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: “Fairy Tale” (Season 2, Episode 16)
Air date: January 8, 1968
Back in the prehistoric era known as the late ’90s, there existed a singular VHS tape. This magical, precious amalgam of plastic held within it four very sacred segments of cinematic history. This tape was, in fact, also included within a holy vessel, preserved and protected by whoever was lucky enough to call it their own.
Of course, I’m talking about the Monkees’ Our Favorite Episodes video that came inside a replica Monkees lunchbox.
Honestly, I don’t even remember how I got the thing (we may have sent away for it), but what I do know is that for all of those kiddos who discovered The Monkees after Nick-at-Nite reran the series for a few glorious weeks in the summer of ’97, and who couldn’t afford or find the crown jewel of all Monkees collections back then (the whole series on VHS, of course), it was our touchstone to the TV series.
With only these four episodes as my reference to the entire Monkees series for well over a decade, naturally, one of them was my favorite. It also happened to be the favorite of Michael Nesmith: “Fairy Tale.” Though I’ve tried to make up for lost time since, thanks to the re-release of the series in several versions and, oh, yeah, YouTube, and replaced “Fairy Tale” with “The Monkees on Tour” as my favorite, this episode still holds a special place in my heart.
It’s also, as we’re seeing as we venture down the dark and twisty rabbit hole known as The Monkees‘ second season, where the show takes a turn and teeters on the rails, breaking format for the first (but not the last) time. Monkees’ pad? Gone! Vincent Van Gogh Gogh? In the rearview mirror, folks. Indeed, the setting for this episode is a strikingly barebones storybook land; while its minimalism is still beautiful in its own way, it definitely gives credence to the rumor that the series was over budget when it came time to produce “Fairy Tale.”
The episode is heralded by the town crier (Regis Cordic), who introduces us to the residents of the fictional Avon-on-Calling: Mike, the cobbler; Davy, the tailor; Micky, the innkeeper; and Peter, “And I’m outta work.” Although Mike, Micky, and Davy will each take on multiple roles in “Fairy Tale,” it’s technically a “Peter” episode since he only portrays himself. (For good reason, though, many consider this a “Mike” episode, as we’ll see.)
Why is Peter unemployed? Because he’s obsessed with
and probably stalking Princess Gwen, who, on cue, appears in a carriage that’s stuck in the mud. (Well, there’s a sign indicating there’s mud, so let’s just go with it.)
Princess Gwen, for the uninitiated, is Michael Nesmith in drag. (Mike, predictably, becomes similarly smitten with the royal.) He’s probably the least likely of the four to suit this role — indeed, he was the last to dress in drag on the show — but that’s exactly why he steals the spotlight.
Gwen’s bae, Harold — kind of a jerk — screams at her horsemen and attendees to pull the carriage “from out the mud in which it is lodged.” No dice, so Peter offers to carry Gwen across the mud. After she puts him in his place, she “honors his spine with a walk across it,” as does Harold — multiple times. Gwen then threatens Harold (played by comic and writer Murray Roman) that unless he gets her the eff outta there, she’s not going to marry him.
While the carriage is presumably getting, uh, unstuck, Harold and his henchman, Richard (John Lawrence), head to Micky’s inn for a bite. After some schtick in which Micky packs the table with food and furniture, Peter overhears the two knights plotting to kill his beloved Princess Gwen.
Peter rushes back to the carriage to try to warn her, but the knights return and the party gets underway back to the castle. Before they leave, however, Gwen gives Peter her locket, “junk” to her, but a treasure to him.
Peter shares the murder plot with the other three. bites the locket and there appears the Fairy of the Locket (Diane Shalet). She give each of the boys jobs to help Peter save the princess: Mike will cut a pair of shoes that can scale high walls, Davy will sew a suit of mail nothing can penetrate, and Micky will forge a kitchen knife into a sword that can cut through iron. (Peter, if you’re wondering, will sit around and collect unemployment while his friends are working.)
She then gives them one more important instruction: not to crush, damage, or lose the locket. Not because it’ll lose its powers, but because “I’ll be killed, stupid, it’s my home.”
At the tower, Harold chains Gwent to the wall as Peter embarks on his quest to save her. As he ventures through the forest, he meets Little Red Riding Hood (Davy), Hansel and Gretel (Micky and Davy, respectively), and Goldilocks (Micky) before he finally makes it to the castle.
There, Peter encounters the Dragon of the Moat, who delivers a very peace-and-love message that Peter should put his sword away, he’s had enough violence in his life. Instead, the dragon asks Peter a riddle: “What has two ears, two eyes, and a very short life?” Peter’s answer: “I don’t know.” Close enough, the dragon says, so Peter enters.
Richard attempts to halfheartedly attack Peter with a barrage of weapons but isn’t successful, thanks to Peter’s wardrobe, courtesy of his pals, and his Magic Locket. He scales the tower’s walls, enters Gwen’s cell, and wants to escape with her down the walls, but she’s afraid of heights.
Peter then makes the mistake of telling her the locket she gave him is magic, so, of course, she wants it back, and he forks it over. Even when Peter engages Richard and Harold in battle, Gwen refuses to give it back to him so he can defeat them.
(By the way, I’m not going to get on my feminist soapbox about how thinly veiled the misogyny is in Princess Gwen’s mannerisms, as she’s clearly meant to depict a stereotypical nagging, fickle, stubborn woman. Everyone, take a deep breath with me and repeat: ‘Twas a different time, ’twas a different time…)
Meanwhile, back in town, the Crier tells Mike, Micky, and Davy that Peter has been caught trespassing and is set to be executed. The three venture through the forest and separate to find the castle. Finally, all three reach the castle and answer the dragon’s riddle correctly. (If you’re wondering, the answer is “three dumb peasants” — naturally, Peter’s riddle was multiplied by three.)
Micky, Mike, and Davy arrive just as Harold is about to throw Gwen over the castle’s parapet and announce that they’re there to save the day. Harold advises Gwen to “flee, flee in terror; this is no place for a woman, this is man’s work.” (‘Twas a different time…)
The battle ensues, and as it looks like the good guys are losing, Gwen tosses Peter the locket and they win.
At the end of the day, Harold is tied up and chastised by Gwen for trying to kill the woman he was going to marry. To Peter, she offers any wish his heart desires in gratitude for her safety. The guys urge Peter to propose, and when he does, Gwen ceremoniously takes off her wig to reveal she’s actually Mike, who informs Peter he’s already married to Phyllis.
As wacky as this entire episode is, this exchange is wild because it goes beyond breaking the fourth wall and oddly unites Michael Nesmith, the actor, with Mike Nesmith, the Monkee.
Without a romp, the episode concludes with a tag interview (in which they’re all clearly baked, except for Mike, who’s dressed in a suit as his three compatriots don their hippie garb, and who also throws some major shade their way) and “Daily, Nightly” a Michael Nesmith-penned poem-turned-song inspired by the riots on the Sunset Strip in 1967 featuring historic Mood synthesizer contributions from Micky.
So, there it is: The Monkees‘ 1968 premiere that signaled a real shift in the series. Where we saw a few indicators that this season was diverting a bit from the first earlier, this is a blunt foreshadowing of what’s to come later.
Watching this episode for the first time in a few years for this piece was fun and more than a little nostalgic; particularly when “Daily, Nightly” comes on, I still feel like I’m 12 years old watching my old VHS at two in the morning, fascinated and a little freaked out by the Moog’s alien sounds. Of course, I’m not any of that anymore, but this episode is a great reminder of another lifetime ago in more ways than one.