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.