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: “I Was A Teenage Monster” (Season 1, Episode 18)
Air date: January 16, 1967
Ahhhh — episode 18, “I Was a Teenage Monster,” in which the Monkees run around an old house. It won’t be the first time — or the last, folks. This episode didn’t conform to the standard opening of the group hanging out in their beach house and receiving a call to action, one of the first breaks from the sitcom format that would alter much more dramatically in season two.
However, it’s still season one, and a lot of the old tropes are on parade: the Monkees are wearing their classic six-button shirts (one of the rare times they wear them for the entire episode!), Davy gets to make out with a girl, and Micky makes a mess of everything.
The plot, a parody of old teenage horror drive-in movies is skimpy. A mad Dr. Mendoza (played by character actor John Hoyt) has a scheme with his assistant, Groot (not a charming talking plant Marvel Comics character but a perfunctory Byron Foulger) to transfer the Monkees’ voices into his “android.”
This is an odd use of the term, as the monster much more resembles a Frankenstein-type being with bolts in his ears instead of his neck. How the android hears music is never explained and is part of the gag. He’s played by Dick Keil, who later found fame playing a giant animatronic shark in the Jaws movies. Or was he a henchman in some James Bond flicks? I don’t know. Guys, I’m a serious music writer. SERIOUS.
Anywho, we open when the Monkees enter a spooky castle with the intention of playing a party. But Dr. Mendoza informs them that they’re there to (and imagine a good Dr. Scratchensniff Animaniacs voice here) “create ze greatest rock ‘n’ roll singer in ze vorld!” Then, a sheet is pulled off of Dr. Mendoza’s android and the “fun” begins.
The boys start by giving the android a Mod makeover. They teach him some spastic dance moves, and he knocks into them, splaying our tiny Davy on the floor. The android then tried to play guitar and wrecks it. He bangs on the drums, smashing them and the drumsticks to pieces. These are the level of gags on display in this episode, and they’re… well… not quite the most brilliant of the series, to put it lightly.
It’s then revealed that Dr. Mendoza’s secret plan is to transfer the Monkees’ voices to the Android, although why he’d bother with Tork’s, I’ll never know. I kid, Peter Tork fanboys and girls! Peter’s voice is great when it’s utilized fitly — which it isn’t in this episode.
The Monkees are shown to their room for the night and are picked off one by one by hidden and goofy traps. The best one is Davy falling into a hole in the couch, while the most predictable is Mike getting trapped in a rotating wall. Cut to all the Monkees strapped to a big sci-fi machine with those metal helmets connected by wires to the android.
Switches are switched and levers are… uh… levered, and the Monkees voices are transferred to the android, illustrated by him doing a lip synch to the Monkees’ ubiquitous theme song. Dr. Mendoza uses a Men in Black-like device to make the Monkees forget the whole thing ever happened until the next day when they discover they can’t sing or play their instruments and bizarrely remember what happened.
Dr. Mendoza straps the Monkees to the sci-fi machine for reinforcement again, but this time Micky uses a vaudevillian hook to reverse the machine and get their talents back. Hijinks ensue (just like when Micky tries to do anything), and Mike’s voice gets replaced by the android’s. Then, the android’s voice gets replaced by a vaguely offensive effeminate voice! Dr. Mendoza tries to convince the Android to kill our boys, but the budding friendship between Tork and the android inspires a traditional Monkees romp instead.
This particular romp is set to the dulcet tones of Peter Tork’s “Your Auntie Grizelda.” Co-written by Jack Keller, a Brill Building songwriter who wrote some hits for Connie Francis, this is a divisive song if there ever was a divisive Monkees song. It seems like a lot of older fans have a real affinity for it, especially when Peter Tork sings it live, adorned with ’90s-style boy-band microphone. For the rest of us, it’s pretty insufferable. I’m guessing this is a case of a childhood nostalgia favorite not standing the test of time.
The Monkees somehow elude the android and tie up Dr. Mendoza and that’s the end of the episode! Anything I forgot? Oh yeah! THERE IS A BEAUTIFUL GIRL HIDING IN THE CLOSET FOR THE WHOLE EPISODE WTF. The Monkees keep finding her, and she explains that she’s going to be in the sequel episode as Dr. Mendoza’s daughter. This is a somewhat funny and meta joke in an episode that’s otherwise pretty uninspired. At one point Davy smooches her, but what else is new?
As you, beautiful and brilliant readers can probably tell by now, this was not my favorite Monkees episode. Now, I adore the Monkees and have devoted a lot of my adult life to chronicling their misadventures. Although this episode is a misstep, behind the scenes it represents some of the first attempts to push the format of the show into places that would be very rewarding in their fast-approaching season two.
Also, the Monkees literally left shooting “I Was A Teenage Monster” to start rehearsing for their third album, Headquarters: a brilliant LP on which they played “every stinkin’ note,” as Micky Dolenz has said. So, the lesson here is sometimes you need to leave your day job acting out unfunny misadventures wading through a retread of old horror flicks to push towards the future of your band and change the pop music landscape for the better.
A final note, the episode title “I Was a Teenage Monster” was probably named after this awesome novelty song by The Keytones:
And, this rare, early, Oingo Boingo song was probably named after this very Monkees episode: