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: “Everywhere A Sheik, Sheik” (Season 2, Episode 3)
Air date: September 25th, 1967
“Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik” is a fascinating look into not only the evolution of the Monkees as a band and comedy ensemble but the changing social morays of the United States itself.
The episode’s plot is very typical Monkees fare: A king from the far-away Middle-Easternish oil-wealthy land of Nehudi (comedic actor Monty Landis) is forcing his beautiful daughter, Princess Colette (the fetching Donna Loren), to marry. Because Colette doesn’t want to marry her father’s choice, the evil Vidaru (an inexplicably half-bearded Arnold Moss), she picks Davy Jones from a magazine spread instead. All of our boys travel to the country of Nehudi itself for the nuptials and typical Monkee hijinks.
On the surface, this plot synopsis looks like standard season-one Monkees. Davy is forced to marry (this already happened once in season one’s “The Prince and The Paupers”); the Monkees thwart the plots of a baddie; and they romance a bunch of swingin’ Sixties babes in the process, in this case, a harem with nary a brown-skinned girl in sight. (Uh… okay, problematic Sixties TV.)
Some aspects of this episode, however, make it stand out as unique and representative of how the series grew during its hiatus. For one thing, the jokes land better. The Monkees are clearly at the top of their game performing together comedically.
It’s apparent that the recording of their third album, Headquarters, as a straight-up, musician-driven ensemble, and their summer tour bonded the boys in ways that they weren’t the in the first season and the comedy grows by leaps and bounds.
It’s a subtle difference, but it definitely feels like the Monkees are listening and responding to each other here more effectively and ad-libbing lines in a more relaxed fashion. This is a welcome change; the camaraderie between the band is palpable here and a real treat to watch.
Most of the plot reveals ugly stereotypes of episode writer Jack Winter’s preconception of Middle-Eastern culture: polygamy, giant swords, and poisoned food abound. Through a modern viewer’s lense, “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik” is incredibly problematic. Caucasian actors in makeup play all the Nehudians and, other than Princess Colette, they are either characterized as simpletons or brutes. Of course, this episode was written and shot in another time, but it certainly shouldn’t be shown now without a disclaimer about how insensitive it is.
That being said, there is a fascinating plot twist at the end of the episode that involves the villain Vidaru. He is revealed to not be a Nehudian at all, but an evil American oil man in disguise trying to get all of Nehudi’s oil for cheap.
Although this twist doesn’t make up for the rest of the episode’s racism, it does demonstrate Winter’s willingness to play with Westerners’ view of the Middle East. This plot move is a fascinating representation of the United States’ ever-changing and complex relationship with that region of the world.
Finally, the aspect that definitely differentiates this episode from season one is the evolution of the music. Two different songs from the then-upcoming Monkees album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones are represented here in eventual album-track order, the Mann-Weil penned “Love is Only Sleeping” during the romp and the post-plot stinger “Cuddly Toy,” written by Sunset Strip legend Harry Nilsson.
“Love is Only Sleeping” is almost at odds with the playful nature of a Monkees romp. Its light psychedelic nature and moody lyrics show the Monkees as a band moving towards more complex sounds and away from the tween audience they were manufactured for. Mike Nesmith’s raspy lead vocals are almost as good as his astonishing twangy guitar work. The video, shot in the iconic Monkees “Rainbow Room” features the boys in their wild season two looks that characterize them as members of the Sixties counter-culture much more than we had seen from them in the past.
And then there’s the absolute delight that is the video for “Cuddly Toy,” Harry Nilsson’s deceptive music-hall style song that may or may not be about a gang bang (or a vibrator, depending on who you believe). Despite the dubious lyrics, this sequence is an absolute high point of the entire Monkees TV series and sixties-era TV in general.
Although all of our boys appear in delightful vaudeville-era outfits, the number belongs to Davy Jones at his Broadway best and the absolute rock star of my universe: dancer Anita Mann. Mann has a cracklingly playful energy in this number as she dances with Davy in her mod green dress.
I remember seeing this song as a younger Monkees fan. It sold me on the manufactured band as a legitimate artistic concept. It’s a shame that Mann wasn’t utilized for any other Monkees numbers during the series; her chemistry with Jones is pure magic.
The episode ends with the first interview session of season two. It’s noted on-camera that the Monkees look different, as they have clearly broken away from the pre-fab forces that brought them together. Micky discusses how he’s wearing a rug as a pancho that he found at Davy Jones’ pad. This weird clothing became one of Mick’s signature looks.
When discussing one over-zealous fan who attempted to mail herself to the Monkees (I don’t understand how that would work; I guess the mail system in the Sixties was different than it would be today), Davy cracks a hysterical joke when asked what the Monkees did with her: apparently they sent her to the Beatles! This candid goofiness is exemplary of what makes “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik” so charming: The Monkees have fully segued into being the versatile and funny musicians and performers we know and love to this day, and have become self-aware enough to both enjoy and exploit it.