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: “Monkees a la Mode” (Season 1, Episode 24)
Air date: February 27, 1967
This particular episode is one of my all-time favorites for obvious reasons. I love that it incorporates journalism and illustrates that women were making their mark on the field in the mid-’60s. In real life, editors like Gloria Stavers of 16 magazine and Ann Moses of Tiger Beat were working their magic in print, elevating the Monkees to rock-star status in the hearts and minds of young people around the world.
“Monkees a la Mode” centers around Chic magazine and its “Typical Young Americans” award, bestowed upon upstanding, cultured, and exemplary youth. Naturally, the Monkees are none of these (perhaps cultured, depending on who you ask). Hilarity ensues, the four musicians triumph as heroes, and they live to play another day.
This episode, however, is where the series starts to morph into its second-season wackiness. Most of that is thanks to Alexander Singer, who makes his Monkees directorial debut here. Singer would go on to direct five of season two’s keystone episodes, imparting the inside-jokey, off-the-wall, and deliciously stoned touches that so distinctly cut the series in half.
Patrice Wymore stars as Madame Quagmeyer, Chic‘s posh, holier-than-thou editor from Hell. Wymore was perhaps most famous for her marriage to Errol Flynn (to whom Davy Jones would compare himself in some of his more “swashbuckling” Monkees scenes), though she did act in a few memorable films, including 1960’s Oceans 11. Her role in this episode would be one of her last before effectively retiring from acting.
Rounding out the Chic staff are character actor Eldon Quick as staff photographer and resident kiss-ass Rob Roy Fingerhead (whose name becomes a running joke between Micky and Mike throughout the episode) and Toby Willis, portrayed by Valerie Kairys. This is Kairys’ ninth appearance in the series, but her first and only featured role. Take a look back at earlier season-one episodes and you’ll spot her in the background of most party and dance scenes.
Toby, ever the intrepid girl reporter, proposes a feature on the Monkees for Chic. Rob Roy takes one look at their photos and declares them, as so many have before, “long-haired weirdos.” But Madame Quagmeyer reassures him they’ll “make them over into our own image.”
Back at the Monkees’ pad, the boys receive an issue of Chic and a letter that they’ve been selected as the “typical young Americans of the year.” Cue a stop-motion segment set to the series’ theme song, a direct rip-off of A Hard Day’s Night.
Peter is quick to point out that the magazine also has a cereal of the month — “this month, it’s Corn Flakes.” Even casual fans will recognize this as a push for the series’ sponsor, Kellogg’s. If it wasn’t immediately obvious, Mike obviously eating Corn Flakes and cradling the box in his arms might be a tip-off.
Toby and Rob Roy visit the Monkees. “We want to show what you are and the way you live,” Toby says. Davy responds, “You want to get us arrested?” After a thorough walk-through of the beach house among “cheap, ugly claptrap,” Rob Roy delares them unsuitable to represent typical young people in the pages of Chic. Mike responds that they aren’t typical young people, saying “Young people just aren’t typical anything.”
Toby urges them to think of their careers, and they relent. At the magazine office, Madame Quagmeyer reluctantly meets the Monkees and introduces them to a trio of college-educated young models. Micky and Davy try unsuccessfully to woo the ladies during interviews, while Mike unleashes some
Texas justice sassy snark. Meanwhile, Peter, in typical Peter fashion, tries to emulate a cherubic lamp.
Rob Roy attempts to arrange the boys for photographs and teach them the basics of posing. (Note that Davy is wearing the shirt Bobby Sherman will later wear in “Monkees at the Movies” [S1E31].) In the overreaction of the century, Rob Roy, annoyed at Micky’s distracted and incessant drumming during a fashion lesson, pulls a gun and threatens to kill him. Damn.
After a bit of rapidfire dialogue and hijinks involving a stack of clothing, “Laugh” soundtracks the episode’s one and only romp. Interestingly, the track was included on the Monkees’ second album, More of the Monkees, which, as you’ll remember, was released without the group’s knowledge and ultimately led to the ousting of music supervisor Don Kirshner. Kirsher’s firing was concurrent with this episode’s airing, but his name still appears in the end credits.
Originally, the romp sequence was supposed to include the Goffin/King tune “So Goes Love,” but was replaced at the last minute. (The track would go unreleased until 1987’s Missing Links compilation.)
Much of the footage included here was actually filmed at the same time as “Monkees a la Mode,” evidenced by Rob Roy’s dogged picture-taking pursuit as the boys parade around with oversized props, pose mannequin Mike in the pad wearing sleek tuxedos, and jump on a trampoline with a chicken. Of course, there’s a healthy amount of “stock” shots of the actors clowning around on the Columbia Ranch, too.
Toby turns in her story on the Monkees, which Madame Quagmeyer quickly deposits in the “circular file.” (Not many scenes in The Monkees get to me, but as a writer who’s also had editors scrap stories, this one’s like a punch in the gut.) Rob Roy, anticipating that Toby’s story
Rob Roy, anticipating that Toby’s story would, unfortunately, capture the band as they are without any dressing up, hands Quagmeyer his version. A pleased Madame Quagmeyer dubs it “divoon.”
The Monkees’ are mystified when their friends and girlfriends turn on them. Mike quips, “This just doesn’t seem to be our day,” which I think is a pretty great name for a song. Don’t you, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart?
Toby arrives with a copy of Chic and reads them Rob Roy’s farce of a feature. “The Monkees are the typical fun people. The divoon, madcap boys for whom every day is a gay adventure. The boys are gourmets all, their favorite delicacy being pheasant under glass. Their favorite sports are polo and croquet. Their taste in music runs to chamber music and organ recitals.”
In retribution for the article, Toby tells them she quit her job. While the Monkees try and dissuade her, Micky relays a telegram from Madame Quagmeyer reminding them to be at the banquet in their honor that evening. Davy instructs Micky to reply with “Monkee telegram 26-A,” “The one that reads, ‘You can take your trophy, and –‘”
At the banquet for the mag’s many advertisers, Madame Quagmeyer declares the Monkees are, “the epitome of everything for which Chic magazine stands.” On cue, the boys start acting up. The “picture of grace,” Peter Tork, trips over the podium. Davy Jones, “the embodiment of the Chic quoffre” is rather obviously wearing a wig. Micky Dolenz screams into the mic in manic fashion, shirking his title as “the paragon of quiet gentility.”
Superlative-less Mike is called upon to receive the award, which looks a lot like a large, wooden Star Trek insignia. Instead of accepting, he dedicates it to Rob Roy, crediting him with crafting their image and “everything you’ve seen here.” Quagmeyer kicks out Rob Roy, and the Monkees head into the crowd, further wreaking havoc on the beautiful people.
Presumably the next day, the Monkees show up at the Chic office to see about a retraction. But when Madame Quagmeyer’s power chair spins around, it’s Toby in the editor’s seat (go, girl), Quagmeyer and Rob Roy reduced to her lowly assistants. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
The episode concludes with a performance of “You Just May Be the One.” Although the same clip appears in “One Man Shy (Peter and the Debutante),” among other episodes, this is the only appearance to feature the full version of this song. Soon enough, the Monkees will head into the studio and recut a new version for their third album, Headquarters.
Notice that we’ve made it all the way through the episode without one of the Monkees falling in love with our female protagonist. Had Toby shared a heart-to-heart talk with Davy (or a kiss), it would have weakened the plot and probably destroyed the episode by transitioning her motivation from professional to romantic.
Leave it to The Monkees to make a “progressive” statement that working women should be treated with respect. Add that to the series’ countercultural tote board.