Last 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: “Monkee Mother” (Season 1, Episode 27)
Air date: March 20th, 1967
Two weeks ago, the Monkees went up against gangsters. Last week, it was international spies (and cringe-worthy racial stereotypes!). But this week, they face their toughest foe yet: a mother figure.
As the episode begins, the boys are arguing with their landlord, Mr. Babbitt (Henry “Fred Flinstone” Corden), who’s accusing them of violating the terms of their lease. “I think you’re making all this up,” Davy says, to which Peter adds, “Yeah, you just want an excuse to make us pay our rent!” Above their protests, Mr. Babbitt makes his big announcement: a new tenant, “a lovely woman,” will be arriving in one hour. “You can introduce yourselves on the way out,” Mr. Babbitt sneers, suddenly sporting the cape and top hat of a melodrama’s villain. As the wind howls and a snowstorm rages, the Monkees wail, plead, and rend their garments — all to no avail.
Enter the lovely woman herself: Millie Rudnick (Rose Marie, in her second appearance on the show), who promptly plops down her suitcases and addresses her stuffed animal traveling companions with a cheery, “Fellas, we’re here!” She then turns her attention to the Monkees with perfectly snarky passive aggression. “No, don’t get up,” she says to the dumbfounded boys. “Finish convalescing. I’ll teach my bags to walk in by themselves.”
Millie offers to let the Monkees stay on as her tenants. But she’s disgusted by the sloppy state of the beach pad, and they’re none too happy to be reduced to working as furniture movers and maids. Peter even loses his coveted job as “the one who gets to put the filth out on Mondays.”
Soon, though, Millie and the boys begin to connect. She compliments an apron-clad Mike on his cleaning skills, and intuits that he grew up taking a lot of responsibility in a family without much money (well, at least until that whole Liquid Paper thing happened). In a touching conclusion to the exchange, she promises to do something special for him, and asks, “What can Millie do for you?” With real sadness in his puppy-dog eyes, Mike replies, “Make me a success.” And just like that, a million fangirls — this writer included — sigh in a unison awww.
Millie’s less than impressed. “What good is success if you catch a cold?” she asks. “I’ll make you a sweater.”
Millie even lets down her guard a bit with Davy, confessing that in her old neighborhood, while she would call out to her neighbors from her window all day long, “nobody ever called back.” “I would have called back, Millie,” says Davy, turning on his own puppy-dog sincerity, and the fangirls sigh in unison again.
After dinner, Millie settles in to listen to the Monkees practice, and as the lovely Goffin/King-penned “Sometime in the Morning” plays, she loses herself in an adorable fantasy sequence.
Then, things get weird.
First, Millie comes home from the supermarket bearing a gift for Davy: an English girl named Clarice. (“I don’t know where we’re gonna put her,” says Peter. “There’s no room in the refrigerator.”) Next, two of Millie’s friends, Arthur and Judy, come by for a visit. They bring their four kids, who’re dressed in Army fatigues and are brandishing pop guns.
While Millie and Judy catch up, Larry the moving man (William Bramley) drops in, hoping for some cheesecake; Arthur takes a bath with a large inflatable shark; the kids terrorize the Monkees; Mr. Babbitt storms in to demand an explanation for all the chaos; and a peanut and popcorn vendor follows him in to capitalize on it. Millie finally ushers everyone out to the beach, leaving behind Micky, Davy, Mike, and Peter, all of whom have been tied up and gagged by their tiny assailants.
Oddly enough, it’s not Millie’s house guests that motivate the Monkees to get rid of her — it’s their realization that they’ve absorbed some of her maternal nature. The next day finds Micky feeding a bib-wearing Peter (“Chew carefully! How’re you going to be President if you don’t chew carefully?”) as Mike and Davy look on in disgust. Clearly, there’s only one thing to do: find Millie a husband. Cue Larry the moving man, knocking at the door hoping for more cheesecake. The boys promptly invite him to stay for dinner. Peter and Micky help Millie prepare for the evening, while Davy and Mike coach Larry in the lexicon of love (“Millie, your eyes are like cupcakes floating in a sea of sour cream”).
Millie and Larry enjoy a candlelit dinner on the porch, accompanied by Peter and Mike on guitar (playing an instrumental version of “Don’t Call On Me,” which would appear later that year on Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd.). Millie regales Larry with stories of all her friends’ various ailments — which Larry apparently finds very charming, because the next thing we know, they’re cutting the cake at their wedding. Julie, Arthur, their kids, Clarice, Mr. Babbitt, and even the popcorn vendor are there to celebrate, and while the Monkees play (the completely inappropriate) “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow),” Mr. Babbitt finds himself tied up by Julie and Arthur’s little darlings.
The bride and groom prepare to drive off to their new home, but not before Millie gives some final advice to her old tenants (“Peter, don’t you get overheated playing ping-pong all alone”) and promises to visit them again… for dinner that night. A beleaguered Larry hauls the last bit of furniture into his van and rolls his eyes at the Monkees: “Eyes like cupcakes floating in sour cream, huh.”
“Monkee Mother” is one of the sweetest episodes of the series — which might be an odd thing to say about an episode whose IMDB keywords include “eviction,” “death of husband,” “tied to bed,” “bound and gagged,” and “held at gunpoint.”
But Rose Marie gives a wonderful performance, and her interactions with the Monkees and Larry keep her character — and the episode — grounded in the midst of all the slapstick. The Monkees, too, are at their most sincere here, a quality that’s often lost as the show moves further along in its run. Watching this episode, you can’t help but root for these four goofy (but ultimately kind) boys.
And if you also drifted away in a Millie-style daydream about waltzing with them… well, I wouldn’t judge. I’ve been doing the same for twenty years.