The origins of The Monkees can be found in the 32 episodes of their eponymous television show’s first season — a consistently entertaining collection available again on DVD after a stint in out-of-print land. Created by New Hollywood figures Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, The Monkees remains a groundbreaking show in terms of its freewheeling aesthetics even if its storytelling is undeniably creaky and repetitive.
It also helps that the four members of The Monkees — brought together for the television show before they became a successful band in their own right — possess charms both in individual and group form. Dry wit Michael Nesmith, mugging joker Micky Dolenz, stupid but sweet Peter Tork and British heartthrob Davy Jones are archetypal without fail, but manage to remain interesting characters despite the increasingly familiar scenarios the first season runs them through.
There’s a lot of the same in these 32 episodes as the group’s struggles to find an audience and book a gig are matched by their run-ins with all manner of baddies from nefarious foreign royals to corrupt boxing kingpins to mad scientists to shady dance studio operators. Most episodes find the boys running up against some form of traditional establishment or older group of people, and seeing their counterculture youthfulness eventually come out on top.
But far more than the plotting, the style of the show signifies a significant undercurrent of youthful rebellion, with Rafelson and Schneider embracing plenty of French New Wave-inspired techniques, including jagged editing, loose improvisation and a narratively disconnected anarchic spirit one can especially see in the musical romps that take place in each episode.
Rafelson and Schneider would go on to be vanguards of the radical changes to American cinema in the 1970s with their production company BBS Productions (part of which includes the gleefully out-there Monkees movie Head), but the genesis of that aesthetic can be seen here. That they were able to create something like The Monkees and get it aired on a major network (albeit for only two seasons) is a remarkable accomplishment, and these episodes certainly stand as more than just curious TV artifacts.
Initially released by Rhino in 2003, the Monkees season DVD sets have been out of print for some time, but fortunately, they’ve been resurrected by Eagle Rock Entertainment. Rhino presumably still owns the rights, and these discs look to be direct ports of the original releases — although at a much lower price point than the OOP discs were fetching.
All 32 episodes of season one are spread out on six discs, with each episode having the option of 2.0 or 5.1 sound. Each episode is also accompanied by extensive textual trivia notes within the onscreen menus. Episodes also have the option of skipping directly to the musical romps. Twelve commentary tracks are available for seven different episodes, with Rafelson, composer Bobby Hart, director James Frawley and all the Monkees except for Dolenz represented.
The rest of the extras are situated on disc six and include the original 16mm pilot of the show, some of which was reproduced in later episodes, Kelloggs commercials featuring The Monkees, a memorabilia gallery and an interview with Hart.