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: “The Monkees Christmas Show” (Season 2, Episode 15)
Merry Christmas, my dear Monkee-heads. Fifty Christmases ago today marks the airdate of The Monkees‘ “Christmas Show,” which has begun to enter into my personal yuletide viewing traditions much in the same vein as Muppet Family Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Batman Returns. (It’s a Christmas movie! Come at me, haters!)
There’s a substantial, palpable tenderness in this episode, written by Monkees stalwart scriptwriter Neil Burstyn and directed by John Anderson, that other installments in the series somewhat lack. I’m going to attempt to pinpoint why the spirit of this show felt so different than other installments, and firstly, I can definitely steer us to the excellent performances of the four Monkees helping this one out a great deal.
It looks like our boys are having a lot of fun here. This is certainly one of the episodes that best uses their individual personas: Micky as the goofy, playful one; Mike as the wise one; and Peter as the dope. Davy isn’t a lovelorn sap here; instead, he’s affable, childlike, and very, very British, which sits well on him!
The episode opens with the Monkees being summoned to play what they think is a Christmas party, but instead, the wealthy Mrs. Vandersnoot is hiring the boys (at $100 a piece! A lot for 1967 money!) to babysit her nephew, Melvin. Apparently, Melvin doesn’t want to go on vacation with her and instead would rather stay home for Christmas. For an unexplained reason, it’s up to the Monkees to look after him instead of the extensive staff their mansion has.
I can’t say enough good things about child-actor Butch Patrick in the role of Melvin. He plays a pint-sized Mr. Scrooge with aplomb. You might know him better as the eternally cowlicked Eddie Munster from The Munsters, but this is a whole new side of him here. He’s dead serious and actually acts as a grounding mechanism for the Monkees, who are about nine years his senior. Grounding the Monkees is a considerable task for any actor, and young Patrick knocks it out of the park.
This dichotomy allows for the rest of the episode to revolve around the various methods that the Monkees try to warm Melvin’s icy heart. They try taking him toy shopping, but Peter runs a bike through the store; they try to decorate a tree with him, but Davy’s too short to put the star on top.
In fact, they don’t succeed until they give him lots of love: what the season is truly all about and also an underlying message of the whole hippie counterculture that birthed The Monkees entity in the first place.
This is absolutely one of my favorite episodes. The Monkees could not be more charming and despite the reasonably typical sitcom-y plot, it’s very well written and directed. I like that this is later in season two: a period of the show where the Monkees have really started gelling comedically, but the structure of the show hasn’t gone entirely off the rails yet. (Hello, “Frodis Caper!”)
And then there’s the iconic rendition of “Riu, Riu Chiu” that closes the episode. Our four insane boys appear to be enjoying a quieter moment here, huddling around a microphone and singing this beautiful 16th-Century Spanish Villancico. Their vocal harmonies are absolutely exquisite: This is definitely one of the clips I show my music-snob friends who accuse the Monkees of “not being real musicians.” Bah, humbug, I say!
The unconventional end of the episode is of note as well. The Monkees graciously introduce their entire behind-the-scenes crew to the folks at home as they stumble into frame: some young, shaggy, hippie entertainment-industry types flashing peace signs and some older industry vets, also happy to be there. This coda serves as a reminder of the equalizer that was Hollywood could sometimes be during the generational Sixties culture wars.
Although it definitely fits the tone of the rest of the series, this episode, as many Christmas specials do, stands alone. During the ending, the Monkees state that they’re just trying to get a message of “peace and love” out there to the people. I think this is fundamentally what made the Monkees as a concept work so well. After all, they’re just trying to be friendly, as their theme song states.
In this special, more than others, the intent of the project really shines through: Although these boys may look and act differently than a lot of the more conservative viewers at home, at the end of the day, they shared values of the peace and brotherhood that unite us all as a species. “The Monkees Christmas” show does a great job of conveying those values through its warm tone, beautiful music, and inherent looniness that made The Monkees such a special show.