peter’s mother.)
The network responds by holding a meeting to decide whether or not to keep the Monkees on the show, and the Monkees respond by raiding the wardrobe department and crashing the meeting in some (not-so) cunning disguises.
Micky fast-talks his way through a ratings report from the “Nelson Polling Service,” and Mike appears as “the kindly old building janitor” whose grandchildren love the Monkees. Captain Crocodile shrugs the old man off, saying it’s the opinions of children that matter.
Peter and Davy enter dressed in the least convincing little-kid costumes since… well, since the last time the Monkees dressed up as little kids. Peter’s in a fire helmet, Davy’s wearing a Happy Fingers Institute hat from the wonderfully bonkers Dr. Seuss film The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T., and, of course, both guys are carrying giant lollipops.
As the four Monkees wreak havoc on the room, the network executive calls for everyone to leave, promising that the committee will make a decision that afternoon.
Sensing defeat, Captain Crocodile and Howard call in the Crocodile Corps, a bunch of kids kind of like Mouseketeers from hell, and send them to “Get the Monkees! Sic ’em! Sic ’em!”
Cue this episode’s romp, set to “Your Auntie Grizelda.” Armed with an improbable assortment of weapons, the kids chase the Monkees through every available set on the lot, trapping Micky in the stocks, tying Peter up, staging a bullfight, forming a firing squad, and stopping on occasion to do some Dolenz-level mugging for the camera.
They finally trap the Monkees in a corner of the studio, while Captain Crocodile, Howard, Junior, and the network executive look on.
But wait! Micky grabs the nearest book (a dictionary) and offers to tell the kids a story, and as they cheer, he begins: “Once upon a time, in the land of Kirshner, there was a handsome prince in love with a frog and three little pigs, and he didn’t know how he would get through the forest, ’cause the wicked grandmother had given him a poison apple.”
Mike takes over and improvises something about a wicked stepladder (“who was pretty tall because of all the rungs”), and then he hands the book off to Davy, who somehow manages to be even worse at storytelling (“The toadstools were beginning to go bad… because… Columbus… was…”).
Finally, it’s Peter’s turn, and being Peter, he just reads aloud from the dictionary.
The kids are eating this up, by the way, because even the incoherent babbling of these four doofuses is more compelling than The Captain Crocodile Show. When Captain Crocodile sees his audience switching allegiance to the long-haired weirdos, he loses his temper, screaming, “I hate you! I hate you!” until the kids chase him away.
Cut to a brand-new day in the studio where it looks like Frog Man may have been right about the forces of goodness and niceness and sweetness triumphing over evil. The Crocodile Corps has been renamed the Monkees Menagerie, the Monkees are ready to sing, and the Captain is nowhere to be seen. But then Howard steps in front of the camera and announces, “It’s Monkee Menagerie time, starring Howie Needleman, and it’s time for FUN!”
Remembering their last experience with “FUN!” here, the Monkees beg Howard not to throw any pies at them. “No, pies are out,” Howard reassures them. The Monkees smile and laugh in relief, and then Howard produces a giant bottle. “Seltzer is in,” he declares, and he sprays them down as the kids chant, “FUN! FUN! FUN!”
And “FUN! FUN! FUN!” is more or less what this episode is: it’s goofy and slapstick and anarchic, it features two classic Monkees songs, and while our heroes don’t quite get the happy ending they’re hoping for, we know it will be all right because there’s always next week.