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 at the Movies” (Season 1, Episode 31)
Air date: April 17, 1967
Coming off of last week’s rather humdrum Monkees episode, “Monkees at the Movies” feels like a breath of fresh air. Heck, it wouldn’t even be an exaggeration to say that it feels like a big gulp of laughing gas-laced air. It’s essentially, dare I say it, the perfect show: the writing is as witty as ever; the plot is fun and relatively simple; and the boys — who are always chock-full of youthful energy anyway — appear as though they could have chugged three Red Bulls each.
Maybe it was the beachy sunshine that revitalized their verve. Or perhaps it was the presence of all those bikini-clad pageant girls. But the most probable explanation for their heightened enthusiasm is that “Monkees at the Movies” was filmed pretty early on during the shooting of the first season, around the time they had fine-tuned their chemistry but were still fairly fresh to the gig.
The episode begins with the Monkees playing a rousing game of checkers on the beach (really, isn’t that everyone’s favorite oceanside activity?). Micky has either won this round or is utterly sick of it, because he grabs a handful of the game’s pieces and flings them into the sand. “My checkers!” Peter exclaims as he runs to retrieve them. But the sand is scalding hot, causing him to jump about in pain. Wanting to see for themselves, Davy, Micky, and Mike all stand in the sand, and all end up mimicking Peter’s flailing.
While they’re going bananas (get it? Monkees? Bananas? Sorry), B-list movie director Luther Kramm (played by Jerry Lester) and his assistant, Philo (Hamilton Camp), spot the “typical teenage” boys doing what they believe to be “a typical new dance step.” Kramm recruits the Monkees to be extras in his new film, I Married a Creature From Out of Town. They’re a bit hesitant at first, but once Kramm mentions the gig pays $30 per day, they eagerly scramble into swimsuits and onto surfboards, smiles all around.
(Side note: the first three times I watched this episode, I completely missed this beginning part of the plot because I was so transfixed by Kramm’s futuristic blue shades. Is it just me, or is anybody else getting Geordi La Forge from Star Trek: The Next Generation vibes?)
On the film set, we meet the star of I Married a Creature From Out of Town. His name’s Frankie Catalina (Bobby Sherman), a very obvious spin on teen idol Frankie Avalon. (No, seriously: the city of Avalon is located on Catalina Island, right off the coast of Southern California. Well played, writers, well played.)
He struts out of his dressing tent, showing off his flawlessly coiffed yellow-blonde hair and bronzed skin. It’s clear that the boys are instantly turned off by Catalina’s cocky demeanor, but Kramm is determined to make “a picture that teenagers will watch, even in a drive-in” — if you catch my drift.
Right from the get-go, the Monkees do everything they can to disrupt the production and make Catalina look bad. He quickly calls them out, threatening to have them thrown off the set. “You’re dime-a-dozen extras, and I’m a star,” says Catalina — which, in reality, is pretty ironic, being that Bobby Sherman himself was a bit of a no-name and didn’t really become popular for another year or so (for his role on Here Come the Brides), while the Monkees were one of the hottest groups of the day.
A whole heap of hijinks happens during filming, courtesy of Micky, Davy, Mike, and Peter — and the pranks didn’t only end up on the blooper reel. As “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” plays cheerfully in the background, Catalina, Kramm, and Philo watch the movie footage, all of which has been sabotaged by the Monkees. The humiliation ultimately causes Catalina to walk out of his film contract altogether.
The Monkees wonder who will take Catalina’s place in the film with him now (quite literally) out of the picture. Mike suggests that Davy try out for the part, but Davy isn’t thrilled with that idea. The scene then immediately cuts to the boys acting out an old Western staple to the tune of “Last Train to Clarksville,” with Mike and a mustachioed Micky tying Peter onto some train tracks and heroic Davy rescuing him. It’s all pretty campy — but then again, if you’re watching The Monkees expecting reasonable scenarios, you should probably switch to another show.
Back at the Monkees’ pad, Davy’s still insistent that he “doesn’t want to be a star.” They decide to draw straws to see who will audition for Catalina’s role — and in a wonderful play on words, they actually put pens to paper and sketch out straws. Davy draws the short straw (of course). Now they just have to get Kramm to cast him.
Peter, Mike, and Micky make sure that Davy’s name is constantly in Kramm’s ear, acting as teenagers fawning over a Davy Jones record (Davy’s actual album released on Colpix Records a year before The Monkees debuted) and as reporters badgering Kramm about casting him. But the best stunt they pull has got to be seizing control of Kramm’s radio signal and broadcasting Davy over it.
DJ “Micky the D” announces that Davy Jones currently has the top three songs on the charts: “Teardrops in the Playground,” “These Boots Are Made for Kicking,” and “It’s Been Lonesome in the Saddle Since My Horse Died.” All of these, mind you, are just various incarnations of the same song. (If you only watch one scene from this episode, let it be this one. It’s genuinely laugh-out-loud hilarious.)
Long story short, Davy gets the part. Back on set, he enters exactly as Catalina had earlier in the episode, with that same yellow blonde hair and bronzed skin. (Was their identical styling and blocking a subtle commentary on the replaceability of teen stars? About the fickleness of fame? I’m likely reading too far into it, but it’s still an interesting thought.)
But as quickly as he gets the role, he quits it, telling Kramm that “all this is spoiling my character.” That’s when we get this great, little, unexpected montage of eight of Davy’s most memorable personas — a painter, a baker, a knight, a boxer, and so on — reminding us of all the adventures we’ve had with the Monkees so far this season. (So if you only watch two scenes in this episode, let it be the radio segment mentioned above and this one.)
Video footage of “Valleri” ensues. Pretty straightforward, with the only noteworthy bit being that Davy’s tambourine does not match up with the tambourine in the recording at all. Like, not even slightly. But he looks really pensive and cute, so it’s okay.
Like the previous episode, “Monkees at the Movies” ends with some interview footage of the boys off-duty. When asked about their reactions to people claiming they don’t play their own instruments, they say the accusations are absurd. It’s an oddly meta moment for a fake band of (mostly) real musicians who portray a real band and now tour as a real band but are still widely considered a fake band. The line between characters “Davy,” “Micky,” “Peter,” and “Mike” and real-life people Davy, Micky, Peter, and Mike becomes increasingly blurred.
As we’ll see next week, this second-to-last episode was the last one with a “traditional” plot for the season. Its finale would set the tone for the sharp left turn the series would take in the fall.