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 In Manhattan” (Season 1, Episode 30)
Air date: April 10th, 1967
I’m gonna come right out and say it: “Monkees In Manhattan” is one of the clunkier episodes of The Monkees‘ first season. It almost feels like the writers of this one were running out of ideas by the time they conceived this episode in late September 1966 and shot in early October. Even though it’s not a standout of the first season, however, its light plot does allow for some passable Monkee hijinks and an exploration of themes surrounding what it takes to make it on the Great White Way.
The episode opens with some vintage stock footage of Times Square in the mid-Sixties but then cuts to what is clearly an LA-based set for a hotel. This is disappointing in itself; I would have loved to have seen a Monkees episode shot on location in gritty and wild ’60s New York similar to season two’s “Monkees in Paris.”
The Monkees have just arrived via bus from Los Angeles to New York on the Blim bus line, whose motto is, “it’s such a pleasure to take Blim and leave the driving to them!” They’re there to star in a new rock ‘n’ roll musical by aspiring playwright MacKinley Baker (played with genuine charm by character actor Dick Anders). The only problem is that his backer hasn’t come through (“Baker needs a backer!”), and he’s running low on funds to pay his hotel tab.
This is a story that’s been around as long as aspiring playwrights have tried to make it to Broadway. In this case, 1938, specifically, when the Marx Brothers released their film Room Service, the plot of which this episode liberally borrows.
The owners of the hotel want Baker out in an hour, which triggers a typical, season-one “Monkees vs. the establishment” scenario. (See “Monkees at the Circus” for a more charming example.). The boys really pull out all the stops to keep Baker in his hotel room: Micky dresses up as a doctor and insists that Peter (with dots drawn on his face) can’t be moved from the room. They also switch the room number with that of unwitting newlyweds next door.
What follows is a fairly humdrum romp as the hotel management chases Monkees from floor to floor to the manic tones of “The Girl That I Knew Somewhere.” Significantly, the song is completely Monkees-composed-and-played but was used better last week in “The Monkees Get Out More Dirt.”
Welp, Baker’s backer backs out (try saying that five times fast!), and it’s up to the Monkees to raise the funds so the show can go on. As they’re escorted from the hotel, Micky spots a Millionaires Club across the way. Naturally, they disguise themselves as a funny assortment of the one percent and infiltrate the club to hype Baker’s show. If only it were that easy to get a show funded in NYC — trust me, my life as a comedian/writer would be very different.
While singing “Look Out Here Comes Tomorrow”, the boys attempt to impress the millionaires. As I hinted before, the romps really don’t do it for me in this episode. By the back end of the first season, they’d become trite and predictable; this one features a bunch of recycled footage from older Monkees episodes to fairly blasé effect. Regardless, the butler at the club is more impressed than I, and he funds the show!
The only problem is that the butler backer wants to replace the Monkees with a group of girls. Keeping it classy, the Monkees politely bow out so Baker can achieve his dream of becoming a produced playwright and hop on the next Blim bus back to LA. Their status quo is restored for the next episode.
This isn’t a lot of plot for a full episode, and it unsurprisingly ends a little early. What follows is much more interesting: Monkees co-creator Bob Rafelson conducting a candid interview with four actors out of character. Some highlights include Micky admitting that if he weren’t famous, he’d probably be dating his former science teacher (swoon!), and Mike extolling the virtue of “digging something ugly.” When Rafelson asks Mike why it’s so important for him to buy his own house, he incredulously answers, “to keep the wind off me,” which makes cast and crew alike crack up.
Moments like these give credence to the Monkees being more naturally funnier than their writers at times. Maybe they should have had more creative input into the show? How funny that this rumination is springing forth at the tail end of season one. As restless as we’re feeling with the rote plots and unfunny jokes, the Monkees themselves were right there, too. But we’ll have to see how their streak of demanding creative input shakes out in the fall.
“Monkees in Manhattan” ends with a performance of the Boyce & Hart banger “Words.” Notice the lineup change in the video; the group is configured as many fans argue the “real band” should have been: Micky up front on tambourine, Mike on bass, Peter on guitar, and Davy drumming.
It’s a solid end to a rather shaky episode — one that would have benefited from actual location shooting, stronger writing, and more focus overall. Regardless, the wild highs and lows of the second season beckon!