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: “Monkee Mayor” (Season 2, Episode 4)
Air date: October 2, 1967
As the episode opens, the Monkees are sitting down to dinner in their pad, when suddenly, their neighbors barge in to take back the furniture they’ve loaned the boys over the years. Turns out everyone’s being evicted and their houses are being torn down to make room for a new parking lot. Ever the voice of reason, Mike reassures everyone that this won’t actually happen, as it violates zoning regulations.
Housing crises? Zoning regulations? Is this really the cold open to a Monkees episode? An ironically timed demolition blast and a cut to the opening credits assures us that, yes, it is.
Mike heads down to City Hall to ask the mayor (Irwin Charone, last seen in the season-one episode “I’ve Got A Little Song Here”) what can be done. The answer, of course, is “nothing.” And, Monkees fans, I am sure you will be shocked, shocked, to learn that while the mayor himself is not actively evil, he’s under the thumb of someone who is — and we know this Wilbur Zeckenbush character is evil before he even says a word because he’s played by regular Monkees foil Monte Landis. Zeckenbush’s main goal is to pave paradise (and all the land surrounding paradise) and put up multiple parking lots — “that way, nobody will be able to come in or go out without paying us a toll.”
Back home, all the neighbors have moved into the Monkees’ pad, and everyone’s spirits are low. Mike muses aloud to the other boys that something has to be done “because we don’t want a dictatorial government running this city, and the rights of the individual citizen have gotta be respected, and we’ve gotta get all these people out of our house.”
Micky points out that the only way to get rid of the parking lots is to get rid of the mayor by electing a new one. He nominates Mike as a mayoral candidate, because, well, Mike’s got a hat to throw into the ring. (Or he would if this were season one — since this is season two, his formerly omnipresent wool hat is thrown to him from off-screen.)
Mike tries on various presidential guises as the Monkees search for a campaign angle. George Washington? “Too honest,” says Davy. “Nobody’d ever think of him as mayor.” Abraham Lincoln? “Who’s this bearded weirdo?” Micky scoffs. And the folksy aphorisms of LBJ? “That’s terrible, Mike,” Davy proclaims. “No politician would ever say a thing like that.”
Micky takes on the role of campaign manager, Davy is Mike’s aide-de-camp, and Peter is the “campy aide.” With the campaign launched, it’s time for a romp, this time to the tune of “No Time,” a cut from the Headquarters album, credited to recording engineer Hank Cicalo but, in fact, written by the Monkees themselves. Its fast-paced, freewheeling lyrics, joyful choruses, honky-tonk piano, and liberal amounts of studio chatter make it a perfect musical accompaniment for a wacky campaign trail montage.
It soon becomes apparent that Mike’s campaign is the victim of what Peter terms “political sabatooge.” Mike suspects the mayor’s goons, and the boys head down to city hall to investigate. Right away, Peter finds a skeleton in the closet — no, a literal skeleton — to which he reacts with the perfect Jim Halpert look (12 years before John Krasinski was even born).
Eventually, they find the parking lot plans and snap a picture of them — just in time for the mayor and Zeckenbush to walk into the office. The Monkees hide in the closet while Zeckenbush plots aloud to find Mike and break him in two.
Zeckenbush’s first plan is to dig up some dirt on Mike, but as the mayor’s secretary quickly discovers, there’s no dirt to be found: “No arrests, no firings — he even brushes his teeth three times a day.”
Meanwhile, it seems that Peter was using his artistic license when he took that picture of the evidence. (“When you’re the photographer, you can take pictures of what you want to take pictures of,” he stammers, as the others glare at his carefully developed shot of a filing cabinet.) With no evidence of the parking lot scheme, and no more money to finance the campaign, it seems that Mike’s bid for mayor is over as quickly as it began.
But wait! What’s this? Anonymous donors have sent hundreds and thousands of dollars to Mike! Micky buys publicity from the local newspaper, Peter hires a skywriter, and Davy finds his way into the control room of the local TV station, where Mike will be giving a statement.
But wait! What’s this? The anonymous donor turns out to be none other than Zeckenbush himself. And Mike can’t go on TV and expose Zeckenbush when he’s now just as deep in Zeckenbush’s pocket as the mayor himself. What’s a naive and idealistic young mayoral candidate to do?
Michael Nesmith’s best moments in The Monkees are always the ones in which he plays sincere rather than wacky. More than any of the other Monkees, Nesmith shines in the show’s rare quiet scenes, and he can deliver a moral message that feels honest and authentic even though we all know it’s been scripted:
“Politics is a real interesting game, but it’s a dirty one, too, as I’ve found out. And I don’t guess I’m tough enough to play that game. In the beginning, when I started all this, I sorta wanted to do something for the city…There are some people in this town who are without power. And they’re people like my next-door neighbors. And what I wanted to do was go down to City Hall and make their voice be heard, because I didn’t think it was right, just because they didn’t have any power, that nobody would listen to ’em.”
I’d vote for him.
The mayor himself is moved by Mike’s speech, and he promises not to build the parking lots after all. Zeckenbush is arrested. Everything is, as Peter remarks, “just dandy.”
One more time, cue the demolition crew… and then it’s time for “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”