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: “A Coffin Too Frequent” (Season 2, Episode 11)
Air date: November 20, 1967
We all have them: The day we show up for work not feeling like we want to be there. We hoped there’d be a road accident, an earthquake, a nuclear first strike, something to keep us from getting to our desks because there’s no effing way in hell a paycheck can justify making it in. But no, we’ve clocked in, and it’s too many hours before quitting time o’clock to go.
When it happened to the Monkees, unfortunately, we all got to experience it firsthand.
This episode, supposedly involving forces from beyond, is something of a change of pace this season and is set entirely is the Monkees’ pad. Just as they go to bed, the band discovers an uninvited man, Henry Weatherspoon (George Furth, who we met back in season one), prowling around their living room ahead of midnight. Which, for reasons probably best left unexamined, he’s allowed to do, as his commandeering of the house is actually in the lease that Peter reads.
Things get creepier when Henry’s Aunt Mildred (Ruth Buzzi) appears at the door explaining Henry’s purpose: He’s going to raise her beloved husband Elmer from the dead that night.
The boys try and make a run for it. But again, they are deterred, thanks to the Weatherspoons’ faithful manservant, Boris (Mickey Morton). All six foot seven and a quarter inches of him manage to bedevil the Monkees at every turn, although Davy comes closest to getting through to him with an impromptu dance routine.
With no choice, the lads declare that they’ll witness Elmer’s resurrection. They’ll be the best witnesses they can possibly be, and even demonstrate how they’d do in their duties:
Meanwhile, there are matters of life and death other than Elmer’s to take care of, such as Mildred’s attempting to minister to Peter’s “cold” with tea:
From there, it just manages to somehow get weirder. Maybe it’s the drugs, especially as both Mike and Micky get in two too-obvious-to-miss references to hallucinogens; that could be it, yeah, maybe…?
How could this have happened? Probably beginner’s (bad) luck.
Directing credit goes to David Winters, for whom this episode is his first noted directing gig. Having been in front of the camera for 18 years before this, mostly on television (and in movie theaters with a singing part in the film version of West Side Story), it was probably inevitable that he’d have a desire to move into directing. And while he would go on to get good notices for such works as Alice Cooper: Welcome to My Nightmare and The Last Horror Film, he was hardly a natural the first time out, and it shows in the episode.
A large part of the problem is what he had to work from on the page. The script by Stella Linden (the second of two women to have written scripts for the series) certainly doesn’t live up to the work she also did that year on the novel and screenplay for the Cliff Richard film Two a Penny. It feels badly disjointed, even for a chaotic romp with random divergences that the show specialized in and runs out of energy in the back half of the episode.
Everyone certainly does the best with what they had to work with, and some folk just run with it. While Furth does a fair, if serviceable, turn and Morton comes across like the poor man’s Ted Cassidy, the show is Buzzi’s for the taking. Her Aunt Mildred feels like she is workshopping her best-known character, Gladys Ormphby, on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. She gives and takes with the band well and makes a great effort to work with her co-stars.
And that’s where the weak parts of the program are most notably evident. The Monkees themselves feel disengaged from the episode; this comes across with every sped-up sequence where something zany is suggested but never turns up. The fact that during the romp that plays over “Goin’ Down” we only get three Monkees for most of it, with Mike nowhere to be seen, just adds to the sense of ennui that comes out of the show.
We end up with a show set entirely at the pad with characters that feel like they’re in the wrong program opposite the stars, and only one song on the soundtrack. Two, technically, if you count the re-use of the “Daydream Believer” music video, which admittedly can cover over a lot of sins:
Watching this episode, you feel the suggested disenfranchisement the band was having with their television show. It doesn’t feel as you watch like they really wanted to be on set for this one.