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DVD Review: The Monkees – Season 2

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The Monkees are a fascinating pop-culture phenomenon. Inspired by The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider developed a TV series about four young men trying to make it as a rock ‘n’ roll band. In the trades they placed a notice for “Folk & Roll Musicians-Singers for acting roles” and cast actor Mickey Dolenz, musicians Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork, and Davy Jones, who both sang and acted as illustrated by his appearance in the original Broadway production of Oliver!.

The series, sold to Screen Gems, combined the comedic anarchy of the Marx Brothers with modern-day pop music and avant-garde filmmaking techniques. Due to the quartet’s limitations as musicians, Screen Gems head of music Don Kirshner was assigned to create their music. He bought together songwriters and session players, leaving The Monkees just vocal parts to perform. Before The Monkees aired, their first single, “Last Train to Clarksville” with Mickey on lead vocal, was released.

The Monkees became a multimedia success. The first season won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series. During that time their first two albums, The Monkees and More of The Monkees, hit #1 in the U.S. and UK, and each spawned #1 singles in the U.S. The studio wanted them to go out on tour, which they did in December 1966. Over the course of the first season, they had become a band and were no longer actors pretending to be one.

With their success, The Monkees wanted more control over their music and the series and were granted it. Kirshner was removed and the guys wrote and played the majority of the music on Headquarters. Though the episodes still retain the type of humor and stories from the first season, in part because 10 of the scripts were written during that time, minor and major changes happen over the course of the second season, which is presented in airdate order and not production order. Mickey stops straightening his hair. Mike loses his wool hat. Their clothing reflects the times as the does their music with an embrace of psychedelia. “Hitting the High Seas” finds them losing the laugh track. Both Mickey and Peter direct an episode, “Mijacogeo – The Frodis Caper” and “The Monkees Mind Their Manor” respectively. A preview of what the direction a third season would have been had NBC agreed to it can be seen as they welcome guests Charlie Smalls, Frank Zappa, and Tim Buckley in the last three episodes that aired.

This five-DVD set offers the audio in 2.0 and 5.1. Most of the episodes look good, except “Fairy Tale,” which is dirty and scratched up. “The Monkees in Paris” is noticeably different as it was shot on 16mm. The set has a lot of Special Features to entertain fans. Each disc has an option to listen to/watch all the music segments, known as Romps, it contains.

Each episode features trivia from The Aaron Handy III TV Web Shrine and it is extensive. While it covers what the band was doing regarding recording and performing as the episode was filmed, what portions of episode appear in the opening credits, deleted scenes, and references to original scripts, it also offers bios and connections of actors who play minor parts in the show.

All the band members do commentary tracks, which were recorded in 2003 for a previous DVD release. Davy is on “Hitting the High Seas.” “Fairy Tale” has two. Mike focuses more on the phenomenon of the band. Peter has patches of silence like he’s forgotten he’s supposed to talk. He offers a lot more on “The Devil and Peter Tork” and “The Monkees Mind Their Manor.” Mike returns on “”The Monkees Blow Their Minds.” Mickey speaks about “Mijacogeo.” Similar to Mike, series creator/episode director Bob Rafelson talks about the entire endeavor during “The Monkees in Paris,” which finds the band on location experiencing Monkeemania as they run around the city chased by girls.

The TV special 33 and 1/3 Revolutions per Monkee (52 min) is included and may be one of the oddest things to appear on TV. More like their movie Head than their TV series, musician Brian Auger of The Trinity plays some weird character that wants to use The Monkees for a nefarious plan. Through musical numbers, they fight back. A very good part is a sequence featuring Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Fats Domino. The performance of “Listen to the Band” is last time they played as foursome until 1986 because Peter quit the band soon after. There are commentary tracks by Auger and Dolenz, who doesn’t hesitate to describe the thing as weird and boring in parts.

Another extras include an interview (18 min) with series editor Jerry Shepard, who passed away on 5/11/2008; a Photo Gallery; The Monkees in NYC from NBC New Archives (7/6/67) (1 min) is an extremely brief moment during a press conference where they answer a question about the band’s future, and The Monkees (sans Tork) on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour (2/5/69) with comedic segments Touch Tone Symphony (1 min) and Secret Agent Sketch (1 min).

The Monkees might be the TV series that best exemplifies the 1960s. Both seasons are worth owning for the laughs and music that they offer.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • http://tmackorg.com/ Tommy Mack

    I liked your review. I was 16 when the show originated and my younger sister was quite the Davy fan. Stan Freberg appears on the 1966 Monkee Vs. Machine, my favorite episode.

    Thanks for the memory.

    Tommy

  • http://cinemasentries.com El Bicho

    Thanks, Tommy. I found the show in reruns in the late ’70s when I was 10 or a little older. I’m glad to find it still holds up for me when I see it today. Not all shows from my youth do.

  • David Markham

    “Due to the quartet’s limitations as musicians”

    No, due to the studio’s desire to keep them under control. They could have produced more themselves right off the bat if given the chance.

  • http://cinemasentries.com El Bicho

    That doesn’t jive with what I’ve read about Mickey having to learn how to play the drums after getting hired

  • virginiapicker

    Great review! It’s nice to see a fresh take on the Monkees 45 years out, with the perspective it brings.

    Just a few nerdy facts to add: Nesmith and Tork were already accomplished musicians before the show aired. ScreenGems bought the rights to Nesmith’s songs, and he always had at least two original compositions on every album, right from the beginning. These were not “throw-aways” – they were featured in the show and IMO were some of the best songs the Monkees produced. Tork was more of an instrumental musician than a singer or writer (although he did write “For Pete’s Sake,” which is the song played during the closing credits of each episode). He played several instruments, including bass, banjo, guitar, keyboards and frech horn – much more accomplished, really, than most modern players. His instrumental ability was a key reason the Monkees were able to pull off Headquarters. In fact, he was recommended for the part by his good friend Stephen Stills, who tried out for the show but failed the audition because of his bad teeth. Stills knew Peter from the days when the two of them performed in Greenwich Village. Davy, of course, was accomplished as a stage actor and a singer. The only cast member who, up until the air date, was more of an “actor” than a singer or musician, was Dolenz. Ironically, though, he sang many of the band’s biggest hits, and developed a passable proficiency on the drums.

    Credit has to go to the show’s producers, who took their time to assemble the best possible group for the project. They really managed to catch lightning in a bottle with the band chemistry. Maybe, when it comes to pop music, there’s more than one way to create a perfect sausage.