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: “Here Come the Monkees” (Season 1, Episode 10)
Air date: November 14, 1966
My knowledge of the Monkees is pretty limited. I know the band members and most of their hit songs, but I’ve never watched the TV show and don’t own any of their albums. My parents were never fans, so it never trickled to me. As such, when REBEAT started profiling every episode of The Monkees TV show, I asked if I could review an episode as an outsider. Allison gave me this one because, originally, it was meant to be the series’ pilot episode (though it was later scrapped, rewritten, and re-imagined as “Royal Flush”), but now I think because I must have wronged her somehow.
If you think I didn’t like it because it was corny and poorly produced, know that I will defend Saved By the Bell until I die, so this isn’t about that. If you think it’s because I don’t like things that are so-bad-they’re-good, know that I saw a live production of The Room starring Tommy Wiseau. This is just a bad episode of television in any era.
First, the premise. The Monkees’ manager sets them up for a gig with Mr. Russell, a Generic White Country Club Dad, for his daughter Vanessa’s Sweet 16 party. The band agrees because “exposure” and $150 in cash, which isn’t bad, even by today’s standards. When they go to the country club to audition, Davy immediately falls in love with Vanessa, and they (I think) begin… not exactly dating, but seeing each other.
Vanessa gets hung up on Davy and fails a test at school. The Monkees then team up to help her ace the make-up test, apparently by reenacting the Hamilton-Burr duel in the middle of a public park while yelling about the Boston Tea Party. She passes the test, but the Monkees are banned from contacting her, so they end up crashing her party where they run around for a while before encountering Mr. Russell — only to find out he had a change of heart and wants them to play.
Midway through the set, Davy falls in love with another girl, and apparently his thirstiness is detectable by the whole band, because they all run away together and… that ends the episode. About four minutes of screen tests are tacked on to the end, probably to fill time.
The re-edits from its initial test run are all-too obvious. It occasionally feels like stories are cut in half, and the dialogue skips to punchlines of jokes without setups. Prime examples of both appear during the musical number. Davy has a fantasy about frolicking in an amusement park with Vanessa. Once it ends, he realizes he doesn’t want it, and the show cuts to them on her doorstep with Davy saying, “I never want to see you again!” (presumably to help her focus on her schoolwork) before starting their relationship again for the rest of the episode.
In a matter of seconds, we see him at a country club fantasizing about a girl, realizing he doesn’t want to fantasize about the girl, rejecting the girl after somehow ending up at her house, and starting a relationship with that girl. Also, the girl is 16, and Davy was 20 at the time of filming, so there’s a lot to grapple with here that’s not pleasant.
I know it’s hackneyed to mention that the Monkees didn’t play own instruments, but as a musician myself, watching the way they fool around with their instruments makes me uncomfortable. It’s strange watching them strum along in a way that doesn’t match the music at all, but some of their antics with the instruments create some real anxiety — specifically when one of them says, “Gimme a G” and the other plucks the string off his guitar and hands it over. Changing strings — particularly the lighter strings — is a source of anxiety among guitarists, so and it just took me aback for a second. Yes, I know I’m overanalyzing a stupid joke, and no, I do not care.
[Ed. note – In later episodes, as the Monkees became more proficient in the studio and more comfortable playing together as a unit, there’s a marked difference in their ability to mime, although they did always enjoy poking fun at their “manufactured image” by goofing off. At the time of filming the pilot, only Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork had worked professionally as musicians; Micky Dolenz played guitar but was by no means a drummer… yet. Also, if anyone who wants to send David hate mail for uttering the despicable phrase, “The Monkees didn’t play their own instruments,” see our contact page.]
“Here Come the Monkees” seems to think that mediocre editing is pleasant, people yelling quips at each other is development, and punchlines without setups are jokes. There’s also an unreasonable amount of gunfire that people don’t seem to notice. I know pilots aren’t the best way to judge seasons, but if this is all I knew about the Monkees, I’d probably just skip to buying their albums
Feel free to yell at me in the comments if you disagree. I’m told that Monkees fans think this episode is bad, so I have that going for me. Maybe the next episode I’m assigned will be better — see you then.