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: “The Picture Frame” (Season 2, Episode 2)
Air date: September 18, 1967
Easily a fan-favorite episode, “The Picture Frame” also has a solid plot, compelling story, and laugh-out-loud moments. Directed by Monkees veteran James Frawley (who, if you’ll remember last week’s edition, won an Emmy for his work on season one) and written by Jack Winter, it was actually the first episode filmed for the show’s second season, although it aired a week after the premiere, “It’s a Nice Place to Visit.”
Our episode begins with three out of four Monkees arriving at Mammoth Studios — which you might remember from “I’ve Got a Little Song Here,” namechecked when Micky plays a studio honcho.
It becomes obvious pretty quickly that these guys, boss J.L. (Cliff Norton) and sidekick Harvey (Jonathan Harper), aren’t actual movie moguls. Well, obvious to everyone except the three Monkees, apparently. The shysters want to hire the Monkees for a “movie” in which they “play” “bank bandits.” Completing a few “casting” tests (so many quotations… so many), the men ask our boys for photographs, and strangely, the only one they apparently carry around isn’t a band promo one-sheet or headshots. Nope, it’s a picture (supposedly) of Davy Jones as a wee lad in the classic naked-baby-on-a-blanket pose.
When the “director,” J.L., asks for something more recent, Micky attempts to snap a photo of Davy and Mike with the two pseudo producers against their vehement protests. The photo ends up in the trash on top of Davy’s baby pic. (You’d think he’d want to keep that, but okay.)
J.L. tells the Monkees that he’s got it all arranged to “shoot” at the bank. He hands them their scripts, informs them they’ll be “filmed” via hidden cameras, and sends them on their way armed with guns and donning gangster pinstripes. For the two criminals, it’s a win-win situation: If the Monkees succeed on their bank-robbing mission, they get the money. If the Monkees fail, they’ll take the fall.
At the bank, Micky, Mike, and Davy burst in haphazardly, trying to impress the cameras they think are hidden in the rafters. The patrons are understandably scared of these bank robbers, but oddly not the bank teller, a pretty blonde stereotypical bimbo-type played by Joy Harmon, who we’ll see again later in the season in “Monkees on the Wheel.” Micky and Davy demand $50,000, to which the teller responds with her catchphrase o’ the episode, “Do you have an account here, sir?”
Meanwhile, Micky relieves the patrons of their cash and valuables, and Mike cleans out the bank’s safe while, predictably, Davy begs the teller for a date as she counts out the $50,000. The three guys make their exit with the goods, but not before Micky has a chance to get in his “imitable” James Cagney impression. As they back out of the doors, Micky announces, “Cut, print!” and is completely unfazed that the onlookers aren’t clapping or responding in any way befitting wrapping a shoot.
Back at the studio, Peter finally shows up after getting his times and places confused. J.L. gives Micky and Mike $100 for the day’s work, and the boys take off. As they exit, the two criminals place an anonymous phone call to the police to report the culprits of the robbery. Why they didn’t leave well enough alone, having ostensibly gotten away with their heist, who knows.
The cops show up at the Monkees’ pad, and always-logical Peter assumes they’ve come to claim his overdue library book, which he slides over the threshold in probably one of the episode’s most LOL-worthy moments thanks to his “tough” expression.
Mike, however, has arrived at the answer: The cops are there for the next day’s filming. So when one officer enters the pad and attempts to haul the boys away, Micky has no qualms about critiquing his acting skills. When the cop takes a second pass at barging into the house, he lets go a volley of gunfire, which should have been enough to alert the Monkees that it isn’t merely acting. But it’s not.
At the precinct, the Monkees watch their onscreen performance at the bank (turns out there actually were hidden cameras). Because they own up to being in the film, the detective decides to book them, despite their protests that they were just making a movie.
The cop grills Mike, Micky, and Davy, who start reciting the round-robin lyrics to “Zilch,” resorting to schtick as they maintain their innocence. But it’s not enough, and the three guys are tossed into a jail cell. Peter, who oddly has managed to escape capture (maybe because he’s not seen on the tape), shows up in a suit and brings a file — a nail file.
Peter asks them an honest question — did they actually do it? They admit they did, this time without the insistence that they were acting in a movie. But did Peter think they were guilty? “I didn’t think you were guilty,” he responds. “I just don’t see how you could possibly be innocent.”
Peter’s also scored them a lawyer who says he can defend Davy because of his good looks, but urges Micky and Mike to “plead guilty.” They forgo the lawyer and, later in the courtroom, the three argue amongst each other over who’s serving as lawyer. The prosecutor calls a prospective juror — Mike in disguise, who flirts with the judge to charm her. (By the way, good job, Monkees, for portraying a female judge. Sure, it’s integral to Mike being able to seduce her, at least in 1967 context, but still. #feminism)
Meanwhile, Peter’s snooping around looking for clues to free his friends. He winds up back at the movie studio and finds the photograph of his three pals with the two criminals, guns and all. Queue this episode’s romp to “Pleasant Valley Sunday” in which the criminals chase Peter trying to get the photo back. We also see clips of the Monkees performing in the “rainbow room” set that will become a hallmark of the second season.
The courtroom has devolved into chaos as Micky takes a turn as the defense lawyer and Mike and Davy pass out hot dogs and popcorn ala event concessions. Then, Davy serves as lawyer and interrogates Micky posing as his mother. Finally, Peter bursts into the courtroom with the evidence as the romp concludes. Unfortunately, he’s grabbed the wrong one and presents the judge with the photo of Davy as a baby. Luckily, the judge deems them innocent because of the cute pic. So does this mean we should all walk around with photos of ourselves as infants on our persons at all times? Probably not, but it works for the Monkees, and the day is saved.
Post-episode, we return to the rainbow room for “Randy Scouse Git” with the boys looking much more psychedelic and trippy than in the preceding episode. Micky’s sporting his trademark tablecloth, Davy’s at the drums, Peter’s hammering away at the piano, and, per usual, Mike plays straight man in a white button-down and black jeans.
Overall, “The Picture Frame” is not only a popular Monkees episode, it’s also one of the best constructed, especially outside of the first season, maybe because it was a leftover script from season one. Though it’s a bit bogged down with schtick and routines, the fact that Peter, so often overlooked as the dummy, ultimately saves the day is unique; typically, when the Monkees go down, they all go down together. It sets Peter up for a few more shining moments further down the road, playing off the sincerity of him asking his friends if they really did something as serious as rob a bank.
And, truth be told, it would have probably been a stronger season opener than last week’s episode, but as a follow-up, it sets expectations high for what is to come.