This past 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: “The Spy Who Came In From the Cool” (Season 1, Episode 5)
Air date: October 10, 1966
Before we dive into the Monkees’ onscreen antics, let’s take a minute to look at the people behind the scenes. “The Spy Who Came In From the Cool” is the first of 22 Monkees episodes written by Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso, the team behind the popular series Get Smart.
Their first contribution to The Monkees is what they know best: an espionage-centered comedy. Band and show creator Bob Rafelson takes the director’s chair once again, having previously directed the third episode, “Monkee vs. Machine.” With these creatives at the helm, you can guarantee you’re in for quite a ride.
As the episode begins, we find the boys hopping out of the Monkeemobile clad in those nifty matching red shirts. Davy is lamenting about how he wants some new maracas. Micky, Peter, and Mike aren’t as keen on the idea, saying Davy should save his money.
Immediately after this exchange, the scene cuts to the inside of a secondhand store. Behind the counter, a rotund, Russian-accented man named Boris holds a pair of red maracas. A similarly accented woman called Madame (whose outfit is sorta similar to Carmen Sandiego’s signature red getup, but in gray) instructs him to sell the maracas to a “short man.”
What a stroke of luck for 5’3″ Davy, right? How convenient that they have exactly what he wants!
What’s not so convenient, though, is that these maracas have been filled with microfilm, and the Russian duo is a pair of spies. These poor Monkees can never seem to catch a break.
Just as Madame leaves the store stealthily through a secret exit, the Monkees pop inside. Now if you’ll think back to just a few minutes ago, Madame told Boris that a short man would come in asking for red maracas. Boris iss then supposed to say that he had some, and that they cost $6. According to Madame, the man would reply that he only had 50 cents, but benevolent Boris would sell them to him anyway.
Once it dawns on him that Davy is indeed the (short) person of interest, he hands over the maracas and the Monkees leave. Unfortunately for Boris, a much shadier-looking short man appears at the counter only seconds later, inquiring about the same red maracas. And you thought your workday was going badly!
Boris has made a huge mistake, and the Monkees are thrown right in the middle of the action. (It’s only the fifth episode, but this is becoming a theme…)
Post-credit sequence, the Monkees are onstage at a venue playing “The Kind of Girl I Could Love,” the first Nesmith-penned track to be featured on the series. As Davy shakes his new maracas to the music, he hears a strange rattling inside one of them. A hidden flap opens and out comes the microfilm. Then, in comes Boris and Madame, wearing some unfortunate furry vests and sunglasses in a pathetic attempt to blend in with the youths.
On a somewhat unrelated note: Boris makes a joke here about how a teenager asked him on a date thanks to his hip outfit. Eyes still fixed on the crowd of youngsters, Madame says, “Teenage girls are very aggressive in this country.” Boris then replies, “It wasn’t a girl.”
The line gets a laugh — and a nod from Madame — but nothing more. And even then, the laugh seems more directed at the fact that Madame assumed Boris was talking about a girl and less about him being asked out by a dude. Kind of progressive if you ask me.
Anyway, back to the storyline. It turns out that another secret agent (who was dressed as an ice cream salesman earlier in the episode) has discovered that the Monkees have the microfilm. We get to see some of the Monkees’ comedic chops when the spy shows footage of the band members being questioned. It’s quite reminiscent of the famous reporter scene in the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night; both bands dryly banter with more authoritative figures.
The Monkees are recruited by the agent to work undercover. After some training led by Micky, the boys are given some sneaky spy equipment — including a lamp with an embedded microphone — and sent on their way. Cue “I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone,” in which Davy isn’t even playing his new maracas! What a waste of 50 cents, huh?
Davy and company finally get Boris and Madame to confess their spying ways, after some mishaps with the lamp/microphone. “All the King’s Horses” (another Nesmith tune) plays in the background as Madame tries to get the microfilm off of Mike — and succeeds — while Boris is tackled to the ground by Davy, Micky, and Peter.
Somewhere in China, Madame shows the contents of the microfilm to her spy affiliates, touting it as something that will “change the course of modern warfare.” Let’s just say it’s not exactly what she expected…
While the plot is definitely a little (read: very much so) ridiculous, it’s these sort of shenanigans that make the Monkees so irresistible. Their wit and charm shines through even in the most outlandish situations.
But this isn’t nearly the most outlandish situation the Monkees find themselves in, as we’ll see in the weeks to come. The boys will feign Davy’s wealth, be held captive by robbers, hide a horse in their house, and pose as gangsters — and that’s not even the full first half of the season!